MASERU — Prime Minister Thomas Thabane (pictured) has challenged Basotho to decide if they want a politicised or non-politicised public service “instead of sneaking around”.
Except for formally organised media briefings, the Prime Minister has in recent months been largely reserved.
Breaking the media silence in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Thabane said the ball is in the nation’s court to decide the type of public service Lesotho should have.
Thabane told the Lesotho Times that if Lesotho is to advance economically and otherwise “we first need to declare our stance on the nature of the public service we want”.
The premier, who is the head of a coalition government formed of his All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP), said he is uncomfortable with the fact that Lesotho is putting up a façade to the outside world that people here are not employed based on their political affiliation.
“What I am saying is that we’re sneaking around when we should be pronouncing our clear position on the nature of the public service we want,” Thabane said.
“I am therefore, challenging Basotho, to come out and say what kind of public service they will feel comfortable working in and embrace.”
Thabane adds: “There’s a lot of uncertainty here in Lesotho, not just with us in government but within the general public as well.”
The premier added that although Lesotho’s public service was not initially designed on political grounds “the top echelon is appointed based on political affiliation”.
“Although people in Lesotho are employed purely on merit, we still choose to appoint ministers and principal secretaries on political grounds,” Thabane said. “In practice, the post of a PS is political. But in future we need to decide whether to openly politicise or depoliticise the civil service.”
The premier then gave the example of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) government, whose civil service reflects the numbers the party commands in parliament.
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“South Africa’s civil service is a reflection of the numbers the ruling party commands in parliament. If we choose to politicise our civil service, the same should also apply in Lesotho,” he suggested.
“Should our civil service be designed in a political manner? Should it reflect the numbers we command as the three coalition government parties in parliament or the outcome of the vote as it is?”
The PM further avers that although he is proposing that Basotho make a decision on the sort of public service they can better function in, the coalition government is beset with the challenge of transforming the current environment because of “the legacy of a deeply politicised public service”.
“At the moment we have a problem inherited from our history. It is easy for us as the ABC, LCD and BNP coalition government to change things in the blink of an eye,” Thabane said. But the Premier posed a question, if the civil service were to be depoliticised “will the rest of us embrace it and execute their duties on principle?”
Thabane also reminisced about his days as PS in Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan’s BNP government saying he appreciated and enjoyed his work despite being from a different party (Basutoland Congress Party).
“I and a few of my colleagues from the BCP were employed by the BNP government. But there was always suspicion that we were using the BNP government to advance our BCP agenda,” Thabane said.
“But Ntate Leabua did not see it that way. If anything, he was in my corner. On my own, I also would never have compromised my principles to betray the PM and the BNP government.”
Thabane added: “Believe me when I tell you that in those days, I was frowned upon by some people who actually questioned if I knew who I was and what I wanted.”
However, the PM said a burning question is whether the rest of the people will uphold the principle of depoliticising the public service and the obvious consequences that might arise either way.
“What are the consequences of depoliticising the civil service? Is depoliticising our civil service achievable and if we do, will we be able to sustain it?” Thabane challenged. “I believe we can achieve that principle if we want to. And if we do, it will usher in a new era of politics in Lesotho.” To drive his point home, Thabane said he is becoming tired of Basotho’s tendency “to worry about unnecessary things”.
“Aren’t we spending too much time worrying about whether people are affiliated to the ABC, LCD, BNP, Democratic Congress (DC) and so forth, at the expense of more fundamental issues?” Thabane asked.
“Finally, I do not want people to misconstrue that which I am saying. I would want for them to take it exactly in the context I am putting it in.”