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Winter of discontent

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Civil servants across the board this week demanded a 25 percent raise on their salaries or they will down tools.
What the chilling threat by civil servants seems to suggest is that we are headed towards a long winter of discontent ahead of what is likely to be an extremely difficult year.
In his budget presentation two weeks ago, Finance Minister Thabo Sofonea announced a five percent bump on civil servants’ salaries, a figure government workers have dismissed as a joke.

The government, on the other hand, has pleaded poverty insisting it is not able to pay more given the parlous state of the national purse.
Nurses, police officers and other public servants now say they will down their tools come April 1 unless the government bows to their demands.
That is likely to set the stage for a bruising fight between the government and civil servants who are aggrieved by what they see as continued government profligacy and neglect.
They argue that this is a government that shamelessly awarded M5 000 fuel allowances to MPs last year at a time when everybody else was being asked to tighten their belts.

As we head towards what is likely to be rancorous election this year, Lesotho’s anaemic economy is likely to face further knocks.
The last two years have been extremely difficult for Lesotho given the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jobs have been lost as the economy shrunk. The tourism sector has received a heavy battering as visitors shied away from travel.

The textile sector, which is the second biggest employer after the civil service, has also received a thorough battering. Factories have shut down, emptying thousands of workers onto the streets.
All these factors have exerted tremendous pressure on a government that has been struggling to feed its own people.

This is an economy that is in a shabby state and is unlikely to recover in the short term.
We are likely to soon begin feeling the effects of the Ukraine war. That war of aggression by the Russians is likely to trigger an increase in the price of wheat, bumping the price of bread.
Lesotho is likely to experience massive food shortages due to excessive rains that have begun to damage crops. Farmers were already complaining about the lack of inputs such as seed and fertilizer.

The excessive rains might mean some crops are a total write-off.
We are also likely to see a massive jump in the price of fuel as a direct result of the sanctions on Russia. The knock-on effect will be felt in the transport sector as taxi operators begin to demand a hike in fares.
All this is likely to exert massive pressure on Basotho who are already food insecure.
The government is therefore facing a grueling six months as it seeks to balance the interests of an aggrieved populace pushed to the brink by economic hardships.

We must therefore brace ourselves for explosive protests on the streets.
The temptation for the government of Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro is to give in to demands based on populist sentiments in an effort to appease a restless population.
But that would be fatal.
Any move to succumb to the pressure will bankrupt the country. We need level heads to manage the economy and nurse it to better health.

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Time to act to avert hunger

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A surge in food prices will likely make life miserable for Basotho in the coming year. Their situation had already been precarious in the previous year as the effects of Covid-19 continued to linger.

Over the last two weeks, Basotho had to bear the bad news with a spate of increases in the prices of basic commodities.

The Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest milling company, announced a seven percent price hike on all maize products. The increase is with effect from next Monday.

A ton of maize, which was trading at between M3 700 and M3 900 in January, is now costing a staggering M5 300. The result is that the high cost of maize will now be transferred to the consumer.
The surge in the price of maize is a result of crop failures in the southern Africa region due to high temperatures and erratic rains. The shortage has now triggered a surge in the price of maize.

Much more worrying was a warning by Lesotho Flour Mills that Basotho should brace for yet another round of price increases in the next two months.

The company warned that the wholesale price of maize could hit as high as M8 800 per metric ton.

It is not just the price of maize-meal that has gone up. Other basic commodities have also gone up in the last few weeks.

The price of fuel has gone up. A surge in the price of fuel will likely see a knock-on effect on the prices of basic commodities such as maize-meal and bread.

The result is that transport operators are likely to demand a review of taxi fares in the next few weeks. If the government rejects the request for a hike, we are likely to see protests on the streets.
With food in short supply, the prospect of food riots must not be discounted. We are heading into unknown territory for Lesotho. The general hardships could trigger instability in Lesotho.
This is not fear-mongering. It is real.

The massive price increases on the back of a jobs carnage in the textile sector, which is the second biggest employer in Lesotho.

At least 15 000 jobs have been lost in the textile sector in the last few months as companies closed.

What has compounded the crisis is the fact that no new jobs are being created. Instead, we are shedding jobs at an astonishing pace. The massive job losses have increased the levels of hardships in Lesotho across all levels.

This is deeply worrying.

While this is a matter of grievous concern, we do not see any concerted efforts by the government to prepare for the troubled times ahead.

Nearly every country in the southern Africa region is scrambling to put in place contingency measures to deal with the disaster. We are hearing very little from Lesotho about the plans to deal with the crisis.

Basotho are waiting to hear from the government what sort of safety nets it will put in place for the poor. They want to hear what orders the government has put in place to acquire enough maize for the next year.

We hope the government is not banking on some donor out there to avert the crisis. While donors might be welcome they must complement what the government is already doing for its own people.
The time to act is now.

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BNP must not recycle deadwood

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ELSEWHERE in this issue we write about a fierce power struggle within the BNP pitting current party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe and former leader Thesele Maseribane.
Mofomobe has accused Maseribane of orchestrating a rebellion against his leadership.

