THE European Union (EU) has predicted that Lesotho will soon have another coalition. The assertion was made by the EU Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl (CM) in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times (LT). Mr Manahl said there was need for the country’s leadership to foster stability to guarantee the success of its economic programmes and the national reforms process. Below are some of the excerpts from the interview.
LT: There have been reports of a looming crackdown on the judiciary and in particular the Court of Appeal in light of the recent judgments in relation to the power struggle within the ABC. The situation has not been helped by politicians who have attacked the judiciary over unfavourable judgments. What is the EU’s view of the situation and is there any word of advice to the government on this issue?
CM: My advice would not specifically be for the government for all the political and social stakeholders in Lesotho. You are reaching the homestretch of the reforms.
The input that has come out of the first multi stakeholder dialogue and the district consultations and consultations with the Diaspora has been provided. This has been a very rich input, some of the recommendations of course, do refer to the judiciary and this now needs to be analysed and distilled into a set of recommendations which will have to be submitted to the National Leadership Forum subsequently to the second plenary.
It is up to the reforms process, in my view, to make the right recommendations to entrench to independence judiciary as one of the three state powers.
The importance of an independent traditionally universally recognised but it is up to the political and social stakeholders of Lesotho to analyse the situation and decide what needs to be done to make sure that in future the politicisation of the judiciary is not possible.
LT: The EU continues to be a major development partner for lesser to, which are the main areas in which the EU’s development assistance is focused on currently?
CM: The biggest area water management in the form of the integrated catchment management, which is an innovative experimental programme that cuts across several sectors like agriculture, range land management, environment, local government and administration. This is in order to preserve and in some cases, to reconstitute the wetlands and the water table, improve range land practices and combat erosion.
This is one of the big programmes that we are financing in cooperation with the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit/German: Society for International Cooperation). The second one is the lowlands water supply in cooperation with the European Investment Bank (EIB), which is part of a long term effort to provide reliable clean water to all or close to all the people in Lesotho. We are focusing on the lowlands because this is where most people make the greatest impact.
We believe that the energy sector is another space where there is considerable additional potential that we may look into in our future cooperation with the government of Lesotho and governance and social protection. The social protection programme is ongoing.
We are funding the establishment of a system to identify the vulnerable families in the country, which are then receiving social grants. In terms of governance, we have set aside €12.5 million specifically to support the implementation of the reforms.
LT: What is your analysis of the impact of that development assistance on the livelihoods of Basotho?
CM: In general we hope it is positive but of course, that depends on the range of other factors, among them political instability, which has a significant negative impact on investment and by extension on job creation.
But we do believe that in the specific areas where we have provided support, notably water supply, we have had a significant impact as well as previous programme, the Metolong Dam to provide reliable and clean water to the population in an around Maseru.
The World Bank has chosen one or two districts in the north the same district continue in the future in order to have a full coverage of all the districts of Lesotho, with or without additional funding from the EU as that remains to be discussed between the government and ourselves as the other stakeholders in terms of our future cooperation.
LT: The government has been crying out for their financial rescue package for several years now. And they have even approached the IMF and other development partners so that it can balance its budget and hence economic growth. Have you been approached for such budgetary assistance and other forms of financial support by the government?
CM: This is something that I have discussed with government ministers. We are of course, aware that the government is in negotiations with the IMF and the conclusion of an IMF programme would, for us, be a significant sign that the government is willing and able to implement specific requirements in terms of financial and fiscal accountability and transparency that will be the requisites for EU resumption of budget support.
But also for any request of an additional emergency financial programme, we are willing look into this but obviously, that will depend on a clear plan of the government in terms of financial management, and not least on a successful reforms dialogue and the beginning of the implementation of the reforms.
LT: There have been a multiple staff visits by the IMF and so far nothing has been availed, what do you think the problem really lies?
CM: You will have to ask the IMF on that but I assume that it requires a clear understanding of the entire cabinet on what is necessary and decision to follow the prerequisites that the IMF has for such programmes, not specifically for Lesotho but for any country. Actually it’s about fiscal and financial transparency and accountability.
LT: There is this raging war within the biggest party in the governing coalition, the ABC, what do you think, in the long run, is the impact of these clashes especially for projects that the EU is involved in?
CM: To a certain extent, we are seeing the impact already. In order to implement any programme, be it a cooperation programme with an international partner, or the national strategic development plan, you need a unified government, a unified coalition, which is capable to take courageous and important decisions.
If the political dynamics are consumed by internal power struggles and the ability of any government to take these decisions and to see them through is impaired and that is what is happening.
Such political struggles are happening in various countries, they’re not exclusive to Lesotho and I hope that they can be resolved; hopefully with some compromise from all the concerned parties.
But at the same time, I would like to underline the importance of the reforms process, which in particular, with regards to the parliamentary reforms, should lay the foundations for a future, more stable government and specifically a coalition government because predictably, in the near future, certainly Lesotho will have another coalition government.
It is something that we are also learning to live with in Europe. There is hardly a country in Europe, not one I can presently think of, with one ruling party.
Coalition governments are a feature of modern politics. And they require certain adjustments to make them stable and more stable than has been the situation has been here in Lesotho.