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A nightmare on the roads



‘Mahlompho Akhosi’s job as a car spares salesperson used to be simple.
She would sell the same parts all day. The majority of customers who came to her counter at Unity Tip Top, a spares shop, wanted oil, spark plugs, fuses or oil filters.
In other words, they were looking for basic vehicle maintenance parts.

Those service parts are still top sellers but another group of parts is also selling faster than before.
Akhosi says more customers are coming in to buy suspension parts like shock absorbers, CV joints, tie rods, control arms, ball joints and springs.

Spares shops across the country have also seen a similar uptick in demand for suspension parts. Tyre traders are also reporting an increase in sales volumes.

The reason is simple: Lesotho’s messy roads are chewing both suspension parts and tyres in huge numbers.

And it doesn’t matter what road you use because almost all have potholes.

A drive to a nearby shopping centre could leave your car with a damaged shock absorber, a burst tyre or a cracked rim.

You could drive a perfect car to work and come back with it bouncing like a tennis ball.

A simple five-kilometre trip from Koalabata to town could cost you a M2 000 shock absorber or a M1 000 tyre.

Akhosi says those who drive smaller cars are bleeding cash because of the bad roads.

“We usually see drivers of small cars such as Honda Fit coming to us,” Akhosi says.

“Bad roads are what make drivers visit our shop.”

The anguish is shared by drivers across the country.

Lesotho’s road network of about 12 000 kilometres has collapsed due to years of underfunding and neglect.

Engineers blame the crisis on two main things.

The first is poor workmanship by corrupt or underqualified contractors who cut corners. The second is years of neglect due to lack of funding.

The impact of the shoddy work and lack of maintenance is made worse by the storms that have hit Lesotho in recent years.

“So the weather elements are hitting roads that have been poorly built and maintained,” says a civil engineer who has worked for several construction companies over the past 20 years.

He says he has seen the government paying companies for roads he knew would not last two rainy seasons.

“You know that they have cheated to get the tender and they will cheat again to get paid for their work approved,” he says.

“The system is rotten and there is no will to fix it.”

“Contractors don’t have the incentive to do a good job because that cuts into their profits and there are no real consequences for doing the wrong things.”

“They do a bad job, get paid in full and move on to another contract to do another bad job”.

But the bill is now due and it’s eye-watering.

The Roads Directorate says it needs about M14 billion to fix the country’s network of paved and gravel roads. That is about 60 percent of this year’s budget.

Nozesolo Matela, the directorate’s public relations manager, says at least M9 billion is needed to address the maintenance backlog for gravel roads and about M4.5 billion to repair paved roads.

It doesn’t appear that drivers will get any respite soon.

The government doesn’t have the M14 billion in its coffers. Tax revenues have either been sluggish or sliding in recent years. The revenue share from the Southern African Customs Union, which used to beef up Lesotho’s budget, has declined in recent years.

Local tax revenues have also slumped due to poor economic performance, company closures and job losses.

Meanwhile, the government’s expenditure has continued to gallop as the wage bill balloons and more problems eat into the shrinking budget. This has left little for capital projects like road repairs.

Matela says the directorate has been allocated M1.2 billion for road construction and maintenance in this current fiscal year. That is a measly 8.5 percent of the M14 billion needed for the entire road network.

Matela says this year’s allocation would be used to repair the A1 road between Ha ‘Malesaoana and Butha-Buthe, Moshoeshoe Road, Kofi Annan as well as Masianokeng to St Michaels.

In the meantime, the directorate has resorted to a stopgap measure to do with the little it has. It recently launched Operation Kata-kata (Mokoari Project) which uses in-house teams to repair various sections on the main roads in Maseru, Berea, Leribe, Btha-Buthe and Mokhotlong.

The Roads Directorate says the operation will continue in Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing in the following weeks.

With an allocated budget of M18 879 600 and an estimated duration of two to six months, the Roads Directorate says this in-house routine maintenance operation will cover a total of 956.87 kilometres, divided into 47 sections, ensuring ease of supervision throughout the country.

Activities under the project include filling potholes as well as clearing side drains and other waterways to prevent waterlogging.

There will be erosion control scour checks to protect roads from environmental impact. Culverts will be unblocked and road signs restored.

Drivers are however sceptical that Operation Kata-kata will change much.

Lebohang Moea, the Maseru Regional and Taxi Operators (MRTO) spokesperson, wants the government to do much more.

He says the associations’ members are facing huge vehicle maintenance costs at a time when the government forces them to charge uneconomic fares.

Moea says cars that used to be repaired once in three months are now in the garage every month.

“We are struggling now and experiencing bad cash flow in our businesses,” Moea says.

“If we were supposed to take three loads, now we take just two.”

The secretary of the national transport association for the northern, southern and central regions, Thulo Bataung, says their business is now sinking into serious problems due to declining roads.

“Where we were supposed to take five minutes, we take 15,” Bataung says.

“Similarly, where we have to take 15 minutes, we take 30.”

Bataung says spares shops have also increased their prices because of demand.

He worries that the roads will get worse as the rainy season approaches.

Majara Molupe & Mpolai Makhetha


MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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