THE government has lost billions of maloti through unfinished projects in the past decade due to rampant corruption among civil servants and an erratic bureaucracy. There is also poor monitoring, resulting in delayed completion of projects because of the inevitable resultant cost escalations. Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, whose ministry is responsible for coordinating government projects, warns that corruption will continue to bleed the country if there is no political will to tackle the scourge. In this interview with the Lesotho Times (LT), Mr Mochoboroane also talks about the treason and murder charges hanging above his head as well as his party, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC)’s preparations for the 7 October 2022 elections. Excerpts:
LT: What is the mandate of the Development Planning Ministry?
Mochoboroane: The Ministry of Development Planning was separated from the Ministry of Finance in 2013 following the 2012 elections. The ministry is mandated to oversee other ministries in planning the development of the country. It has five departments; Statistics, the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS), Project Cycle Management, Aid Coordination and Planning, and Monitoring and Evaluation. Statistics deals with collection of data that the country uses for its national plans. The NMDS offers sponsorship to Basotho tertiary students. It is also responsible for collecting debts from former sponsored students.
The Department of Planning works to ensure that the international protocols that we have signed such as the 2063 Agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fit into our own National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP). We also have the Project Cycle Management which is responsible for initiating development projects. For instance, if the Public Works Ministry has a project to undertake, it will come to us for discussions and approval. We also have the Aid Coordination Department which is mandated to mobilise resources from within and even outside the country for big projects. It monitors and evaluates projects being undertaken by the government.
LT: Before you were appointed as minister, you were chairperson of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC). One of the key things that you always highlighted was rampant corruption in government. Has the situation changed since then?
Mochoboroane: When I was chairperson of the PAC, I discovered that there was a lot of corruption in government. When you have a problem, you need to accept that you have a problem so that you can work on it. The major problem in our country is corruption. It would be difficult to control corruption when you have a leadership that has no political will to fight it. We have widespread corruption but the leadership is not determined to fight the scourge. If we had leaders who were determined to fight corruption, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) would be doing its work efficiently. The same leadership would be holding it accountable and asking why the organisation is not doing its work to the expectations of the nation. If our leadership was interested in fighting corruption, our law enforcement agencies would be autonomous and well-resourced. During my time as PAC chairperson, I grilled a number of ministers who were involved in corruption. I came up with recommendations but they were not implemented by the government. The recommendations can only be implemented when we have a leadership that has political will to fight corruption.
LT: Are some of the ministers still in government right now?
Mochoboroane: Some of them are not in government now; they left during the 4×4 administration cobbled by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections. I would not say during this current government there’s no corruption. If I was still the PAC chairperson a lot would be put in the public domain involving corruption by people in high positions.
LT: Are you saying the current PAC is weak?
Mochoboroane: I’m a little reluctant to say it is weak. But maybe the level at which it is doing its work might be different, not to say it is weak.
LT: Have you engaged Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro regarding your concerns on corruption?
Mochoboroane: Yes, after my investigations into unfinished government projects in 2020, I produced a report which I made public. I even engaged the prime minister and asked him to address the issue in public and he did.
LT: So, are you happy to with the prime minister’s response?
Mochoboroane: I am 50 percent happy that some of the projects have now been attended to and 50 percent unhappy because there are some that have not been resolved, for example the Molatje Primary School project. I’m not an investigator and one would want a probe into what happened to the rest of the funds meant for the project so that those who were involved can held accountable. I’m hoping this will happen one day.
LT: What have been your achievements and challenges as Development Planning minister?
Mochoboroane: We were able to initiate reforms for the NMDS to address the aged legal framework that governs the organisation. We are currently using 1978 legislation, but we have now drafted new laws. I’m hopeful that the next parliament will work on the proposed legislation because it addresses important issues. When NMDS started in 1978, they were sponsoring less than 200 students a year and we are now sponsoring 23 000 students. This is an achievement that the ministry has achieved over the years. We have also reviewed the awarding of scholarships. There was a policy where the government expected students to pay 50 percent of their bursaries to further their studies. How do you ask that much from somebody who is not working? I was able to remove that policy and introduce a new one where students can now further their studies as far as PhD. Another achievement is that I was able to review upwards tuition fees and allowances for tertiary students.
LT: How much were the allowances when you came in and how much are they now?
