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LESOTHO needs to enact laws that establish oversight and vetting processes in hiring public servants to stem the politicisation of recruitments.
This is according to analysts who made the call in light of allegations by Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader Monyane Moleleki that the seven parties in the outgoing coalition government corruptly handed out posts in the country’s security agencies to their supporters.
Mr Moleleki revealed to the Lesotho Times in an exclusive interview last week that he was part of “a corrupt act” of enlisting 250 police recruits from the seven parties’ support base to undergo training at the Police Training College last year.
He also revealed that 100 vacancies at the Lesotho Correctional Service were also divided among the parties in government.
The AD leader was once Police minister in the Democratic Congress led-government whose other partners include the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Lesotho People’s Congress, Popular Front for Democracy, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party and the Marematlou Freedom Party.
While the government has denied the allegations, Mr Moleleki’s revelations are a rare acknowledgment of the rampant politicisation of the civil service which is regarded as an open secret.
According to National University of Lesotho Political Science Professor Motlamelle Kapa, the politicisation of the public service started when the country shifted from a merit-based recruitment system to political appointments.
He said the shift came with the Public Service Act of 1995 that changed the chief accounting officers of government ministries from being permanent secretaries to principal secretaries.
Prof Kapa said before the change, the Public Service Commission had a merit-based recruitment system which he opined was the right way to go.
“The principal secretaries are appointees of the government of the day which was a shift to the public management approach,” he said, referring to the method that uses private sector management models.
“The argument behind the shift was that even though the permanent secretaries were regarded as public administrators, they could not take responsibility for their own actions in office. Later, this approach opened doors for the politicisation of the public service.”
Prof Kapa posited that the politicisation of the public service and disciplined forces became clearer during Lesotho’s first coalition government headed by former premier Thomas Thabane.
Dr Thabane clashed with then Foreign Affairs minister Mohlabi Tsekoa in 2013 over the allocation of diplomatic posts to 10 foreign missions with the All Basotho Convention leader wanting a lion’s share of the postings for his party.
For his part, Mr Tsekoa pushed for the depoliticisation of the appointments.
Prof Kapa also indicated that during his time in the opposition, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had pointed out that the worst mistake he had made in his first tenure as premier was to politicise the public service.
Dr Mosisili had also vowed to “rectify that mistake” if was re-elected as prime minister.
“It is very unfortunate that the prime minister’s return has exacerbated the politicisation,” he said.
Prof Kapa said the duplication of roles by the army and police was another cause of the politicisation of the public service. He said the security forces needed to be streamlined with their distinct roles defined.
“We made the terrible mistake of allowing the army to encroach in the domain of the police. These are problems that were caused by decisions made a long time ago.”
He said the establishment of vetting processes in the appointment of heads of statutory organs of the state would lessen the politicisation and result in the autonomy of the institutions.
“The leaders of institutions like the army, police, anti-corruption unit, ombudsman and even the Human Rights Commission should be selected on merit and not just have the prime minister being the sole appointing authority,” Prof Kapa added.
Former Public Service principal secretary Machabana Lemphane-Letsie echoed the sentiment saying she witnessed how far reaching the politicisation was during her tenure which ended in 2015.
“I discovered the extent of the politicisation upon my arrival at the Public Service ministry in 2012,” she said.
“The hiring of graduates was not in line with the public service placement protocol in which they submit their credentials and queue for government jobs.”
Ms Lemphane-Letsie said the politicisation of the public service could only be rectified through the implementation of reforms.
She said if a politician could influence the police to hire 250 recruits based on political affiliations, it was a glaring sign that the institution was not as independent as it should be.
“Added to that, the appointment of the police commissioner is made with political considerations. These considerations trickle down to the appointments of junior officers which should not be the case.
“When these senior officials are ordered by their ministers to only hire people from their parties, it becomes a clear case of payback for the appointment.”
Public sector reforms are imperative, Ms Lemphane-Letsie said, to nip politicisation in the bud.
“We urgently need those reforms to ensure this problem does not continue to take place. Junior officers recruited through political connections will eventually be promoted and perpetuate this immoral and unethical way of hiring public officers.”
She said depoliticising of the public service was one of the critical issues during the 28 June to 5 July 2014 New Zealand study tour by 25 members of the previous government.
Commonwealth Expert Adviser to Lesotho Rajen Prasad had then urged Lesotho to adopt the raft of changes recommended in the report prepared after the study tour of New Zealand’s political system.
Among Dr Prasad’s recommendations was the establishment of an independent public service.
“The Lesotho public service should be reshaped as an independent, non-politicised, professional service delivering the policies set by Ministers and approved by Cabinet,” Dr Prasad noted.
Added Lemphane-Letsie: “During the New Zealand trip, the de-politicisation of the public service was one of the key issues on the agenda. Even the international community has come to realise that our problems emanate from a politicised public service.”
For his part, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations Executive Secretary, Seabata Motsamai said political patronage practices were meant to deepen political parties’ influence in the public service and should be abolished.
He said there was nothing wrong with the deployment of political public officers into select strategic sectors, “but that should not apply to the whole public service”.
“We should not allow our public service to be swallowed or owned by political parties, it’s a bad practice. Condemning these practices will deter the perpetrators,” said Mr Motsamai, adding the patronage fostered corruption in the public service.
“Some of these political appointees are told to contribute a certain percentage of their salaries to the political parties that hired them. This is also happening in our country’s foreign missions.”
He said laws dealing with recruitment needed to be enforced and strengthened to ensure transparency and accountability across the board.
“We need a law regulating the operations of political parties, civil society organisations and even faith-based organisations so that our sources of funding are made public. That can deter crimes and abuse of office. This can also result in accountability and transparency as these bodies get a lot of funding from unchecked sources,” Mr Motsamai added.