Ministry out of touch with reality

Ministry out of touch with reality

One of my previous articles was titled, Lesotho: cry the beloved country. In that article I was lamenting the obvious ignorance that our government has displayed when it comes to the implementation of important documents.
I also mourned about the carefree nature that the current government seems to approach the crises that face Basotho day in and day out. When I wrote that article, little did I know that what I was complaining about was just a storm in a tea cup. Serious issues were yet to the treated in a very casual manner.

The speech by Minister of Development Planning last week Friday spurred me into visiting what I consider two very important documents for those of us concerned with the status of Lesotho education.
The first document I visited was the Lesotho Vision 2020. The document makes very good promises although no government has cared to implement it since its inception. In that document, there is a section called the Clarion Call on Lesotho’s Vision 2020 by His Majesty King Letsie III.

In that section the Kings’ heartfelt plea, which unfortunately fell on deaf ears was, I call upon every one of you to give your most fervent and unrelenting support to the implementation of the great ideas that we have laid out in this document. Needless to say, no one cared about that plea because today a few months from 2020, the Vision 2020 remains a document that adorns government offices.
With regard to education, the backbone of any country, the Lesotho Vision 2020 stipulates that, Basotho will have access to quality education fully responsive to the country’s needs, accessible at all levels and limited only by intellectual ability not by income or wealth. Lesotho will have the system of education that is closely linked and well researched to enhance the student’s talents and capabilities. Education will be free and compulsory up to senior secondary level.

As I read this statement, I really do not know whether I should cry or just shrug my shoulders and say that’s Lesotho for you; a country rich in promises that it never fulfils. Less than six months towards 2020, primary education is threatened as “there is no money” to pay caterers.
There is also “no money” to supply textbooks and other learning materials that will ensure that quality education is achieved.

Moving forward, I also had a look at the Education Sector Plan 2016-2026, another promising document I must say. The strategic plan promises in its introduction that, In line with the Government of Lesotho’s broad objectives, the Ministry continues to expand learners’ enrolments and retention at all educational levels. This utterance is in direct conflict with what the Minister of Development Planning said in his speech on Friday.
In his speech, he told the nation that they will no longer pay for courses deemed to be of no importance to national development. He also pointed out that his Ministry will drastically cut on the sponsorship of some courses, while no new students will be sponsored to study abroad. That hit Basotho youths below the belt I must say, especially looking at what the education sector envisages.

This is not the first time that the Lesotho government has compromised education when the going gets tough. In the early 2000s the government of Lesotho started what they called priority areas that will be sponsored. This strategy was adopted because the government complained of declining revenues and the inability of the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to fulfil its mandate of being a rotational bursary scheme.
The government complained that the NMDS failed to collect enough money to sustain the bursary scheme and as a result it was always getting more money from government coffers.

Almost 20 years later, the NMDS still does not have enough funds. How this problem was allowed to persist for almost two decades is beyond my comprehension. The government was able to see the problem, so what is the solution? However, what I find to be alarming is that whenever the government faces a crisis, the first thing it thinks about is cutting on education spending.
While our neighbouring South Africa is heading for free higher education, we are striving towards making higher education less accessible. Nelson Mandela once said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

By ensuring that its children get access to higher education, South Africa is heeding the wise words of this internationally celebrated freedom fighter. What are we as Lesotho doing?
Another author called Erasmus said: “The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.” In Lesotho we just wake up one morning and decide not to sponsor certain courses and to no longer send our children abroad without giving an option of what then should be the remedy.

The Ministry of Development Planning decides that business studies is not worth being sponsored in a country where the Ministry of Small Business returned more than 50 percent of the M10 million allocated to grow small businesses in the past financial year. The reason put forth was that the applicants’ business plans were not up to standard.
It is time the Ministry of Development Planning lives up to its name.
The Vision statement found on the Ministry’s website says “By 2017 we shall be a world-class institution providing strategic direction for promoting shared employment creating economic growth and sustainable development.”
2017 was two years ago, meaning the Ministry is two years behind in its thinking hence its reason for not coming up with alternatives to what should be done to keep Lesotho’s education relevant in the trying economic times without trampling on the dreams of hopeful youths.

How can a Ministry that does not even remember to update its vision statement be trusted with keeping the development of the country at par with its neighbours? Time is now for this Ministry to wake up from its slumber and start delivering.
My simple advice is for the Ministry to really put into place the National Planning Board, otherwise we will always trail behind our peers when it comes to development issues.

Kelello Rakolobe

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