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 ‘Jury still out on Majoro as he marks first 100 days in office’

Staff Writers

PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro took office on 20 May 2020 with a professed agenda of restoring good governance and the rule of law, fighting crime, containing Coronavirus (Covid-19), ending poverty as well as reviving the comatose economy.

Ahead of the Majoro administration’s 100-day milestone tomorrow, analysts say much more needs to be done to achieve the prime minister’s stated aims particularly on ensuring political stability, tackling crime and reviving the economy.

They say it is still too early to reach any definite conclusions as to whether the new government has been a success or failure to date. It is still premature to evaluate its success in implementing policies and programmes that will take many more months and even years to achieve.

 

Achieving political stability

Dr Majoro took power as head of a coalition government anchored by his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party and the Mathibeli Mokhothu-led Democratic Congress (DC).

The two parties jointly had 78 parliamentary seats. Eight smaller parties also threw their weight behind the ABC-DC coalition with 19 seats. The smaller parties are Movement for Economic Change (6 seats), Basotho National Party (5 seats), Popular Front for Democracy (3 seats) and one seat each from Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), National Independent Party (NIP), Marematlou Freedom Party and Democratic Party of Lesotho.

Given that the new administration had, at its inception, the overwhelming support of 97 legislators in a 120-member parliament, it appeared to have a solid support base to enable it to concentrate on implementing its development agenda without having to worry about stability issues which had dogged previous coalitions.

But as the political developments would show barely a week after Dr Majoro’s inauguration, the seemingly strong edifice had been built on a shaky foundation.

The instability came not from the opposition but from within Dr Majoro’s own ABC party where some MPs loyal to the ousted premier Thomas Thabane grumbled about their exclusion from lucrative cabinet posts.

They complained that members of the junior coalition parties were given plum jobs in government at their expense and they even threatened to destabilise the government.

Two of the ABC MPs, Sello Mooki (Bobatsi constituency) and Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area), even defected to the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD).

Many other Thabane loyalists who remained in the party have continued to undermine the government from within, making all kinds of threats to bring down the government if Dr Majoro does not protect the former premier from standing trial for the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo. They have also made noise about what they regard as the systematic purging from the government and civil service of Mr Thabane’s appointees.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer, Mahao Mahao says the instability that continues to plague the ABC and by extension, the government, cannot be blamed entirely on Dr Majoro’s decisions.

The problems within the ABC predate his appointment. They began in February 2019 with Mr Thabane’s refusal to accept the election of Professor Nqosa Mahao to the post of deputy party leader.

The ABC infighting led to the collapse of the Thabane administration. It would be asking for too much to expect Dr Majoro to address the instability in just 100 days as premier. The task is even more difficult given that Mr Thabane remains party leader and Dr Majoro is not even a member of the party’s powerful national executive committee (NEC).

“On the political front there are many challenges for Dr Majoro,” said Dr Mahao.

“Unfortunately, Lesotho has become a place where the sitting prime minister has to be always looking over his shoulder to ensure he is not stabbed from behind and toppled.

“Toppling a government is one of the favourite pastimes for Basotho politicians, especially those in parliament. That means the PM has to obsess with both trying to advance the country and staying in power. It’s not an enviable position and I wouldn’t want to be in his (Dr Majoro’s shoes).

“Ensuring his government lasts for at least two years is therefore a daily battle. Anything he does will not be right for everybody. When he appoints officials who he thinks will be more efficient personnel, he will be accused of purging Thabane loyalists.

One would wish his government lasts so that we can have some stability and better focus. Those questions may be addressed by what Majoro and his government achieve before 2022,” Dr Mahao said.

To his advantage, the fallout from Dr Majoro’s ministerial and other appointments has not, thus far, resulted in the threatened mass defections of ABC MPs and other party officials.

Despite all the rumblings of discontent, only two MPs have so far dumped the party. It seems the premier’s rivals in the ABC’s NEC remain committed to ensuring the government lasts the two-year distance until the 2022 elections. Even the coalition partners are committed to see the administration succeed.

 

Restoring good governance and the rule of law

Dr Majoro nonetheless has a real battle on his hands in addressing potential instability due to the infighting in the police force pitting the Commissioner Holomo Molibeli-led police command against his subordinates in the militant Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA).

LEPOSA members accuse Commissioner Molibeli of incompetence, cronyism and the failure to stamp out police brutality against ordinary citizens. The police boss in turn accuses his juniors of insubordination.

It is a fight that began more than a year ago before Dr Majoro came to power.

NUL political science lecturer Mohlomi Mahlelebe says the Molibeli-LEPOSA fight should not be taken lightly by the authorities given the destabilising effects that previous fights within and among the security agencies have had on national peace and security.

Lesotho has a bad history of security institutions causing instability in the country. Gross human rights violations occurred when infighting rocked the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) from 2014 to 2017 and the army and police also clashed during the same period.

For most Basotho, memories of the bloodshed that followed the army and police battles of 29 and 30 August 2014 are still fresh. Some police officers like Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko were shot and killed by soldiers who stormed the police headquarters in Maseru as the attempted coup against then Prime Minister Thabane got underway on 30 August 2014.

The soldiers, who acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons. There was bad blood between the police, then led by Khothatso Tšooana, and the army then commanded by Lt-Gen Kamoli.

So serious was the instability that Mr Thabane and several other politicians fled into exile and only came back in 2017.

During that same period, infighting in the LDF resulted in the 25 June 2015 assassination of Lt-Gen Mahao by soldiers loyal to Lt-Gen Kamoli.

Two years later on 5 September 2017, army commander Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was gunned down at his Ratjomose Barracks offices in Maseru by soldiers loyal to Lt-Gen Kamoli.

