Civic groups falling under the ‘Alliance of Non-State Actors’ have rejected “blanket statements” issued by the Prime Minister’s office in response to several grievances they wanted the government to answer “comprehensively”.
The Alliance staged a protest march in Maseru on 12 May this year and submitted a list of their grievances to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Kimetso Mathaba, who was in the company of Police Minister Monyane Moleleki, and his Trade counterpart, Joshua Setipa.
In the petition they had hoped to deliver to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the civic groups expressed concern at the possibility of the American government removing Lesotho from countries eligible for preferential trade benefits because of security concerns. The Alliance also said it was equally concerned by the government’s response to recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s security and political challenges.
The Alliance, comprising the Maseru Region Taxi Operators, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), trade unions including Lentsoe la Sechaba, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, United Textile Employees, and businesses represented by the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had given the government 14 days to respond to their grievances hence last week’s response from the Prime Minister’s Economic and Political Advisor Dr Fako Likoti and the Prime Minister’s Senior Private Secretary Mamello Morrison.
Ms Morrison’s letter dated 26 May 2016 is addressed to the Alliance’s spokesperson Makama Monese and Advocate Lineo Tsikoane of the LCN and reads: “We are in receipt of a petition which the two of you handed to the Office of the right Honourable the Prime Minister on the morning of 12th May 2016, ahead of the march you made to the same Office later in the day.
“The official petition was presented to the Minister to the Prime Minister Honourable Kimetso Mathaba, MP, in the company of the Minister of Police and Public Safety, Honourable Monyane Moleleki, MP, and Honorable Minister of Trade and Industry, Senator Joshua Setipa. As promised, the petition was promptly presented to the Right Honourable Prime Minister.
“I am instructed to communicate the Right Honourable the Prime Minister’s deep gratitude for the orderly manner in which the march was conducted, to acknowledge the contents of the said petition, and to respond as below.”
The letter goes on to address the Alliance’s concerns starting with the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)—the American legislation enacted in 2000 to allow select goods from eligible sub-Saharan African countries access US markets duty free. Eligibility for AGOA is based on countries’ respect for the rule of law.
However, the American government has expressed concern over Lesotho’s security and political challenges which, among others, saw three opposition leaders—All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane, and his Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho counterparts Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo respectively—fleeing the country in May 2015 for South Africa, claiming they had been alerted of a plot to assassinate them by some LDF members. The military has since dismissed the claims.
Ms Morrison’s letter continues: “On AGOA, we have been informed by the Honourable Minister of Trade and Industry that the Ministry is currently seized of all matters pertinent to the concerns you raised in your petition.
“But more importantly, the Ministry has already developed a strategy to explore expanding our market reach to members of the European Union.
“The same strategy will be shared with all stakeholders once it has sufficiently crystalized. On the question of access of Lesotho products to markets in the United States, we remain convinced that the 10-year extension to us and other countries in Africa remains applicable.
“Should we sense any development to the contrary, we shall address same and involve all stakeholders in formulating a positive way forward.
“In the meantime, we remain engaged with the relevant US agencies for both AGOA and the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation).”
She further addressed the Alliance’s concerns about the implementation of the SADC Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.
The end of March visit by SADC Executive Secretary Dr Lawrence Stergomena Tax, she said, revealed progress made by the coalition government in the implementation of the recommendations.
Among the recommendations was that the government should ensure criminal investigations into the death of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao are pursued “vigorously” and lead to a “transparent course of justice”. The Commission also recommended that army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli should be dismissed “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation”, and all LDF officers implicated in murder, attempted murder and treason should be suspended while investigations into their cases proceed “in line with international best practice”. The Commission also urged the government to ensure the safe return of the exiled opposition leaders.
The SADC Commission of Inquiry, prompted by the fatal shooting of Lt-General Mahao by members of the LDF on 25 June 2015 allegedly while resisting arrest for suspected mutiny, was led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana.
Ms Morrison adds: “You will no doubt agree that the recent visit to Lesotho by the Executive Secretary of SADC, Dr Lawrence Tax, revealed, in no uncertain terms, progress that government has made towards the implementation of some of the recommendations of that report.
“We are currently finalising our comprehensive response to the Phumaphi Commission’s report following our study of its contents as promised when we tabled the report in parliament, and in preparation for the (SADC) August Summit in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
“Once this response is finalised, the nation will indeed be appraised of its contents”.
She further highlighted the government’s commitment towards citizens’ participation in governance.
“Let me conclude on a humble reminder that the current Coalition Government is fully committed to interaction with civil society as clearly stipulated in Section A6 of the Coalition Agreement ‘To place greater focus on consultation and citizen participation’.
“Our only hope is that we shall be accorded mutual respect and earnest commitment on the part of all stakeholders as we engage on matters of public discourse. Please accept sincere and best wishes in all your well-meaning endeavours.
“We further hope that in future, it will be possible to engage at boardroom level for purposes of smooth and direct interaction, instead of through stay-aways and demonstrations as the latter tend to be confrontational and leave a bad taste.”
On his part, Dr Likoti said he had been directed by the Prime Minister “to thank you for your petition and the dignified manner in which you submitted it to his office.
“This was not only a clear demonstration of the prevailing peace and stability in the Kingdom, but a mature manner of dealing with issues in a stable and democratic country such as ours.
“Your petition deals with two most pertinent issues, namely AGOA and the perceived SADC suspension. Please allow me to provide a concreate response to each of these important issues raised.”
Dr Likoti then notes the government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, had already responded to most concerns raised regarding AGOA.
“In fact, an extensive report has been submitted. The report tabled among others, the peaceful environment that we have alluded to above, and many other requirements among other various steps that Lesotho has taken to guard against any situation that may have a bearing on the country’s eligibility for AGOA itself.
“We are determined to do what is right, and to make and implement decisions that are in the best interest of peace, stability and development of Lesotho.
“Our resolve is to pursue our reforms programme with rigor, while exercising great caution to avoid actions that may reverse the gains that we have made since we became eligible to AGOA”.
Responding to the Alliance’s “perceived” SADC suspension of Lesotho, Dr Likoti said the Prime Minister would soon provide a progress report about the Phumaphi recommendations.
“In relation to the SADC report, you may recall that the Prime Minister made a national statement on the 08th February 2016 before the National Parliament about the report itself.
“However, the Prime Minister will provide a progress report about the report before the National Assembly very soon. Please be assured you will soon realise that your government has made enormous advances in this endeavour,” noted Dr Likoti.
But Mr Monese yesterday told the Lesotho Times that the Alliance was not interested in new markets in Europe but wants the government to reassure the nation on AGOA.
“We want to know what the government is doing to certify our eligibility for AGOA; how far the government has gone towards delivering on demands by the US which have a bearing on our eligibility for AGOA. We don’t want to hear about new markets elsewhere when we already have a market,” said Mr Monese.
He further revealed the Alliance is set to meet next week to decide on the way forward “taking into account the mockery that our demands have been reduced to”.
Mr Monese added: “We were also shocked to get responses from people we never petitioned.”
For her part, Advocate Tsikoane said the letters from both Dr Likoti and Mrs Morrison fell short of the answers they expected.
“We didn’t want blanket statements saying a report has been submitted. That means nothing to us. Again there are contradictions between what Dr Likoti says and what ‘Me’ Mamello is saying and also what Minister Setipa said about going to meet with the Americans on AGOA,” she said.