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The honeymoon is over

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Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s new Cabinet which was announced last Friday has received the thumbs up from most Basotho.

In a country that had seen previous governments recycle the same old, tired faces, over and over again, the new Cabinet represents a breath of fresh air.

Most of Matekane’s ministers are untainted by the baggage of the past.

It is on this basis that most Basotho have expressed confidence in the new government that it might deliver on its campaign promises.

Matekane’s decision to trim the Cabinet from 26 ministers to 15 has also been hailed as a clear demonstration of his commitment to cut government expenditure.

This will likely result in a huge saving for the government. It will cut the massive expenditure on salaries, travel allowances and vehicle costs.

But these savings will amount to nothing if the new ministers do not deliver real economic growth for Lesotho. All that Basotho are expecting to see is social and economic change on the ground.

We must, however, hasten to warn Matekane that this political honeymoon that he is currently enjoying will not last forever.

The people, who voted overwhelmingly for the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), will quickly turn against him if he fails to deliver on his electoral promises.

That makes it urgent that Matekane cracks the whip and ensure that his ministers deliver.

The government’s austerity measures must be matched by instant delivery. We see that Matekane set himself ambitious targets within the first 100 days of assuming office.

That is the spirit. He must hit the ground running. Matekane has already promised that government ministers will have performance contracts.

That is a welcome change. In the past, government ministers would operate without any measurable targets. The result was that ministers would adopt a cavalier attitude towards their work.
Those days are now gone.

We must hold government ministers, and any other civil servant for that matter, accountable for their work. There must be clear consequences for ministers who fail to meet set targets.

And we also hope that Matekane will have the political courage to hold accountable ministers who fail to perform. That is likely to present a stern test to Matekane.

Will he have the political courage to discipline errant ministers who might have stood by him during the gruelling election campaign?

Matekane’s loyalties must be to Lesotho and not to some shadowy political ties that might have been built over time.

That is so critical if he is to fulfil his vision of building a prosperous Lesotho for every Mosotho.

Matekane is taking over a government that is broke. This is a government with a thoroughly dysfunctional civil service.

If he is to make an immediate impact, his government will need a fresh approach to address the perennial challenges that have stymied economic growth for decades.

His government will need to remove the bottlenecks on foreign investment while creating a platform for Basotho to participate meaningfully in the national economy.

His government must revamp the agriculture sector so that Lesotho does not have to import basic commodities from across the border, which has been a matter of real shame for Lesotho for decades.

His government will need to market Lesotho as a “tourism Mecca” in Africa. Ministers need to think big when it comes to “harvesting” these low-hanging fruits. Basotho want results and they want them now.

 

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Infighting rocks BNP

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has become the latest party to be rocked by infighting triggered by its dismal performance in the October election.

As the party grapples to come to terms with its thumping defeat bigwigs have been pelting each other with blame for the poor performance.

So intense is the internal feuding that the party is now said to be on the verge of implosion.

In the tug of war is the party’s secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, who this week fired a salvo at party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe.

Hanyane told a press conference on Tuesday that Mofomobe should accept the blame for leading the party to its worst election defeat in history.

He said instead of taking responsibility as a leader, Mofomobe is blaming him for the dismissal performance.

Mofomobe has however fired back, accusing Hanyane of being rebellious.

“It has been a while since I have been shouldering the blame for the general election’s poor results,” Hanyane said, adding that Mofomobe has been instigating his supporters to insult him.

He said the party did not perform well because it didn’t have money to campaign.

He said the BNP did not get its share of the political campaign funding from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it failed to account for what it received in the 2015 election.

Out of the M175 000 that the BNP was supposed to get from the IEC, it got only M15 000 as campaign funds, Hanyane said.

He also said those in the past BNP national executive committee, of which Mofomobe was a member, did not account for the campaign funding received in 2017.

“As a result, our party failed to secure M111 000.”

Hanyane said because of the financial problems the party used rentals from its BNP Centre to fund the rallies in Maputsoe, Quthing, Mafeteng and Teya-Teyaneng.

