. . . as coalition youths join outcry over AGOA
THE youth leagues of two parties in the governing coalition, including Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC), have joined their opposition colleagues in demanding the premier to step down “with immediate effect”.
In an unprecedented escalation of the infighting that has effectively split the main coalition partner, the DC and Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) youth leagues yesterday urged Dr Mosisili to quit “for failing to uphold the rule of law and protect jobs”.
The DC and LPC youth leagues convened the press conference along with their All Basotho Convention, Basotho National Party Reformed Congress for Lesotho colleagues. The press conference was also addressed by an alliance of factory workers unions and taxi operators who also demanded Dr Mosisili’s ouster.
The taxi industry was represented by the Maseru Region Taxi Operators while the textile industry was represented by the National Council of Trade Unions and Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho.
Senior members of the youth leagues’ political parties were also in attendance, although they remained in the crowd.
The press conference was in keeping with the surreal week in which the government on Tuesday announced it had reached “a mutually agreeable solution” with Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli for his exit from the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
The government also reshuffled cabinet on Tuesday and purged or demoted ministers aligned to the DC’s Lirurubele (butterflies) faction. Mr Moleleki, who leads the Lirurubele faction, was shuffled from the Police ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office which observers have said was a demotion and a move meant to contain him.
The ministers who were given their marching orders were Kabelo Marufa (Forestry and Land Reclamation), Dr Mahali Phamotse (Education and Training), Thabiso Litšiba (Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing) and Agriculture and Food Security Deputy Minister Dr ‘Mamosa Molapo.
However, in a sign the differences between the Lirurubele faction and Lithope (loosely translated to girlfriends) have become irreconcilable, the DC youth league joined the opposition and civil society’s call for Dr Mosisili to resign after the United States government warned Lesotho risked losing aid and trade preferences due to governance infractions.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield last week told the Lesotho Times the “writing was on the wall” for Lesotho’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) facility and a second compact grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to government’s failure to address issues of “impunity and the rule of law”.
AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the US market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho. The law obligates the American president to designate countries eligible to benefit from the trade facility on an annual basis after undergoing a review process. Among the main eligibility criteria for the facility are a market-based economy, rule of law, systems to combat corruption, and not engaging in gross violations of internationally-recognised human rights.
The MCC was established by the US Congress in 2004 as an innovative foreign aid agency to help lead the fight against global poverty by working with select partner countries to identify requisite areas in need of funding support.
MCC compacts are large, five-year grants for countries that pass its eligibility criteria. Lesotho received its first five-year MCC compact worth US$362.5 million in July 2007.
The $362.5 million compact, among others, helped fund the construction of Metolong Dam, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
Lesotho was expecting its second compact this year after performing well in the first project, but on 16 December 2015, the MCC Board decided not to vote on the issue citing governance concerns, particularly after the killing of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao. The former military chief was resisting arrest for suspected mutiny when he was killed by his colleagues outside his Mokema farm, according to the LDF. However, the Mahao family and SADC inquiry have disputed that claim.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the government risked jeopardising the jobs of 40 000 Basotho working in the textile sector by failing to fully implement the recommended reforms. The textile industry is Lesotho’s biggest private sector employer, with most of the workers being women who are sole breadwinners for their families.
In his address, DC youth league President Thuso Litjobo said Dr Mosisili and his cabinet should step down because they failed to prevent and combat corruption in all its forms and to uphold the rule of law.
As a result of those alleged failings, the outspoken DC youth leader said, the government failed to protect jobs “that are about to be lost should Lesotho lose its eligibility for AGOA”.
“We are very worried about the corruption in this country because we don’t see anyone in government trying to do anything about it. The people have tried and are still trying to fight it,” said Mr Litjobo.
“No country in the world can flourish with corruption being rampant. We have cried day and night about corruption but all in vain.”
Mr Litjobo said they expected to see former Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla being fired “for her rampant corruption” instead of being moved to the Foreign Affairs portfolio during Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle.
“But instead, we see the very corrupt minister being reshuffled to the Ministry of Foreign and International Affairs,” he charged.
“One would expect to see this minister who has accelerated so much in corruption going home, but no. She was taken to the Foreign and International Affairs ministry to expose us to the whole world as a corrupt nation. Once corrupt always corrupt!”
The DC youth league has accused Dr Khaketla of misrepresenting the reasons for cancelling a multimillion-maloti vehicle fleet tender and soliciting a M4 million bribe from one of the shortlisted firms. The minister has since denied the claims and is now demanding M6 million in damages from Mr Litjobo and DC youth league Secretary-General Letuka Chafotsa.
“We are imploring them (ministers) to have mercy on us and leave cabinet to pave way for a new prime minister who will be more understanding and willing to accommodate the people’s grievances,” he said.
“We demand regime change because it is our right and the only way to do that is for the prime minister and his cabinet ministers to stepdown.”
Mr Litjobo said government’s failure to fully implement recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability was put Lesotho’s economy at risk.
The 10-member commission, led by Botswana’s Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended Lt-Gen Kamoli’s dismissal to “restore credibility and trust of the army by the generality of Basotho”.
It also recommended the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceeded in line with international best practice. The inquiry also recommended an amnesty for the 23 soldiers facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial. The soldiers were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command. Eight of the soldiers have since been released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison and placed under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military. The other 15 remain in detention.
“The economy and livelihoods of Basotho are now in jeopardy because government failed to fully implement the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations. The stepping down of the commander of the LDF on its own is not enough,” said Mr Litjobo.
“We can only manage to retain the AGOA facility if the head of the government is changed rather than waiting for the nation to plunge into more chaos.”
Commenting on the youth’s demands, former government spokesperson and Energy Minister Khotso Letsatsi said: “It is quite hard to say what these youths mean or want because as far as I am concerned, we are trying to implement the SADC recommendations.
“However, we can’t implement them all at the same time. I guess we are still on the right track and unless we get to understand exactly what they are trying to say, it’s not easy to comment.”