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Big push to roll back poverty

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MASERU – A World Bank report says hunger continues to stalk Lesotho’s rural folks even as the country made significant strides to lift people out of poverty through education, higher wages and social interventions. Launched last Friday, the Lesotho Poverty Assessment report covers the 15 years from 2002 to 2017. The report is a mixed bag of both positive and depressing news for a country in the throes of poverty.

It tells a story of a country that continues to battle stubbornly high levels of poverty at a time when its economy is hit by droughts, low investment, declining remittances from the diaspora and sliding revenues from SACU. The report says in the past fifteen years Lesotho has lifted 47 000 people out of poverty. That means in one and half decade the proportion of Basotho living in extreme poverty fell seven percentage points from 56.6 percent to 49.7 percent.

This progress was on the back of “improvements in education and increases in incomes from well-paid jobs largely in the service sector”.
Yet despite this positive progress more than 75 percent of the population remains “either poor or vulnerable to poverty”. The report says although Lesotho is gradually winning the battle against poverty in urban areas its interventions have had marginal success in reducing rural poverty.

Between 2002 and 2017 poverty in urban areas fell from 41.5 percent to 28.5 percent but there was only a slight change in the levels of poverty in rural areas which retreated from 61.3 percent to 60.7 percent.
In sum that means rural poverty rates have stagnated, resulting in a widening gap between rural and urban poverty.
People in the urban areas are therefore better off than those in rural areas.

The report says poverty fell in four out of six regions. The increase was in Rural Mountains and Senqu River Valley regions which are both in rural areas.
As such nearly seven in every ten people in Rural Mountains live in poverty.
The report notes that despite the “growing urban-rural poverty divide, inequality fell as a result of social protection and an increase in wage incomes among the poor”.
On average Lesotho spends 4.5 percent of its GDP on a social assistance programme that targets mainly the poor.

The report however points out that although Lesotho is now more equal than its neighbours, “it remains one the 20 percent most unequal countries” in the world.
In the rural areas poverty levels are highest among female-headed households, “especially those headed by single women, the less educated, the unemployed, and the caretakers of large families and children”.
The modest decline in the national poverty rate however disguises a “notable decline in extreme poverty and inequality”, the report explains.

Nationally extreme poverty, based on a food basket required to achieve a calorie requirement of 2 700 kilocalories per adult per day, dropped from 34.1 percent to 24.1 percent.
In urban areas it halved from 22.2 percent to 11.2 percent and declined in the rural areas from 37.7 percent to 30.8 percent. This means Basotho are eating better.
The report says while access to basic public services has improved, it “remains unevenly distributed across regions, with spatial pattern of access following the urban-rural divide”.
“Rural regions tend to have smaller shares of people with access to basic services”.

It notes that economic growth over the past ten years had little impact on job creation.
And since 2015 Lesotho’s economy has not grown per capita because of political instability, droughts and South Africa’s prolonged slow growth that has hit SACU revenues.
The report paints a gloomy prospect for Lesotho in the face of South Africa’s poor economic outlook in the “near-to-medium term”.
“Lesotho, therefore, finds itself in need of new resources of sustainable and inclusive growth, with a dynamic private sector that creates jobs and helps the country seize opportunities in regional and global markets,” says the report.

It further says if it was not for the low rainfall in 2015 and 2016 rural poverty would have “been six percentage points lower, and the pace of national poverty reduction would have nearly doubled”.
The strong link between the level of education and poverty is also illustrated in the report.
Families headed by people with higher educational qualifications are likely to be better off and less prone to poverty.
This is because there is a symbiotic connection between the level of education and income.

“Half of the current level of inequality in Lesotho can be attributed to factors beyond individual’s control, such as place of birth, basic educational attainment, health and environmental shocks.”
More than half of the inequality in income is attributed to differences in wage income.
The wage income is largely determined by the level of education. The report illustrates how factors beyond an individual’s control contributed to trapping families in a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“For example, parents’ level of education generally predicts their children’s level of education, and it remains difficult for people born in the bottom to climb to the top and vice versa”.
“Inequality continues to manifest in disparities in access to basic public services across income groups as well as geographic locations. These disparities limit the ability of poor households to take advantage of economic opportunities.”

Staff Reporter

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City Council bosses up for fraud

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THREE senior Maseru City Council (MCC) bosses face charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering.