Things only stabilised after the 1 December 2017 deployment of SADC troops in Lesotho. The SADC standby force completed its tour of duty in November 2018 but after their departure, it now appears the police force never learnt anything about the destabilising effects of fighting within and among the security agencies.

To his credit, Dr Majoro has not sat idly by. A fortnight ago he appointed an inter-ministerial committee headed by Justice and Law Minister Prof Mahao to probe the infighting in the police and other security agencies.

The committee has already summoned Commissioner Molibeli and upon completing its work, it will present its findings and recommendations on addressing the instability.

Dr Majoro has therefore shown determination to tackle the instability head-on. It will require more than just 100 days in office to evaluate whether or not his administration has successfully addressed a long-standing problem of security sector instability.

 

Tackling crime 

Again, it is still too early to judge the success or failure of the new government in fighting crime. A month ago, Dr Majoro declared war on criminals, saying security agencies must not show any mercy to criminals responsible for the spate of rapes and murders of defenceless women and children.

His said this at a public gathering at St Monica, Leribe. He was accompanied by the army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, Police Commissioner Molibeli and ministers; Prince Maliehe (Defence and National Security) and ’Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety).

His tough utterances and visits to crime hotspots should be taken as statements of intent, analysts say. It remains to be seen whether they will be effective in combatting high rates of crime, particularly the murders of women, rape and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV). For his anti-crime efforts to succeed however, he will have to put the LMPS house in order.

 

Fighting Covid-19

Covid-19 was first reported in China in December 2019 and thereafter it spread rapidly to other countries around the world. For a long time, Lesotho was spared and it officially became the last country to record an infection on 13 May 2020, exactly one week before Dr Majoro was sworn in.

To his credit, Dr Majoro disbanded the wasteful and useless inter-ministerial committee known as the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) which had been set up in March 2020 by then premier Mr Thabane to spearhead the government’s fight against Covid-19.

The NECC had already gobbled M161 million out of the M698 million budget set aside by the government to fight Covid-19 by the time it was disbanded by Dr Majoro in June 2020.

A sizeable chunk of that money was not spent on core activities aimed at fighting the pandemic but on luxuries like food and other items bought at highly inflated prices.

The extravagant NECC spent more than M10 782 618 on food for its staffers drawn from different ministries at a time health staff were going with no personal protective equipment (PPE).

The NECC has since been replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC), in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), and it reports directly to Dr Majoro.

Dr Majoro appointed Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Commissioner General Thabo Khasipe as the chief executive officer of NACOSEC. Mr Khasipe’s appointment has breathed new life into the fight against Covid-19. Under his leadership, NACOSEC has successfully negotiated an end to a crippling strike by health professionals, given the latter risk allowances and purchased PPE and other equipment for hospitals.

 

Reviving the economy

Even before the impact of Covid-19, Lesotho’s economy was already comatose. The finance ministry anticipates that the economy, which was already shrinking at the average rate of 0,3 percent over the past three years, will contract by 1,2 percent in the 2020/21 fiscal year due to the impact of COVID-19.

Even the important revenues obtained from Lesotho’s membership of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) will dry up, with the country expected to lose as much as M1,2 billion as a result of the Covid-19-induced slowdown in regional and global activity.

The budget deficit is now projected at 11,8 percent of GDP, up from the 4,7 percent of GDP projected by Dr Majoro, when he was still finance minister when he announced the 2020/21 budget speech in February.

More worryingly, Lesotho is expecting its worst hunger crisis in recent years with about 900 000 people projected to be in need of urgent food interventions during the current fiscal year which started on April 1, 2020.

Lesotho only has 2,1 million people. This therefore means almost half the population will need food aid due to the impact of Covid-19.

But as pointed out by economic analyst, Thabo Qhesi, the economic challenges cannot be blamed on the new government.

“This government came at a difficult time of Covid-19 and it would be difficult to address other economic issues.

“Covid-19 has changed the global economic landscape and therefore Lesotho needs to go back to the drawing board in terms of the National Development Strategic Plan (NDSP) to ensure that the NDSP addresses the economic crisis amid the Covid-19 crisis. These are trying times due to the deadly pandemic and I think the government should be given a chance,” Mr Qhesi said.

Dr Mahao concurred saying, Dr Majoro came to power “at a very difficult period”. While Lesotho was already struggling economically, Covid-19 only made matters worse.

“When the government committed to cushioning the citizens against the ravages of Covid-19, some people wondered exactly where the money would come from when the signs were obvious that the administration lacked the financial muscle of wealthier nations.

“Several companies shut down due to the impact of Covid-19 but it is hard to put the blame on Dr Majoro who unfortunately inherited a shambolic economy at the most difficult economic period of Lesotho and the rest of the world.

“Of course, great leaders are often judged by how well they handle crises and there is legitimate expectation that he (Dr Majoro) should prove his mettle by ensuring that Lesotho emerges from the crisis with minimum damage. That in itself is hard to achieve when the financial reserves are running empty.

“Perhaps the one key factor where he should prove himself is to restore confidence in the public institutions by tackling high-level white-collar crime and corruption where the elite have gotten away with murder for too long. These stolen monies can actually be ploughed back into social programmes. The fact that ministers and other government officials are not travelling as frequently as they used to could result in the savings being used to inject life into some economic ventures,” Dr Mahao said.

While the economic struggles cannot be entirely blamed on the government, one of its biggest failures is that it has not outlined a clear programme of action to revive the economy. There have been very general statements of intent but nothing concrete and actionable hence Mr Qhesi’s call to re-examine the NDSP to make it more responsive to the crisis in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the nation would have expected more from the new government, the jury is still out on its performance in the first 100 days.

Unlike other administrations that have five-year terms, Dr Majoro’s government has less than two years and in that time, serious work will have to be done to deliver on its promises to stabilise the country and revive the economy.

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