Mochoboroane: In the past 10 years, the allowances were M1000, but they are now M1250. Book allowance was about M4000 but now it is M5000. Students now receive M5000 computer allowance and M50 data allowance which was not there before I came in.
LT: We have witnessed on different occasions riots by the students, like the incident of 16 June 2022 at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where a student was shot dead by the police. In your view what were the causes of these riots? What are you doing to ensure that such incidents do not recur?
Mochoboroane: I think once the new legislation I’ve mentioned comes in into existence, we will be able to address the issues facing NMDS. One of the major challenges is the secretariat’s structure and lack of adequate human resources. The department is under-staffed and it is grappling to serve many students. The problem of student riots lies with NMDS and the institutions of higher learning. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the institutions to submit lists of admissions of returning students on time. The institutions have some challenges that result in them failing to submit their lists timeously to facilitate payment of allowances to students. But with the NUL, this problem is consistent. I don’t know what is the problem with NUL. They tell you at times that they have problems with their systems hence delays in submitting the required paperwork. Botho University does well in this regard. Almost every year, they submit on time and NMDS can work on their lists without any hassles. However, I admit that to a certain extent, the NMDS is also to blame. The department lacks capacity. But I think with the introduction of the new legal framework, we can address that.
LT: You are the leader of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC). What are your plans in the event of winning in the October elections and forming government?
Mochoboroane: When you are a political leader, you aspire to be prime minister despite the number of rivals. We all fight for one seat, that is to be prime minister. Revamping the civil service will be one of my major priorities. You can have a good manifesto but it will have to be implemented by civil servants. That is why we will focus on improving the salaries and working conditions of civil servants. The morale of civil servants has deteriorated a lot over the years and we’ll work hard to address this. We have also discovered that transfers are at times effected to punish civil servants and promotions are not based on merit or performance, but along political lines. We will introduce a policy on promotion.
The next thing we will deal with is the issue of corruption. It should not take too long for the government to discover that there is corruption, that there are government officials conniving with politicians or other government officials to rob the government. We must have intelligence among the public service structures that will help the government to prevent corruption. We’ll appoint a competent government secretary who can ensure that civil servants do the work.
MEC preached the gospel of economic emancipation when it was not fashionable. We must focus on production so that we can revive our economy. We must ensure that we produce enough vegetables. There was a time when Lesotho was able to export grain to South Africa…..
An MEC government will also focus on infrastructure development. Our 2017 election manifesto focused on the provision of water, roads, and electricity. We’ll focus on distributing electricity to communities across the country.
We’ll also set up a sovereign wealth fund to promote investment. The fund will be managed by an independent body. It will help us to fund infrastructure development instead of going to the World Bank for loans.
LT: How far has the MEC gone in terms of its election preparations?
Mochoboroane: We are fully on the ground. In 2017 we were able to get five percent of the total votes and this time we are going to triple that number.
LT: Do you have any plans for an alliance going into the elections?
Mochoboroane: The MEC will not be part of any alliance. We are ready to go into the elections to compete on our own. We’re strong enough. We have good relations with a number of political parties including the Democratic Congress (DC), the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho Action Party (BAP), Socialists Revolution (SR) but we’re not going to form an alliance with any of them. We have never thought of merging.
LT: We have seen on social media that a Chinese man, Z Shao, has been campaigning to represent the MEC at Ha-Tsolo in Maseru? Does he have your party’s blessings?
Mochoboroane: Well, I have seen that but there is no way that a Chinese can represent MEC. He tried yes, but as the national executive committee of the party we stopped that.
LT: Is he a card-carrying member of the MEC?
Mochoboroane: No, he is not a card-carrying member. In fact, he started at Ha-Thetsane and MEC members rejected him. He then went to Ha-Tsolo. We learnt that he met some members of a constituency committee whom I suspect he bribed so that he can be nominated. We were lucky enough that we heard about it and we ordered them to stop that nonsense and it was stopped.
LT: There have been treason charges hanging over your head and they are in the public domain. One of your co-accused, Mothetjoa Metsing, is saying that those charges are politically-motivated, what is your take on that?
Mochoboroane: Much as they are politically-motivated, we have sung that song and we are tired of singing it. What I want is for the case to be completed so that the truth can prevail. I have never gone anywhere, I am here, I have gone to court. I will go to court and I want that case to come to finality. There is no case there. We want to see the court pronouncing itself on that one. That is why I am not going anywhere.