Town clerk Molete Selete and consultant Molefe Nthabane appeared in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

City engineer Matsoso Tikoe did not appear as he was said to be out of the country. He will be arraigned when he returns.

They are charged together with Kenneth Leong, the project manager of SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture, the company that lost the M379 million Mpilo Boulevard contract in January.

The joint venture made up of two Chinese companies, Shanxi Construction Investment Group (SCIG) and Shanxi Mechanization Construction Group (SMCG), and local partner Tim Plant Hire (TIM), has also been charged.

Selete and Nthabane were released on bail of M5 000 and surety of M200 000 each. Leong was granted bail of M10 000 and surety of M400 000 or property of the same value.

The charges are a culmination of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) investigation that has been going on for the past months or so.

The prosecution says Selete, Nthabane, Tikoe, and Leong acted in concert as they intentionally and unlawfully abused the functions of their offices by authorising an advance payment of M14 million to a joint-venture building the Mpilo Boulevard.

An advance payment guarantee is a commitment issued by a bank to pay a specified amount to one party of a contract on-demand as protection against the risk of the other party’s non-performance.

The prosecution says the payment was processed after the company had provided a dubious advance payment guarantee. It says the officials knew that the guarantee was fake and therefore unenforceable.

As revealed by thepost three weeks ago, SCIG and SMCG were responsible for providing the payment guarantee as lead partners in the joint venture.

The prosecution says the MCC was required by law to make advance payment after SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture submitted a guarantee as per the international standards on construction contracts.

It alleges that the MCC has now lost the M14 million paid to SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture because of the fake advanced guarantee.

thepost has seen minutes of meetings in which officials from the joint venture admitted to MCC officers that the advance payment guarantee was dubious.

SCIG-SMCG-TIM kept promising to provide a genuine guarantee but never did. Yet the MCC officials did not report the suspected fraud to the police or take any action against the company.

It was only in January this year that the MCC cancelled the contract on the basis that the company had failed to provide a genuine guarantee.

Despite receiving the advance payment SCIG and SMCG refused to pay TIM Joint Venture for the initial work.

SCIG and SMCG, the lead partners in the joint venture, are reportedly suing the MCC to restore the contract. Officials from TIM Plant Hire however say they are not aware of their partners’ lawsuit against the MCC.

Staff Reporter

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Scott fights for free lawyer

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DOUBLE-MURDER convict Lehlohonolo Scott is fighting the government to pay a lawyer to represent him in his appeal.
Scott, serving two life sentences for murdering Kamohelo Mohata and Moholobela Seetsa in 2012, says his efforts to get a state-sponsored lawyer have been repeatedly frustrated by the Registrar of the High Court, Advocate ’Mathato Sekoai.
He wants to appeal both conviction and sentence.
He has now filed an application in the High Court seeking an order to compel Advocate Sekoai to appoint a lawyer to represent him.
He tells the court that he is representing himself in that application because the Registrar has rejected his request to pay his legal fees or appoint a lawyer for him.
People who cannot fund their own legal costs can apply to the Registrar for what is called pro deo, legal representation paid for by the state.
Scott says Sekoai has told him to approach Legal Aid for assistance.
The Legal Aid office took a year to respond to him, verbally through correctional officers, saying it does not communicate directly with inmates.
The Legal Aid also said he doesn’t qualify to be their client.
“I was informed that one Mrs Papali, if I recall the name well, who is the Chief Legal Aid counsel, had said that Legal Aid does not communicate with inmates so she could not write back to me,” Scott says.
“Secondly, they represent people in minor cases. Thirdly, they represent indigent people of which she suggested I am not one of them.”
“Fourthly, there are no prospects of success in my case hence they won’t assist me.”
He says the Legal Aid’s fifth reason was that he has been in jail for a long time.
Scott is asking the High Court to set aside Sekoai’s decision and order her to facilitate pro deo services for him, saying her decision was “irregular, irrational, and unlawful”.
He argues that the Registrar’s role was to finance his case to finality, meaning up to the Court of Appeal.
The Registrar insists that the arrangement was to provide him a lawyer until his High Court trial ended.
Scott says his lawyer, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, who was paid by the state, had promised to file an appeal a day after his sentencing but he did not.
He argues that the Registrar did not hear him but arbitrarily decided to end pro deo.
Scott says he wrote to Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase in 2018 soon after his conviction and sentencing seeking assistance but he never received any response.
Later, he wrote to Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane in November 2020 and he received a response through Sekoai who rejected his request.
Scott tells the High Court that he managed to apply to the Court of Appeal on his own but the Registrar later told him, through correctional officers, that “the Court of Appeal does not permit ordinary people to approach it”.
He argues that “where justice or other public interest considerations demand, the courts have always departed from the rules without any problem”.
Staff Reporter

