A photholed legacy

Scrutator doubts any person will miss Tsele Chakela, the former transport and public works minister, who recently resigned after four years of bungling.
The man’s work was just a joke.
It was a joke that had long ceased to be funny.
You know the kind of joke that has been so routinely told that when you try to tell it again people just frown and give you that “we-heard-that-one-a-long-time-ago” look.
You couldn’t remind people that Chakela had failed because it was as obvious as the fact that the Public Eye is numbingly boring these days.
Here was a man who presided over the construction of some of the shoddiest roads in this country.
Bridges built under his watch collapsed even before people could cross them.
And when he was recently asked about them he had the temerity to blame the elements for their collapse.
The excessive rains, the trained engineer explained with a straight face, had washed away the bridges.
Scrutator thought proper bridges were supposed to be strong enough to withstand extreme climate elements.
In a pathetic attempt to duck responsibility he forgot that the reason why tax payers paid his salary for the 51 months he was in office was for him to make sure the country had durable roads and bridges.
But that is the kind of attitude we have always known the man for.
Everything that goes wrong with our roads and bridges is someone’s fault and not his.
The potholes, ooppss I meant to say damholes, along our rural and national roads are a curse from God who gave us too much rain, he might as well claim.
Scrutator is sure that given a chance Chakela would have even blamed some external and powerful forces for the poor drainage, poor clearance and the slapdash workmanship on our roads. But who can blame him? Chakela’s attitude epitomises the way civil servants work in this country.
If they are slow it’s because the government underpays them.
When they steal and rig tenders it’s because the government doesn’t pay them well.
If they bunk work with vigour it’s because the government pays them peanuts and their bosses have already perfected the art of going AWOL.
They are never short of people or institutions to blame for their tomfoolery. They can grumble from dusk to dawn about who is making their work difficult but, for some weird reason, they never leave the civil service.
The real reason why most of them are stuck like ticks on the government payroll is that they cannot survive outside the comfort of ineptness that pervades the civil service.
They are allergic to anything that involves working on a deadline and is mentally engaging.
Most of them come to the office, switch on their computers (if they have any) and then look for a blistering heater before dozing off.
They will snore until even the rats in their offices complain to the ombudsman or get a peace order from the High Court.
Only the aroma of the free tea from the kitchen will startle them from their dreamlands.
They will take tea in gallons while moaning bitterly about how the winter has come too early this year.
After that they will gossip their voices horse until the lunch hour for which they disappear for two hours before coming back to the office with their stomach full of that sleep inducing papa and a Chinese-made toothpick dangling from their mouth.
They will take a brief siesta so the papa and pork, their favourite meal, can settle before doing some little work just to clean their conscience.
But soon the aroma of the tea will force them to make a beeline for the kitchen again. After that they will let out a big yawn, grab their things and look for the fastest 4-plus-One taxi back home.
When payday comes they are the first ones to leave the office for the nearest banking hall.
At least Chakela eventually resigned but the truth is that the man just did not have a choice.
There comes a time when you cannot hide your failures for too long and you have to vamoose.
“That which has horns cannot be hidden forever,” says one African proverb.
Scrutator reckons that after much soul-searching Chakela decided it was time to hit the road.
His bungling had become too apparent for him to continue blaming misfortunes and the gods.
The sad reality is that although he left many rural areas with either treacherous roads, collapsed bridges or no roads at all he managed to make some contractors filthy rich.
Under him contractors could construct wobbly bridges and get away with it.
They could slap some little black chemical on our gravel roads, call it tar and claim to have paved the road.
They would demand their payment in millions of maloti.
Little wonder then that most of the roads commissioned over the past four years have been either washed away or remain unfinished.
All the while Chakela was walking around with a spring in his step as an able minister.
Rural roads remain as appalling as they were when he came into office. We still have people in this country who have to carry their dead on a stretcher to the mortuary because they have no roads.
It’s scandalous that we still have women who deliver on their way to the hospital because an ambulance couldn’t fetch them from their villages due to lack of roads.
Most of our roads are not even fit for donkeys yet not so long ago we had Chakela getting his obscenely hefty salary and monthly perks under the pretense that he was the minister of roads.
There is no doubt that unscrupulous contractors ran rings around the minister.
The construction industry in this country now stinks like some areas around the Maseru Industrial area on good days (Is it me alone who thinks it’s sometimes hard to enjoy a meal at Nandos because the area stinks?).
It’s good that the former minister now says he will start his own engineering firm.
Scrutator reckons that is the only way he can use the energy that he was saving while he was in government.
Welcome to the corporate world Mr Former Minister.
Here we work according to targets and deadlines.
Here we fire people who don’t perform even if they are linked to a strong faction of the ruling party or they are related to the big boss.
Companies that do not deliver on time go bust before their shareholders can say “hello!” Here we also work for profit.
So if you want to make it in the private sector you better start getting busy and put all the kilojoules that you saved during those years in the government to good use.
When he charges people and companies for his consultancy services Chakela must remember that they deserve a huge discount because they contributed, through their tax, to the salary he earned during the 51 months he was playing snakes and ladders in government.

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