By Peete Molapo
AFTER reading the article “Lesotho has lost its way” dated March 8, 2012 from the Independent Online — Daily News Foreign Service, I got a chill down my spine upon realising that ours is a country stuck in a seemingly intractable quagmire of political instability and economic stagnation, if not regression.
The article characterises our country as “an impoverished backwater and a byword of squalor and poverty”.
This is a damning, demeaning and denuding statement to any Mosotho who dearly loves their country and is proud of it. My first response was to dismiss it as the usual warped melodramatic mumbo jumbo some journalists often adopt to sell their stories.
But on second thought, I decided to be more objective by taking the substance from the chaff or noise. It was then, that I discovered I was in denial as there were as many facts as there was noise. Here are some of the facts I noted.
It is true that more than 40 percent of the country’s labour force is unemployed, even though official statistics do not reflect this.
High unemployment, especially among the youth, is palpable even without complex statistical calculations.
It is equally true that life expectancy has dropped from yester year levels of over 50s to the 40s because of HIV/AIDS of which Lesotho ranks third in the world.
But it also has to be appreciated that some progress has been made in arresting the pandemic as the number was as low as 36 years in 2003.
It is also true is that the maternal mortality ratio stands at 620 compared to 160 for Botswana and 320 for Swaziland. Despite some improvements in primary health care through the expansion of rural clinics, thanks to the Millennium Challenge Account, a lot still needs to be done to improve operational and administrative efficiencies including the unravelling of the Tsepong Hospital conundrum.
It is a fact that the manufacturing base of Lesotho is very limited and the country consumes and imports more than it produces. In 2013, consumption in Lesotho was 134 percent of what it produced and capital investment was only 27 percent of total output.
The UN Development Index in 2012 ranked Lesotho 158 out of 187 countries. Compared with position 149 in 2005, Lesotho has actually regressed.
Also compared with countries in the region, such as Botswana and Swaziland at 119 and 141 respectively, our country is still way behind.
Lesotho is also not short of corruption stories either. In the article, the writer gives an example what he described as the “scandalous” sale of relatively new official cars to ministers and senior officers for paltry amounts of between M2 000 and M4 000.
It is examples like this which painfully and embarrassingly portray Basotho as politically docile, naive and gullible; and that’s what really peeves me.
Against this not so comforting background, the article posits that one would expect to see Basotho politicians hard at work in a bid to lift the country out of squalor.
However, contrary to this expectation, Basotho politicians are known more for “petty bickering” and “jostling for a bigger slice of scarce state resources”.
Subjective this statement may be, the recent developments in the country could very well vindicate it.
Our politicians’ self-serving interests seem to have taken centre stage at the expense of public interests for which they were elected.
Politics of greed to maximise personal gain and brinkmanship seem to be the order of the day. It is a zero-sum game (what I gain is what you lose). Two and somewhat inter-related scenarios clearly manifest in this kind of behaviour.
The first one is the recent parliamentary floor-crossing where one of the reasons cited by the crossing politicians was that a partner in the coalition government held more lucrative ministries.
This kind of thinking flies in the face of our rather strong assumption that our politicians understand their role and responsibilities in government.
For all intents and purposes, it would be very inept for a politician to rank ministries according to any measure of their importance because all ministries are expected to be equally important in terms of the different social goods they deliver.
Such relative ranking can only come from someone moved by the desire to extract material or financial personal gain and with vested interests.
The only ranking I can think of would be for appointing ministers based on their capabilities in ministerial portfolios.
The second scenario is the motion of no-confidence in the coalition government.
The motion of no confidence in the coalition government done within the confines of the law and pursued in the interest of the nation can be a very good thing.
However, ours has caused a lot of consternation and uncertainty which could have dire consequences on the social and economic stability of the country.
“Petty bickering and jostling” mainly driven by personal interest and positioning has held the whole country hostage and the nation is now gripped by fear of being on the brink of tipping into the abyss akin to 1998.
The problem with political brinkmanship is that the baby is usually thrown away with the bathwater and this is a situation Lesotho can ill afford.
What I mean here is that the narrow-minded interests of our politicians destroy government and its functioning and as a consequence smother growth and development of the country.
Our politicians have a penchant for fomenting crises for personal interests. We have a problem of information asymmetry where the electorate make their choice not knowing that politicians do not have their interest at heart but are rent seekers.
Rent seeking occurs in a situation where there exists an incentive for some citizens, in our case politicians, to capture the government and use its redistributive powers to enrich themselves.
This poses a serious moral conundrum on the electorate. It has been empirically proved that the effect of rent-seeking politics and behaviour in the public sector at large is to redistribute wealth to those in positions of power while reducing economic growth.
This is the reason why the majority of Basotho are getting poorer while a few and well-connected are getting richer.
I was encouraged to hear Prime Minister Thomas Thabane express his concern about income inequality in the country recently.
Where do we go from here?
Lesotho needs strong institutions to rein in self-serving interests by politicians and those in public service.
Our institutions are simply too weak across the board, but more specifically the roles and responsibilities of the legislature, executive and judiciary must be streamlined and their checks and balances beefed up. These are the pillars of our democracy and having them right will filter through the whole system.
To correct them will need us to do a thorough review of the constitution which I think is long overdue.
Otherwise we will forever be doing the patch work of addressing the symptoms while avoiding the root causes.
It is also obvious that we are in dire need of crisis management instruments to manage political risks to which we are so prone.
Those that we constitutionally have are demonstrably blunt. The typical examples