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Army ordered to pay up

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THE Ombudsman has asked parliament to intervene to force the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to compensate families of people killed by soldiers.
Advocate Tlotliso Polaki told parliament, in two damning reports on Monday, that the LDF is refusing to compensate the family of Lisebo Tang who was shot dead by soldiers near the former commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli’s home in 2014.

The LDF, she said, is also refusing to compensate the family of Molapo Molapo who was killed by a group of soldiers at his home in Peka, Ha-Leburu in 2022.

Advocate Polaki wrote the LDF in January last year saying it should pay Tang’s mother, Makhola Tang, M300 000 “as a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

The Tang family claim investigation started in February 2022 and the LDF responded that it “had undertaken the responsibility for funeral expenses and other related costs”.

Advocate Polaki investigated whether the LDF could be held accountable for Tang’s death and whether his family should be compensated while the criminal case is pending.

She found that the soldiers were “acting within the scope of their employment to protect the army commander and his family” when they killed Tang.

Soldiers killed Tang in Lithabaneng while she was in a parked car with her boyfriend at what the army termed “a compromising spot” near the commander’s residence.

The three soldiers peppered the vehicle with a volley of shots, killing Tang and wounding the boyfriend.

Advocate Polaki found that the army arranged to pay for the funeral costs and to continue buying groceries and school needs for Tang’s daughter.

The LDF, however, kept this for only four years but abruptly stopped.

When asked why it stopped, the army said “there is a criminal case pending in court”.

The army also said it felt that it would be admitting guilt if it compensated the Tang’s family.

The Ombudsman said “a civil claim for pecuniary compensation lodged is not dependent on the criminal proceedings running at the same time”.

“The LDF created a legitimate but unreasonable expectation and commitments between themselves and the complainant which had no duration attached thereto and which showed a willingness to cooperate and work harmoniously together,” Advocate Polaki found.

“The LDF was correct in withdrawing such benefit in the absence of a clear policy guideline or order to continue to offer such benefit or advantage,” she said.

“However, she should have been consulted first as the decision was prejudicial to her interest.”

She said the army’s undertaking “fell short of a critical element of duration and reasonability”.

Tang was a breadwinner working at Pick ’n Pay Supermarket as a cleaner earning M2 000 a month.

Her daughter, the Ombudsman said, is now in grade six and her school fees alone had escalated to M3 200 per year.

She said an appropriate redress should be premised on her family’s loss of income and future loss of support based on her salary and the prejudice suffered by her mother and daughter.

She said M300 000 is “a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

In Molapo’s case, Advocate Polaki told parliament that the LDF refused to implement her recommendations to compensate his two daughters.

The complainant is his father, Thabo Joel Molapo.

The Ombudsman told the army in August last year that it should pay the girls M423 805 “for the negligent death of their father”.

Advocate Polaki said despite that the criminal matter is before the court, “it is established that the Ombudsman can assert her jurisdiction and make determinations on the complaint”.

Molapo, 32, was brutally murdered by a soldier in Peka in December 2020.

Molapo had earlier fought with the soldier and disarmed him.

The soldier, the Ombudsman found, rushed to Mokota-koti army post to request backup to recover his rifle. When he returned with his colleagues, they found him hiding in his house. The soldier then shot Molapo.

The LDF, the Ombudsman said, conceded that the soldier killed Molapo while on duty and that he had been subjected to internal disciplinary processes.

“The LDF is bound by the consequences of the officer’s actions who was negligent and caused Molapo’s death,” she said.

She found that after Molapo was killed, army officers and the Minister of Defence visited his family and pledged to pay his children’s school fees. They also promised to hire one of his relatives who would “cater for the needs of the deceased’s children going forward”.

The LDF, she said, has now reneged on its promises saying its “recruitment policy and legal considerations did not allow for such decision to be implemented”.

Molapo’s father told the Ombudsman that the LDF said “the undertakings were not implementable and were made by the minister at the time just to console the family”.

All the payments in the two cases, the Ombudsman has asked parliament, should be made within three months.

Staff Reporter

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