- Lesotho could lose out on multi-million-dollar aid over human rights concerns
- govt has just five months to address all concerns
THE United States (US) has warned that Lesotho risks losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about human trafficking, police brutality against citizens and the failure to implement the long-delayed multi-sector reforms.
The warning was made by the US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, and the MCC’s Acting Vice President for Policy and Evaluation, Tom Kelly, in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362, 6 million (more than M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the compact programme over rampant human rights abuses under then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s regime.
Lesotho’s eligibility for the second compact was first confirmed by the MCC Board in December 2017 after the ouster of the Mosisili regime in the June 2017 elections and the advent of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s second coalition government.
However, the Thabane administration, which lasted until May 2020 when it was replaced by the current Moeketsi Majoro-led coalition, was accused of failing to tackle police brutality against citizens and corruption.
The former government also dragged its feet on the multi-sector reforms process. It even missed the May 2019 deadline set by SADC for the full implementation of the constitutional and security sector reforms. All of these issues were part of the eligibility criteria for the second MCC compact.
During his June 2019 visit, Jason Small, the MCC’s Managing Director in the Department of Compact Operations (Africa Programmes) told the Lesotho Times that Lesotho and the MCC were “still at least a year away from a definitive agreement” on the size of the second compact which he said was most likely to be in the region of the first compact (US$362, 6 million).
Mr Small, however, warned that failure to address concerns about human rights violations, including the alleged acts of police brutality against citizens, as well as the lack of political will to implement the reforms could scupper the granting of the second compact.
And in an ominous development yesterday, Ms Gonzales and Mr Kelly warned
that Lesotho could lose out on the second MCC compact due to its failure to address long-standing eligibility concerns.
Of particular concern this time is the previous Thabane administration’s failure to address the thorny issue of human trafficking both within the country and to other countries especially to South Africa.
The US government defines human trafficking as “modern day slavery” which involves the movement of persons locally and beyond a country’s borders against their will to get them into forced labour, involuntary servitude and debt bondage.
So serious is Lesotho’s failure to address the scourge that the country has even been placed in Tier 3—the lowest tier in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020.
While insisting on Lesotho meeting the traditional MCC eligibility criteria which includes adherence to the rule of law and respecting human rights, the US government and MCC also wants the Majoro government to immediately take decisive steps to tackle human trafficking.
These include investigating allegations of official complicity in human trafficking and prosecuting the wrongdoers.
The government has only five months to act or risk losing the second MCC compact.
“Lesotho has done very badly, very badly in combatting human trafficking,” Ms Gonzales said yesterday.
Ms Gonzales said, under normal circumstances, a country in Tier 3 on human trafficking like Lesotho would have already lost all development assistance from the US.
However, she said she had recommended a waiver of any punishment against Lesotho to enable Dr Majoro to act on the issue since he had only assumed office recently. His failure to take concrete steps forthwith would however result in Lesotho losing out.
Lesotho’s new government thus has until February 2021 to have addressed the problem.
Ms Gonzales said although Dr Majoro had done well to appoint an inter-ministerial committee to tackle trafficking, there was still a lot to be done to improve the country’s ranking and maintain its eligibility for a second MCC compact.
On his part, Mr Kelly said the 2021 reporting period for human trafficking ends in February 2021. He said Lesotho had until that time to address all the concerns raised by the US government and the MCC board.
“The reporting period for the 2021 TIP report ends in February 2021. As a result, it is critical that the government of Lesotho take immediate, meaningful action to combat trafficking before the end of February.
“While the MCC will continue to explore potential projects with the government of Lesotho as part of the compact development phase, we will not present any proposed compact to our board of directors for approval until Lesotho improves its TIP status….”