MASERU — Opposition MPs drove Youth Minister ‘Mathabiso Lepono to the brink of tears with hostile responses after she announced the launch of the National Volunteer Youth Corps programme in parliament on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili launched the National Volunteer Youth Corps at a local hotel in Maseru yesterday.
Lepono got hostile responses from opposition members who demanded to know the criteria the government will use to select youths that will be part of the project.
Some wanted to know why the government had not consulted parliament before launching the project.
Others said they were suspicious of the real intentions of the project.
Lepono said the United Nations Development Programme-funded project was initiated by the government to train university and tertiary students to make them employable once they complete their studies.
“The project will go a long way in equipping the youth with skills and experience to help them become employable,” Lepono said.
“They will be part of work camps and will be encouraged to participate in the country’s development through youth initiatives. The project will also enable our country to deploy our youth to other countries while some could even be contracted to work abroad.”
But Lesotho Workers Party MP Sello Maphalla was not satisfied with Lepono’s explanation.
He demanded that the minister explain the criteria used to select the youths who made up the first batch.
He wanted to know if the first group had been selected on the basis of political party affiliation.
“Can the honourable minister put this house in the light as to the criteria used to select the youth making up the first batch?” Maphalla said.
Maphalla said the new organisation was a replica of the Lesotho Youth Service (LYS).
“Could this be another LYS? Remember what happened with the LYS?”
The LYS was a Basotho National Party (BNP) youth organisation formed under the pretext that the youth were to be equipped with agricultural skills.
However, the organisation turned out to be a breeding ground for pro-BNP militias who were notorious for harassing government critics under Leabua Jonathan’s regime.
Lepono did not respond directly to Maphalla’s likening of the National Volunteer Youth Corps to the LYS.
She instead said the idea was to train youths across the board and that every six months advertisements would be made to recruit more.
“If we had enough money to train all the youth of this country, we would not hesitate to do so.”
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) MP, Pitso Maisa, said he was hearing about the youth corps for the first time.
He said the youths from his rural home of Motimposo had also not heard about the programme.
“I am sure youths from my constituency are not even aware of the existence of this organisation. How do you think your government will ensure youths nationwide are trained?” Maisa said.
“What is it that you think you can do to ensure that issues revolving around youth do not discriminate but cater for all Basotho youth?”
It was at this point that Lepono became emotional and with a trembling voice retorted that “Maisa you are undermining this great initiative”.
“You are undermining a project through which the government is trying to empower Basotho youth,” Lepono said her voice trembling.
“How sure are you that there are no Motimposo youth in the programme? Just because you are the opposition, you oppose even where it is not necessary to do so.”
At this point the Speaker of Parliament Ntlhoi Motsamai defended the visibly emotional Lepono saying “the minister has already explained that the programme is to be done in phases”.
“Let us therefore hope that with the rest of the batches the majority of Basotho youth will be incorporated,” Motsamai said.
Maphalla later told the Lesotho Times he had “genuine fears that the National Volunteer Youth Corps could turn out to be just another LYS”.
“I fear that the National Volunteer Youth Corps is a replica of the LYS. The BNP government recruited youths under the pretext that they were going to be equipped with agricultural skills,” Maphalla said.
“But what transpired from there was horrible. Youths were trained in the BNP youth camps to terrorise those opposed to the regime.
“Some were incorporated into the military while others were deployed to countries like Cuba for intensive military training.”
Maphalla also said the “opposition was never consulted about the establishment of the National Volunteer Youth Corps”.
“There was never a formal consultation with us about the National Volunteer Youth Corps,” Maphalla said.
“That’s why in parliament I demanded to know from the minister the criteria used to select the youths. We only heard in the corridors of nature.”
ABC leader, Thomas Thabane, echoed Maphalla’s fears about the driving force behind the establishment of the National Volunteers Youth Corps.
“This thing is going to be nothing but an organisation of little gangsters molesting people. I am talking about little paramilitary youths,” Thabane said.
Thabane blasted the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party for “resuscitating all draconian BNP policies”.
“Every little thing they condemned about the BNP, they are doing now. They promised people that they would allow free assembly when they repealed the National Security Act 1984.
“When canvassing for elections in 1993, they undermined all the BNP policies at the time just to win the public’s favour. This is just the tip of the iceberg, mark my words.”