EUROPEAN Union (EU) Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, has expressed concern over the spate of civil servants’ strikes that have rocked the country over the past few months, saying they risked driving away investors.
Dr Manahl said while strikes were a legitimate form of expression in a democratic society, they also contributed to the instability in the country, frequent changes of government as well as missed opportunities in terms of investment, economic growth and job creation.
He said this in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times. His remarks come against the background of the escalation of civil servants’ strikes in recent months.
Teachers, magistrates, police and intelligence officers have all gone on strike within the space of a year and the common denominator in their grievances are demands of salary increments and improved working conditions.
It is generally unheard of in other countries for magistrates, police and intelligence officers to down tools as there are considered to be critical services but the situation has not been the same in Lesotho where magistrates struck twice in 2018 and again this year. Police officers also barricaded the streets and disrupted the smooth flow of traffic in the urban centres countrywide. Teachers are still on strike to press the government to address their long-standing grievances.
It was against this background that Dr Manahl told this publication that the strikes reflected the government the poor state of the economy and the consequent failure by government to raise enough revenue to address the workers’ demands.
He said although strikes were a legitimate form of expression in a democracy, they also contributed to the instability in the country and they were likely to scare away investors.
“Strikes are part of the modern democratic society and they are part of the rights of the labour force,” Dr Manahl said.
“Maybe the number of strikes that we have seen recently in Lesotho reflect the malaise that is there because they contribute to the instability and the frequent changes of the government that has led to missed opportunities in terms of investments, economic growth and jobs.
“When the economy is in a bad shape the government does not raise enough taxes and it is not in a position to meet the workers’ demands and perhaps the number of strikes is an expression of that situation.”
Dr Manahl said he was hopeful that the envisaged multi-sector reforms would help the country to resolve its socio-economic problems.
“Hopefully the reforms will address the socio-economic challenges. But it is not going to happen overnight. Turning around the economy is something that takes time. Investors need to find confidence in the renewed stability of the country and that will take time.
“It is easier to address some of the questions that come up in the security sector but to move from where Lesotho is economically with its fairly high level of unemployment to renewed investments, renewed private sector confidence, effective growth of the economy and new jobs will take a while. But hopefully that is one of the areas which will addressed during the course of the reforms,” Dr Manahl said.
He also said satisfactory progress has been made towards the implementation of the multi-sector reforms with the recent passing of the National Reforms Authority Bill. He said the EU was happy with the passage of the bill and the EU will continue its financial and technical support for the reforms process.
The bill is aimed at establishing the National Reforms Authority as an independent body to oversee the implementation of the constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
Lesotho has already missed the May 2019 deadline that it was given for the full implementation of constitutional and security sector reforms.
Initially the reforms process was stalled by the bickering between the government and the opposition who listed a host of demands including the creation of a government of national unity (GNU), a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as well as the release of prisoners such as the murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as pre-conditions for their participation in the reforms process.
Lately the infighting in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) has been stumbling block as it has affected all government business including the implementation of the reforms. However, the bill was eventually passed in the National Assembly after the SADC facilitation team led by former South African Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, visited the country a fortnight ago and lobbied the opposition to allow its passage.
Dr Manahl has previously expressed concerns about political instability in Lesotho, saying it had affected the implementation of the reforms and left the EU unsure about what to do with the £12, 5 million it had set aside as funding for the reforms process.
“The decision has not been made (about what to with the funds) because the £12.5 million was meant specifically to support the implementation of the reforms but the national dialogue (on the reforms) has not been concluded. We are still awaiting the second plenary session (of the political leaders) and we cannot the decisions that will be made. Based on discussions with government, we have chosen to fund two key sectors of the reforms, namely, the judiciary and oversight institutions which are the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Attorney General’s office.
“But we are in some doubt on what to do (due to impact of the instability). We have to go through complex procedures at the (EU) headquarters level because it is the EU member states which provide the money for the development fund.
But if all goes well, we want to available the money immediately after the second plenary so that we can kick start the implementation of the reforms. We wouldn’t like to see a gap between the decisions and the implementation that should follow,” Dr Manahl said two months ago.