The trouble with politically biased employment

The trouble with politically biased employment

Allow me to categorically state that the founding principles of the Congress movement do not allow politically biased employment in government. Look at the objectives of all congress parties found in their constitutions – they abhor any form of discrimination.

My own party, the Democratic Congress, in its objectives does not support discrimination in all its forms. There are no first and second class citizens in the Lesotho constitution which merely reminds us that we are all are equal before the law.

History can be a very useful teacher. I want us to turn back the clock to the period between 1970 and 1986. For a long time the congress movement opposed the politicisation of the civil service by hiring into government positions on the basis of the Basotho National Party (BNP) list (sephepheshana). They argued that appointment of unqualified and inexperienced individuals to key positions in government on the basis of their political ties undermines the principle of merit and weakens the capacity of the public service. The ruling party continued with that strategy of recruiting BNP members into government and most Basotho hated them for that.

As a young man growing up in Lesotho, I used to hear my parents talking about recruitment based on political party lists. They strongly spoke against it because the policy discriminated against them because they were not BNP card-carrying members. So it goes without saying that I disliked the BNP for denying my parents employment opportunities and scholarships just because they chose to become members of the congress movement.

Ordinary Basotho and professionals felt marginalised by the BNP deployment policy when it came to employment in the government where they were mostly needed to effect and implement the policies. Today ordinary Basotho and professionals who voted for the congress movement parties since 1993 and those who never vote feel marginalised because the congress movement has adopted the BNP deployment policy.

Have the congress parties betrayed their principles on politically biased employment? The politically biased employment in government, whatever may be its reasoning, is not only a betrayal of the mandate but is also indefensible in ideological terms besides being suicidal tactically.

After the long period of differentiation, on deployment of party members in government at the expense or exclusion of other parties and Basotho who are not members of any political party, it appears that congress parties in government have settled on a common issue agenda with the nationalist parties to effectively employ their party members into government. The congress movement has shot itself in the foot. This nationalist strategy is not sustainable and it is a problem because it turns voters against the congress movement.

One of the biggest problems the congress movement is facing is that voters perceive them as being indistinguishable from the BNP. The congress movement found it extremely difficult to sufficiently differentiate themselves from other political parties, and as such suffered a terrible blow in terms of the loss of their political support in recent elections.
It is even worse in the current political landscape of coalition governments.

The congress movement shall suffer greatly if it is unable to differentiate itself from other political parties. If differentiating from your coalition partner(s) is the key to surviving a coalition government electorally, then how can you balance the electoral imperative with the imperative to effectively govern together with your coalition partner without compromising your principles?

The congress movement must face electoral pressures to differentiate themselves from their partner in order to signal their own policy profile to voters. After all, if there is no difference between the parties in a coalition, what is the incentive for the voters who elected the congress movement partner to do so again?

Let us all try to catch our breaths and look at what politically biased employment has done to public discourse; at how it has exposed a vacuum in what most Basotho once thought of as a trustworthy political movement. I have not lost hope though. We can restore that trust by returning to our values and principles.

Until fairly recently, I had the comfort of knowing that there was a party and politician that stood for the values I cared about. Today they are no longer clear on the issue of politically biased employment in government. In fact there is so much pressure from party members to support politically biased employment. It has become our new normal in the congress movements. The policy we once hated with everything we had has been adopted, owned and used by our congress movements.

The congress movement is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It requires constant attention and care. And now is another moment to keep our beloved congress intact.
If we wish to see our values, culture, identity and our way of life survive beyond these unsteady coalitions, we need more voices to follow in these footsteps. We need to see that level of dignity and honesty in our congress movement. Anything less is a betrayal of our movement and its founder Ntsu Mokhehle.

This is a time to step up to the plate. It is not the first, and it won’t be the last. But it speaks to who we are — and what we can be — as disciples of Mokhehle. All congress parties will be rightly blamed for being opportunistic and devoid of political convictions. It is lazy thinking to accept politically biased employment into government as job creation. I know we can do better than that. Let us create an enabling environment where the private sector can create sustainable jobs.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has taught us that these politically biased jobs are not sustainable, every contract expires when the government has changed. It is also very costly for the ministry to train people each time when the contracts end.
I have realised that many current societal trends and challenges seem to be working against party-based policies and principles. In today’s world, the environment in which congress political parties find themselves operating has fundamentally changed. Unemployment has forced us to come up with simple solutions to complex problems. If congress movement implements politically biased employment unapologetically, it appears to me that traditional congress–nationalists divide in party politics was based on clear divisions in society which largely no longer exist.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) has radically changed the political landscape, aiming at full implementation of politically biased employment. It has successfully tempted the congress movement to join the new normal. It has become normal for all political parties in Lesotho to implement politically biased employment.

It is a great challenge for congress movements today. We need to move beyond the instant gratification desires and think about economic policies that can address the current unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment. This will differentiate congress movements from the rest of other political parties in Lesotho.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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