Coalition agreements are a waste of time

Coalition agreements are a waste of time

Coalition agreements in Lesotho are a complete waste of effort, cartridge and paper. They add zero value to the stability, success and effectiveness of the coalition.
On August 31, 2017 when the leaders of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) signed the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability I felt a sense of de javu and not excitement.
I recalled how on April 10, 2015, the seven leaders of Lesotho’s second coalition government signed the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform. I consider this 2015 coalition agreement, indisputable proof that coalition agreements in Lesotho are absolute “rubbish”.

The leaders who signed this agreement achieved neither “stability” nor “reform”.
The alliance imploded after about 28 months. They had also failed to achieve most if not all the broad objectives they set themselves i.e. to be a reformist government, to restore national peace and political stability, to deepen democracy and respect for human rights, to make transparency and good governance their hallmark, to drive economic growth, to consult more with citizens, to eliminate corruption at all levels of society and government, to deepen national pride amongst Basotho and to deepen the relationship with regional and international partners.

When we go even further back in history, we see how our first coalition government also failed. The ABC, LCD and BNP alliance ended abruptly after only about 31 months in office. During that period, the coalition partners jostled for power even though they had an agreement to regulate the alliance. They also achieved very little of their own objectives to improve the lives of Basotho.

For me, this is sufficient evidence that coalition agreements in Lesotho do not serve the same purpose that they perhaps serve in other countries of the world. Over here, they don’t mean very much. But for the benefit of the doubt, I took time to compare the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability (2017 coalition agreement) with the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform (2015 coalition agreement).

I was hoping to find differences between the two that would convince me that the 2017 coalition agreement is better and therefore more likely to succeed where previous ones failed.
At the end of the exercise, I concluded that the 2015 and 2017 coalition agreements are more similar than they are different.
In fact, 90 percent of the objectives and (or) priority programmes in the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability appear in the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform in some form or another – improving the economy, entrenching a culture of the rule of law, respecting human rights, fostering peace and stability, espousing good governance, altering current procurement practices, undertaking constitutional, political, security and administrative reforms, beefing up local government, implementing policy of the declaration of assets and interests, monitoring and evaluating the agreement.

Basically, it’s the same document. The language and wording might be different, but generally, it’s the same agreement just signed by a different group of leaders. It’s a rehash and repackaging of things we have heard before. The same challenges / issues that rendered the previous coalition agreement useless will render this one just as useless:
l Jostling for power – the leaders of smaller parties in the coalition being perceived to have more power and status than senior leaders in the dominant party (i.e. the very thing that caused the DC to splinter resulting in the coalition eventually imploding)

l Skirting around hard and tough issues to avoid upsetting and antagonising coalition partners i.e. foregoing the national interest to avoid imperilling the alliance
l Slow service delivery due to the need for consultations between the partners l Hurdles presented as the result of having weak institutions and the actions of corrupt state officials i.e. criminality condoned and tolerated (politicised) instead of being tackled.  l Inadequate capacity and state resources to respond to dire economic and social crises i.e. inability to implement policy
l Lack of humility, ego and personality related differences between leaders that make cooperation and collaboration between them a hard ask
Coalition agreements in the past failed to mitigate these challenges. In fact, in some instances, having the coalition agreement worsened the situation e.g. not consulting when the agreement says consultation is required collapsed our first coalition government.

These and many other challenges remain present and unremitting. However, there are a couple of “new things” in the new coalition agreement presumably included to increase the prospects for success for this coalition. The inclusion of confidence building measures to restore lost trust and confidence in government by citizens is one of these “new things”.
These measures include promptly implementing all outstanding decisions emanating from the intervention by SADC, limiting the abuse of public office by promptly strengthening investigative and judicial offices promptly, promulgating a public procurement code of conduct for politically exposed persons including ministers and senior officers, reviewing and passing new procurement legislation. Implementing all reform proposals outlined by both SOMILES and the Commonwealth (New Zealand Reforms) that do not require constitutional amendments and lengthy legislative processes.
The way I see it, pushing too hard on these things will be the very thing that will cause this coalition’s instability in future. Here are three examples why I say this (not exhaustive of course).
There are ministers in the current government who formed part of decisions by the previous government to frustrate the implementation of the SADC recommendations. For these Ministers, “promptly implementing all outstanding decisions emanating from the intervention by SADC” will not be as important and urgent as perhaps it is to new Ministers who were in the opposition at the time SADC issued the report. I therefore see a potential clash of priorities between the partners when the agreement must be actualised.

Secondly, it is not true that all these leaders want a strengthened justice system. Having strong investigative and judicial offices is not in the best interests of corrupt politicians both in and outside government. I therefore expect to see sparring between those in government who genuinely want Lesotho to have stronger investigative and judicial structures (motivated by national interest) and those who don’t (motivated by self-preservation).

Thirdly, reviewing and passing new procurement legislation and public procurement codes will close the space for politicians to distribute patronage. Because this will effectively reduce their scope to loot and to pillage state resources i.e. the easiest way to accumulate wealth in Lesotho, there is bound to be pushback from those who are in government for self-enrichment and instead public service.
The second “new thing” is the inclusion of a clause to invite SADC and other international partners to serve as mediators of last resort to the agreement in the circumstance that all local remedies fail to resolve a dispute.

When push comes to shove, I am not convinced this will make a difference. SADC is a toothless bulldog. Take for example how SADC was powerless in the past to force the Government of Lesotho to implement its recommendations. So, to say that SADC would serve as mediators of last resort does not mean much.
The acknowledgement that the current size of the cabinet is “too large for effectiveness and cost and could lead to fragmentation of government programs. The Partners agreed to review ministries and their responsibilities and thereafter re-align them as necessary before the beginning of the next fiscal year with consideration given to having a smaller government in future following the review”.

This is another “new thing” in the 2017 coalition agreement. This is one of those classic pronouncements by politicians meant only as a lullaby. Having a smaller Government would go against our culture of pushing partisan and personal interests instead the national interest. A smaller government before 2022 is a pipedream. It’s not going to happen. Let’s not fool ourselves.
Because 90 percent of the objectives and priorities are not new and there is nothing to write home about as far as the “new things” are concerned, I maintain my position that in Lesotho, Coalition Agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. The Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability is no exception.
As far as I am concerned, great leadership, ethical and moral leaders, love for country, genuine trust and mutual respect between leaders, is what is required. No piece of paper i.e. a coalition agreement will ever make up for these things.

Poloko Khabele

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