He said this was the first time since 1993 that the party could not afford to print campaign regalia.

Hanyane also said the national executive committee is chaotic under Mofomobe’s leadership.

“They accuse other members of sabotage, which shows a lack of cooperation in the party.”

Mofomobe, Hanyane added, spent more time mocking other party leaders instead of advancing the BNP’s values and policies.

He said instead of pleading with members of other parties to vote for the BNP, Mofomobe called them “idiots beyond redemption”.

No wonder, Hanyane said, people turned against the party.

He said Mofomobe was not ashamed to use valuable campaign time to mock leaders who own aeroplanes.

“He said their aeroplanes were made of cardboxes, and that was his campaign message,” he said.

 

He also said the BNP supporters were put off by Mofomobe’s close relations with

Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu.

“That issue did not sit well with some party supporters and followers in constituencies,” Hanyane said.

He said Mofomobe angered the chiefs and the church, the party’s traditional pillars.

“The chiefs regarded our party as one of the parties that were fighting them and the church too, those are the pillars of the party.”

He said Mofomobe should “go back and apologise to the chiefs and the church for hurting them”.

“The leadership should also apologise to the members where they did wrong.”

Mofomobe however said Hanyane will face the music for organising a press conference without the national executive committee’s approval.

“The party will meet as soon as possible to take internal measures against the secretary general for doing what he did,” Mofomobe said.

He accused Hanyane of ignoring his orders.

“I told him to go on radio to campaign for the Stadium Area elections but he refused and I ended up going there myself,” Mofomobe said.

He said he will not hate Mokhothu without a valid reason.

“I will not hate him just because people want me to hate him,” he said.

He also stated that although they work well with Mokhothu he has his own reservations that include the DC’s support for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been wallowing in remand prison for the past five years as he goes through trial for murder, attempted murders and treason charges.

The DC is on record pushing for the withdrawal of charges against Lt Gen Kamoli.

Mofomobe said he is not the first BNP leader to work with congress parties as Leabua Jonathan, the party founder, once worked with Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)’s Pokane Ramoreboli who he made justice minister.

Nkheli Liphoto 

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A national emergency

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ELSEWHERE in this issue we carry a heart-breaking story of scores of students who have been forced to pull out of school after their parents failed to pay fees for them in the last year.

While we may not have the full statistics on the number of children who have been affected, the story appears to confirm our fears — that this is a national crisis of immense magnitude with huge implications for the future of Lesotho.

In running the story, we are merely sounding the alarm bell to the government, international partners and civil society that something urgent must be done to rescue the situation.

With thousands of students pulling out of schools, we run the risk of creating a new generation of Basotho men and women who have not been prepared for the rigours of life in a modern economy.

That is scary.

At the centre of this new crisis has been the unavoidable effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has spawned on Basotho families that were already struggling to feed themselves.

Thousands of Basotho were thrown onto the jobless heap, exacerbating what was an already precarious financial position for most families with the result that some were left with no choice but to pull their children out of school.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that our social safety programmes are woefully inadequate to cushion the poorest of the poor amongst us. And when it goes down to a choice between a meal and paying school fees, most families will opt for the former.

That is where the problem lies.

While previous governments did extremely well in making primary school education accessible to every Mosotho child, some children could not proceed to secondary schools due to lack of money.

Maybe it is now time that the new government led by Prime Minister Sam Matekane looks at creative ways to make secondary education not only free but compulsory for all Basotho children.

This is an investment the government of Lesotho must make now.

It would appear the free primary school education was a brilliant policy that was not extended to secondary schools. Perhaps now is the time the government seriously considers taking this a notch up.

Matekane has a chance to shine if he extends the free primary education to secondary schools. Hardly a month into office, he is now facing a social crisis of huge magnitude.

Without a well-educated workforce, Lesotho will not be able to achieve its developmental objectives. That is why it is critical that we get as many Basotho through the school system as possible.

It is a given fact that no country has ever developed without first educating its own people. There are numerous examples that we can cite to back up this argument. Lesotho will be no exception.