If Maseribane is indeed plotting a political comeback as BNP leader, that would be highly unfortunate.
It would, in our humble opinion, be a recycling of deadwood.

Such a tired approach will not do any good to the BNP, a once glorious political movement that is now a shadow of its former self.
Instead, a Maseribane comeback will likely deliver the final knockout blow to a party that has teetered on the brink of collapse in the past two decades.

We hold no brief for either politician. However, we are of the strong opinion that Maseribane had his chance when he served as BNP leader during his two terms. And that a return at this point would not do any good to the party.
Maseribane must therefore move on.

Mofomobe took over the reins following a violent election that left one person dead. He has not done spectacularly well as party leader either.
Under his watch, the BNP has continued to decline as seen in the results of the last general elections when the party only won slightly over 7 000 votes.
As party leader, Mofomobe must shoulder most of the blame for the BNP’s disastrous performance.

So we can understand why BNP stalwarts across the divide are now asking hard questions and demanding a totally new broom to take over the reins.
Instead of rebuilding the party Maseribane and Mofomobe are tearing it apart. That is sad.

There are fears within the BNP that Maseribane wants to amend the party’s constitution to allow him to serve a fresh term.
That too would be unfortunate.

Maseribane, as an elder party statesman, must step back into the background and play an advisory role for the new generation of leaders within the BNP.
For that to happen, the BNP must be allowed to go through a self-regeneration process. And Maseribane must not have any role to play under the new leadership, serve to be an elder statesman.

If the BNP fails to manage this conflict, it risks slumping into yet another cycle of decline. The party will have none but itself to blame for euthanizing itself.
The BNP has been declining starting in 1998 when it won over 145 000 votes in the elections. That figure fell to 124 000 in the 2002 elections. In the 2007 elections, the BNP won a paltry 30 000 votes. In 2012, the BNP won 33 000 votes which increased slightly to 31 500 in the 2015 elections.

But it declined further in 2017 when it won just 23 400 votes before things really went south in 2022 when it won just 7 300 votes.
The stats are damning for Maseribane and Mofomobe. The two might be equally culpable for the BNP’s decline, having presided over the affairs of the party when its support significantly declined.

Admittely, the BNP is gifted with brilliant minds who are now disgruntled and have recoiled into a cocoon. It needs these brilliant minds if it is to reclaim its former glory.

That means electing fresh individuals with new ideas on how to take the party forward. That new generation of leaders does not certainly include Maseribane, a man who had his chance and did his best for the party when he was still at the helm.
It is nothing personal. It is the hard reality.

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Inheritance Bill long overdue

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Elsewhere in this issue we carry a story of how Lesotho’s MPs are now in a stampede to pass a raft of laws in an attempt to unlock millions of dollars in funding for development projects.
The United States government last year said it would not release the funds unless Lesotho passes into law the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill and the Labour Bill by the end of this month.

With just two weeks before the March 31 deadline, Lesotho’s MPs have now found themselves in a squeeze.

A delegation from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was in Lesotho last week to check on progress.

The stampede by MPs to act comes only after the US government threatened to crack the whip by withholding funding.

One of the key demands is for Lesotho to pass the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill that will likely improve the welfare of women and the girl child in Lesotho.
For decades, women and girls were at the receiving end of discriminatory practices simply because they were women.

They could not inherit their parents’ wealth, with the customary law favouring sons. Women could not even succeed their fathers under the Lesotho chieftainship law.
The customary laws were patently discriminatory.

We can think of the long running legal wrangle involving Senate Masupha who was the first born child of the late Principal Chief Gabasheane Masupha and first wife Chieftainess ’Masenate Masupha.

Senate argued that a section of the Chieftainship Act denied her the right to succeed to the chieftainship solely on the basis of her gender.
She subsequently lost the case in the Constitutional Court.

The judgment was a devastating blow for the emancipation of women and confirmed that we remained stuck to our patriarchal ways of doing things.

Our courts had over the years backed the discriminatory customary laws by denying the girl child their inheritance.

The Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill, tabled by Justice Minister Nthomeng Majara, will undo some of this damage. It will abolish a customary law which made males the only heirs of their parents’ late estate.

The law, once enacted, will introduce the female child as an heir even where she has brothers. However, it will leave customary chieftainship inheritance laws untouched.
The law will also introduce the giving out of inheritance to children born out of wedlock when their father dies.

We believe this is a progressive law that was long overdue.

Our question is simple: Did we have to wait for the Americans to nudge us to do the right thing? Couldn’t we have thought of this on our own and implemented it without the US holding a gun over our heads?

Now MPs are under pressure to deliver. If they don’t Lesotho risks losing massive funding that could have been used for development projects.

It is a law that will likely correct a historical injustice against women.

Our simple position is that it was never fair nor just to deny women their inheritance based on their gender. This is a practice that should have been reviewed a long time ago.

Once enacted into law, the government must go on an aggressive education and information campaign to educate the people about the change of law.

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