. . . failure to increase efforts to fight scourge could lead to loss of MCC Compact II, aid.
THE United States (US) has called on Lesotho to prosecute people suspected of human trafficking crimes. Failure to prosecute suspects could lead to the loss of the multi-million-dollar second compact under the US sponsored Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and other forms of development assistance, a US embassy official has said.
A fortnight ago, Lesotho and the MCC agreed on a US$300 million Compact II to fund Lesotho’s healthcare system, agriculture and small businesses.
Implementation of the agreed projects will then begin in 2023 up to 2028.
All of this is, however, dependent on the Lesotho government meeting eligibility criteria, particularly addressing human trafficking concerns that have been raised by the US government.
The US government considers human trafficking a serious offence and countries like Lesotho, which are on its Tier 2 Watchlist for trafficking, are ineligible to receive various forms of US development assistance.
This means that despite agreeing a Compact II, Lesotho still has its work cut out to improve its ranking to Tier 2 or even 1 to receive the funds to implement various projects under the compact.
As stated time and again by outgoing US ambassador Rebecca Gonzales in several interviews with the Lesotho Times, Lesotho still needs to prosecute suspects including government officials accused of complicity in the trafficking of persons.
Ms Gonzales’ call was reiterated by the US Embassy’s Political and Economic Affairs officer, Juan Reyes, at a recent International Organisation on Migration (IOM) event in Maseru.
In his address at the IOM ceremony to hand over kits to the police to help them verify the authenticity of people’s travel documents, Mr Reyes hailed Lesotho’s progress towards addressing the US government’s concerns over the rampant trafficking in persons (TIP) in recent years.
He said under Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa’s leadership, Lesotho had made commendable progress by investigating suspected trafficking cases, establishing anti-trafficking and smuggling unit focal points in various districts as well as stepping up public awareness campaigns against the scourge.
“Lesotho and its people are making meaningful progress to counter TIP,” Mr Reyes said.
“Over the past year Lesotho has increased stakeholder coordination on TIP investigations. It has established anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling focal points in four of the country’s ten districts. The government has also increased support for shelter and protective services for victims, allocated funds for TIP-related activities and victim protection. It has finalised and implemented guidelines for victim identification and referral and it has increased its TIP specific training and sensitisation efforts.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done, particularly by way of prosecuting suspects, failing which, Lesotho could be demoted to Tier 3, the worst ranking, Mr Reyes said.
“The government has only made minimal progress to convict traffickers including complicit officials. In this year 2022, Lesotho must demonstrate increasing efforts towards an upgrade to tier two or face an automatic downgrade to tier three.
“This is important because if Lesotho was to be downgraded to Tier 3, this would result in restrictions of non-humanitarian assistance. In some circumstances, this would also lead to the withholding of funding participation by government officials or employees in educational and cultural exchange programmes.
“We encourage the government of Lesotho to demonstrate a strong commitment to counter human trafficking. Otherwise Lesotho could face restrictions on the second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact.
“The US government will continue to work with the government side by side in combating TIP. Combating human trafficking is a top priority for the US government,” Mr Reyes said.