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Stop mourning, all we want is action, Dr Majoro

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John C Maxwell argued that “a budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” A few days ago we listened to our radios and watched our televisions as the Minister of Finance, Dr Majoro ,was telling our funds where to go. Unfortunately he directed most of our funds towards the payment of civil servants salaries. It was business as usual.

I can tell this 2019/20 budget was intended to impress me. Unfortunately I am not impressed at all Dr Majoro. Dr Majoro delivered his third budget speech as the Minister of Finance. As with his past two budgets, I had expectations, which unfortunately were not met. From my scorecard, Dr Majoro, scored 3 out of 10 in terms of enforcing, top amongst his priorities, austerity measures and improved revenue collection measures, etc.

The Financial Year 2018/19 was very difficult for both the government and the private sector. Nevertheless, the one key thing I had anticipated Dr Majoro would deliver is a budget that prioritises getting back onto the path of fiscal consolidation. I must say the FY2019/20 budget speech was a political rhetoric at its best. Additional fiscal stabilisation measures are not going to help this country. Dr Majoro’s track record on implementing austerity measures is terrible and shocking, but I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The coalition government is playing to the gallery by proposing to reduce the ministers gross salary by five percent and putting a cap of M5 000 on the monthly phone bill. I want to state that this effort is not enough. In fact it is very insignificant in the larger scheme of things. What is Dr Majoro saying about the high wage bill, three ministers in one ministry, two PSs in one ministry and a huge cabinet?

I want to remind Dr Majoro that it takes bold leadership, political will and tremendous courage to address the high wage bill. The issue of threatening MPs by proposing the elimination of the interest benefit on MPs loans and the possibility of write-off of the loans following a mid-term election is a very cheap way of doing things. Though I must say I welcome the idea, I admit the timing is wrong.

l Small Businesses Fund: Despite the budget constraints I believe that there is dire need of a fund for deserving small businesses. There is a strong argument for the setting aside of these funds to support small businesses that could otherwise close down in the difficult year to come.

I had hoped that would be covered but unfortunately, it has been business as usual.
Wool & Mohair policy: I looked forward to a speech whereby Dr Majoro was going to come down hard on the recently passed legislation prohibiting wool and mohair farmers to freely trade with broker(s) of their choice instead of being forced to sell through one Chinese novice in the wool and mohair industry.

Despite being the only business which has been fully in the hands of indigenous Basotho, pumping at around M400k per annum to the poorest of the poor, Dr Majoro has been radio silent on the effects of this legislation to our current account. I had hoped that Dr Majoro would advise the coalition government to abandon the wool and mohair regulations but unfortunately, farmers will continue to suffer.

l Mining: I had hoped that Dr Majoro would highlight the importance of an accelerated policy change on the mining industry. Top amongst what needs to change is participation of MSMEs in the diamond mining supply value chain. Dr Majoro needs to walk the talk. As he has done in his past budgets, his emphasis was on the role of MSMEs, their importance as key drivers in our economy, in terms of job creation and contribution towards Lesotho’s GDP. But talk is cheap.

l Outsourcing Lesotho’s Economy to China: The scourge of Chinese-owned businesses, offering goods and services to the government of Lesotho has stuck out like a sore thumb and I had hoped Dr Majoro would direct ministries to procure all goods and services from Basotho-owned businesses but unfortunately he didn’t. This would create the needed jobs Dr Majoro spoke about in his speech.

We are aware that this might be an uphill battle for the honourable minister, as the two major road constructions have been awarded to Chinese outfits, to the detriment of Basotho owned businesses on his approval. The M1.6 billion Mpiti-Sehlabathebe road and M800 million Marakabei-Monontša road.

l Education and Training: Minister Majoro is yet again faced with a problem he postponed two budgets ago. Teachers have been on a three week old industrial action and the consequences of not resolving this impasse timeously will drive our economy together with this government to the ground.

Concerted efforts should be reflected in this year’s financial allocations, which demonstrate that the government genuinely wants to address the teachers’ concerns. I am glad the coalition government committed funds in solving some of the teachers’ concerns. Anything short of this would have justified the continued strike by the teachers, which I fully support!

l Police & public safety: I welcomed the announcement to freeze all government hiring and I hope and pray it includes state disciplined forces. As recent history will show, police brutality is at the highest from 2017 to date and it’s time Dr Majoro, reallocates budget for an improved curricula at Police Training College. I strongly recommend freezing of police recruitment this financial year and budget reallocated to improving the curricula currently in use at the Police Training College.

My position is that we continue to recruit and train officers on the irrelevant and rudimentary curriculum which is contributing to the record police brutality and deaths recorded since this regime assumed office.

I had hoped that he would address the scourge and infestation of Chinese in our country. This issue of outsourcing our economy to the Chinese needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
1. Red meat industry, monopoly given to the Chinese
2. Wool & Mohair, Chinese!
3. Government road construction tenders, two major roads in this financial year, fixing of main north one from Maseru to Botha Bothe, Chinese.
Dr. Majoro needed to deal decisively with this Chinese infestation. It can’t be business as usual when our people are languishing in the abyss of poverty!

Dr Majoro as you may be aware, there are tens of thousands of men and women who have listened with hope on the three budgets you presented and they want action and less talk. Please spare us the usual lamentation of declining SACU revenues and austerity measures. I have heard that before. We need implementation.

By; Ramahooana matlosa

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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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