It is therefore imperative that Lesotho goes the extra mile to educate her own people and get every Mosotho child on the deck as it were.

It is also sad that some of the students have quit school in order to fulfil societal expectations regarding initiation practices. We find this extremely odd and offensive.

While initiation remains a deeply entrenched cultural practice among Basotho, it should not be an impediment to children’s access to basic education.

What must be emphasised is that the two can in fact co-exist and it is possible for students to attend initiation school without disrupting and sacrificing their own education.

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Rogue soldier loses bid to save job

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MASERU – A soldier who insulted his superior for stopping him from joining a crowd that later killed a civilian during a drunken fit of anger at a bar has lost his bid to overturn his dismissal from the army.

The Court of Appeal last week ruled that army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, followed the law to the letter when he fired Private Lehlohonolo Alotsi.

The case was before the President of the Court of Appeal, Professor Kananelo Mosito, Justices Phillip Musonda and November Mtshiya.

The court found that on Christmas Day of 2018, Alotsi, together with nine other soldiers, was on patrol at the Ha-Peete Military Base.

They went to a local bar and ended up staying outside the barracks until after 10pm, which is the prescribed time for soldiers to be back inside the barracks. A fight broke out at the bar between the soldiers and some civilians.

The soldiers went back to the barracks and ordered their superior, one Corporal Thabi, to hand over some riffles to them. Corporal Thabi ordered them not to go but his orders were ignored.

Alotsi told the court that he did not go but admitted that he used abusive language against his superior. Thereafter there was a shootout at the bar leading to the death of a civilian. Some civilians were also injured in the shootout.

On New Year’s Eve Alotsi and his co-accused appeared before Presiding Officer, Major Lekoatsa, for summary trial relating to military offences they had committed at Ha-Peete. They all pleaded guilty to the charges laid against them.

Alotsi was charged with disobedience, acting in a disorderly manner, and using inappropriate language to a superior officer. Major Lekoatsa found him guilty and sentenced him to 80 days in detention.

He was also severely reprimanded. Major Lekoatsa told Alotsi that he had 14 days within which to appeal against the sentence.

Alotsi did not challenge both the conviction and sentence at that time and only did so when Lt Gen Letsoela wrote him a letter saying he should give reasons why he should not be fired.

It was during this time when he revealed that Major Lekoatsa had coerced him to confess even though he was not involved in committing the crimes, apart from disrespecting his superior.

In his letter to Lt Gen Letsoela, Alotsi apologised for being out of the barracks beyond 10pm, saying he did not do it intentionally.

“My intention was still to make it back on time but being human, I got carried away,” he pleaded.

“General Sir,” he continued, “here I give a full account of the truth.”

He told the army boss that there was a fight that broke out at a bar and he had no idea how it started and how it ended.

He said they ran back to the barracks to ask for guns to rescue one Private Ramarou.

“I, Pvt Alotsi, was never given a gun, the guns were given to Private Teolo and Private Khoaisanyane,” he said.

“Commander Lesotho Defence Staff, General Sir, I yet again implore you for mercy as I had been in an unwarranted exchange with Corporal Tlhabi, where it appears that I insulted him,” he pleaded.

“I am not a vulgar person at all. I am a soldier who respects a lot, I follow orders,” he said.

“Corporal Tlhabi was ordering me to not go back with the soldiers to go get Private Ramarou. I indeed stayed behind.”

“I deeply apologise, General, Sir.”

The court found that Lt Gen Letsoela has prerogative to fire any soldier or officer if in his judgment his continued service “is not in the best interests of the Defence Force” or the soldier “has been convicted of a civil or military offence”.

“Depending on the gravity of the offence, (the army commander), even in a situation where a soldier is pardoned, (may) still proceed to discharge him or her,” the court said.

“There is no dispute that the offences committed were serious and obviously offended the standing ethics of the force.”

Alotsi had taken the commander to the High Court saying he was being punished twice. The High Court dismissed his application, leading to this appeal.

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