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Resuscitate economic labs

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I think there is a civil servant living in my house because every time I buy a box of biscuits, the contents inside suddenly disappear without any trace. But the box will still be neatly placed in the cupboard, yet completely empty. Well, with a few crumbs left.

When I open the fridge and try to pour some juice, the box will still be there, where I last placed it but it will be completely empty. “Hao banna! Okay let me rather have a slice of cake left-over from last night outing”.

The box will still be there but the cake will have walked out of the box. These are character traits of civil servants from a certain country, e nkhakang ka lebitso. And I am convinced that I am co-habiting with a civil servant.

In any case, one of the many initiatives that I believed could have brought rapid economic transformation was the programme/strategy that was introduced by the Malaysian Government named the economic transformation labs or ‘economic labs’ in short.

I caught this initiative in motion in the year 2018 and was driven by the previous Ministry of Development Planning and I thought, what an excellent strategy.

So, what had happened was that, the previous Ministry of Development Planning invited representatives from the Malaysian Government to introduce the strategy called the ‘Economic Transformation Labs’.

This initiative/strategy was meant to accelerate implementation of programmes and projects that aligned with the National Strategic Development Plan, Part-two (NSDP-Two).

Of course, I’m not the biggest fan of the NSDP strategic plan because, in my view, it is a copy and paste of a strategic plan that was compiled by the BNP-led government, in 1976 (le hopole ha ke le-neshenale hohang. Ebile ke le-RFP).

This was a five-year development plan and I tell you, you’ll be amazed at the level of detail and meticulous typesetting that was used to compile the document. Excellent! Note: There was no Microsoft word at the time.

The chapters were short and paragraphs brief and straight to the point. It could be understood by almost anyone and this is where the NSDP-Two document falls short.

By the way haesale Ntate Mahloko a nka copy eaka ea 1976 Development plan, a re o ilo e bonts’a Ntate Majoro. Ntate Mahloko, please return the document ke lo bonts’a Ntate Matekane. Maybe there’ll be progress this time around.

I understand that the five-year development plan that I’m referring to was compiled by Ntate Sam Monts’i. Nalane! But the interesting part is that, the book (document) was passed-on to me by my closest friend Ts’epo Thabisi around 2015. He said, “A ko bone na batho bana na ba ne ba se ntse ba nahanela pele joang”.

Well, the 1976 development plan still had a stamp from the Agric-Research Library so I don’t know how it landed in Mr Thabisi’s hands. Let’s leave it there.

So, this five-year strategic plan covered almost all the big projects due to be implemented from 1976 to 1981 and in the document, there were projects such as the construction of Hilton Hotel with a budget allocation of M30 million. 30m!

There was also a chapter on the implementation of the Moshoeshoe One International Airport. The most interesting part is that there was an industrial park proposed on the periphery of the airport in a village called Ha ‘Masana. Eaba?

There was also a chapter on Mining and Lesotho was preparing to open the Liqhobong and Kao mines. Surprise, surprise! And finally, there was a chapter on Lesotho Bank and the construction of the tallest building in Lesotho. Haesale re ema moo ka litumeliso! Almost 40 years later!

So, there was sense of direction in 1976 and I think the new RFP government needs to revisit the strategic development plan, hence my advocacy for a retention and remodelling of the Ministry of Economic Development, Planning and Monitoring. It would be very useful for compiling a new strategic plan.

In my view, the current NSDP-Two document is a mockery of the 1976 Strategic plan because it’s just a cut and paste of the old document. The current one is too long, difficult to read, too sophisticated for an ordinary Mosotho on the street. But Basotho don’t like to read.

Now, let’s talk about the economic labs. So, when the Malaysian government realised that it needed to graduate to become a high-income country, the problem of running a government resulted in constant crisis management.

Hee, borokho bo oele. Hee, bese e phethohile. Hee, shopo e ntse e cha Kingsway.

So, the Malaysian government devised a strategy to execute/deliver projects using a focused method called ‘economic labs’. How does it work? A government identifies key projects that can be key economic drivers.

In our case, there were five, key strategic areas for economic growth in Lesotho as per the NSDP-Two document and they were as follows: 1. Tourism 2. Mining 3. Agriculture 4. Science and Technology and hana what was the fifth sector? Yes, manufacturing.

The economic labs were meant to put stringent focus on each and every project that was meant to create economic change.

That meant all ministers in the cabinet had to focus on one project and remove all the obstacles (red-tape) until the project was implemented. Wow! Highlight the words, to remove all the red-tape and government bureaucracy!

This was the essence of the economic labs in summary. So it means, if government identifies a project to build a new factory that is going to manufacture and export i-Phone 15 phones, it would mean, all ministers in the cabinet converge and focus all their energy and resources on that particular project, until it is implemented. They remove all the red tapes and roadblocks.

The system worked for some time. Hey, Ministers had to report back on progress in every cabinet meeting.

There was a system that the Malaysian consultants introduced to grade progress on the projects.

A green light meant there was progress, orange meant you had to give some attention and red meant things were not going right. So, Ministers were working hard to avoid the red light at all cost. Bona bana ba hae mona, nakong ea puso ea Ntate Tom. Well until the system was scraped for obvious reasons because Ministers don’t want to account for anything. Ke bahlompehi.

This is how Malaysia was able to accelerate its economic growth because there was better focus on implementing key economic projects.

Now, I bring this topic to the agenda because my fear is that the RFP could find itself in a very compromised position where it is overwhelmed by the day-to-day business of running government.

The busy-ness of running government and this could come at a heavy cost of implementing projects that are meant to create economic change, create tax-revenue and create jobs.

Now, I participated in those economic labs and it was quite an interesting and vigorous exercise. I presented a project named the Lesotho-Sky mixed-use development and was one of the biggest projects in the economic-labs at a budget of 1-Billion Maloti.

Quite an exciting project but was destroyed by a jealous civil servant from a certain corporation that I won’t mention by name.

I have since relocated the project to Durban where people move with speed and agility without jealousy and red-tape.

I would strongly advise Prime Minister Matekane to compose a new five-year development plan (2022-2027) and re-introduce the economic labs for swift implementation.

Invite the Malaysian consultants for a refresher presentation.

Interesting enough, Minister Mochoboroane seemed to be passionate about the economic labs and seemed to understand how they operate.

Well, but the fact that he once ate biscuits and sipped tea in front of us, whilst we were busy presenting our projects and I was so hungry that day. Khilik!

‘Mako Bohloa

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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