OUR people rightly feel cursed after almost 55 years of independence. They have been routinely misgoverned. The country is routinely mismanaged. Our leaders just cannot seem to do a single thing right to ensure stability and progress. Basotho must be asking how a whole government can wait until after the expiry of the nationwide lockdown before pronouncing itself on what happens next.
They must be wondering what kind of government is content with folding its hands and doing nothing after belatedly extending the nationwide lockdown from 21 April to 5 May 2020.
The lockdown was initially from 30 March to 21 April 2020. It was then extended on the very day it was due to expire ostensibly to allow the government to move on to the next stage of the fight against Covid-19 and conduct mass testing. It was also said the extension would allow the government to set up quarantine facilities for suspected Covid-19 cases, fully equip hospitals and the quarantine facilities to deal with patients and suspected Covid-19 cases.
Flashforward to 5 May 2020, the expiry date for the latest lockdown, and none of those objectives have been achieved. All the while our leaders have been mum. Up until the very last day of the lockdown Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had still not bothered to address the nation on the way forward nor explain whether or not the lockdown would be extended. He had not bothered to explain to the nation why the government had not implemented its objectives in the period that it had set itself after extending the lockdown.
We are completely surrounded by South Africa and mostly dependent on that country for survival. We are influenced by what happens in that country. We are very much aware of the firm and decisive leadership exhibited by the South African government in addressing the Covid-19 threat. South Africa has taken many tangible steps to help its vulnerable people. It has come to the rescue of its small and medium enterprises. Before South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500 billion package to help the country respond to the pandemic, other substantial resources had already been put forward to help businesses and the vulnerable in that country. The South African government is mobilising funds from multi-lateral lending institutions to protect its citizens.
South Africa obviously has a larger economy and a big resource base to support its borrowings. Lesotho could at least emulate its giant neighbour and do what the Kingdom can at least afford. The world has also seen a number of agencies emerging with pledges of support for vulnerable poor countries. There hasn’t been any indication that our government is aggressively appealing for help to whoever can assist. All we hear are endless promises. We have heard of the M698 million set aside to fight Covid-19. We have also heard of the M500 million set aside to help the private sector. But there has been zilch movement on these promises. We know of no single private company that has been assisted with a single penny.
In a nutshell absolutely nothing has happened in the way of assisting businesses. But the hollow promises continue. The Prime Minister said in his Tuesday address the Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme will be coming on board to assist businesses. Again, the terms under which any assistance will be rendered have not been defined. Characteristically, all that will still have to be worked out?
This current coalition government is proving to be among the worst governments ever to have ruled this country. Talk to many top business leaders and industrialists and they will tell you there have been absolutely zero consultations about the way forward in helping businesses.
As we write, there is still no tangible, clear and realistic plan enunciated on helping the business sector. This is not the time to be still making promises. Some of the funds South Africa established to help its business sector have already been exhausted. But in Lesotho, our government is still promising this or that measure. It’s as if the monies will come from the politicians’ own pockets. It is not enough for the government to simply continue promising hollow packages to assist private companies. Nor is it enough for the authorities to promises assistance to the country’s 45 000-strong factory workers and thereafter do nothing about it.
The situation demands decisive and swift action like what we have seen elsewhere. Other countries have aggressively gone out to seek resources to cushion themselves from the effects of the pandemic. Lesotho has done zilch. How tragic.
We cannot go on like this. We cannot have a situation where the prime minister waits until the expiry of the lockdown to tell the nation the way forward. We cannot have a government which stares at its companies suffering while doing nothing to assist.
We cannot have our leadership perpetually consumed in self-serving power struggles while the economy burns and people are reduced to poverty and penury.
This pandemic is unprecedented and it was an opportunity for this government to at least shine, as its South African counterpart has done. It has failed inexorably. What we now have is a knee-jerk reaction to lift the lockdown to stave off permanent economic collapse. That is hardly surprising in the absence of a coherent state inspired plan to assist the economy. We can only hope that the Lord keeps Covid-19 away from us forever. Otherwise, Basotho will die like flies. Equally, it is foolhardy for the business sector to look to this government for miracles. It looks no assistance is forthcoming. What we have of course heard is the stampede to steal whatever little funds have been reserved to fight the pandemic. It’s called failure of leadership.