Dark cloud hangs over Lesotho

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Utloang Kajeno

AGOA and MCC

THE headline: “Lesotho faces AGOA boot” (Lesotho Times, 3 November 2016) cries out for urgent action by all stakeholders, primarily the government.  We have been warning ad nauseam all concerned including primarily the government, that the United States government as the major benefactor to the Basotho under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), is concerned that Lesotho is not meeting the benchmarks of democracy, human rights, rule of law, press freedom and free enterprise, among others, to be eligible for these facilities.  However, and unfortunately these clarion calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears as to date nothing is being done to adhere to these guidelines.

Phumaphi Commission

We further warned that in addition that the US government and other development partners are insisting that Lesotho implements the SADC decisions that emanate from the Phumaphi Commission that was established following the 25 June 2015 killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his colleagues for allegedly resisting arrest.

Principally, four major recommendations emerged from this Commission.  These were, in no particular order: (a) The removal of the incumbent commander of the army as he is perceived to be the polarizing personality within the army and the nation and as a measure to restore confidence of the army among the Basotho.  (b) the suspension, investigation and prosecution according to the best international practices of all soldiers involved in the killing of General Mahao and in other crimes including the 30th August, 2014 attempted coup and other crimes.  (c) Amnesty for the detained soldiers for alleged mutiny as the Commission concluded that there was no mutiny but only that their confessions were obtained through coercion.  The return of all political exiles back to Lesotho.  (d) Implementation of the constitutional, judicial, press and other reforms as encapsulated in the Ramaphosa report, the aptly titled, SOMILES REPORT.

 

Amnesty Bill, 2016

Of late, the US has added its weight behind calls by opposition parties and civic organizations for government not to enact the Amnesty Bill, 2016 into law as this would promote a culture of impurity in the country.  The Americans further stated that laws of this nature require consultations and dialogue with various stakeholders. However, government has done none of these.

This bill seeks to see members of the army, Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) National Security Services (NSS), Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS), government officials and any other person being granted amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.  The amnesty would extend to members of the army whom the SADC Commission recommended should face prosecution thus rendering some of the SADC decisions a nullity and emasculating them.

US official’s visit

The sentiments of the US government’s stance regarding the government’s non-implementation of the SADC decisions, its intention to enact the aforementioned Amnesty Bill into law and the disastrous consequences of Lesotho’s ineligibility for both AGOA and MCC second compact were echoed succinctly by non-other than the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on her recent two-day trip to Lesotho, recently.

It is perhaps instructive for me to quote some of her pronouncements in her extensive interview with the media so that the reader can appreciate the magnitude of the disaster that might befall Lesotho in the event of non-qualification: “Two of those recommendations were that General Kamoli be removed from his position and the second one was that the soldiers, who are currently imprisoned for alleged mutiny, be released.  This is because the commission found no evidence to indicate the soldiers were involved in mutiny.”

“This issue of 40 000 textile industry workers in Lesotho is of great concern to us because we have a number of programmes that require the government to ensure stability.  If these governance issues are not addressed, the AGOA programme that provides 40 000 jobs in this country would be jeopardy.”

“We are also keen to see impurity not taking hold in this country. These issues we are raising are not new; the AGOA legislation always had benchmarks spelling out our requirements in terms of democracy, governance, human rights and press freedoms among others.”

Asked on the various efforts undertaken by the Trade and Industry Minister and other government officials to lobby us trade representatives and Congress for a favourable vote on the annual review of Lesotho’s eligibility for AGOA and MCC, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield ominously warned, in perhaps the quote that correctly encapsulates the import of this column: “I don’t know what the verdict will be, but the writing is on the wall.” I wish to add no further as this warning is as clear as day and night.

Potential consequences

That the US is the simply the largest development partner and benefactor for Lesotho is without a doubt. Should the US go ahead with its virtual final decision to withdraw the AGOA and MCA facility to Lesotho the consequences for the entire country with such a fragile economy are too ghastly to contemplate.  Here are some of the huge benefits that Lesotho gets under the unrivalled US assistance.

AGOA provides employment opportunities for over 40 000 Basotho in the garment and textile industry, as the US envoy rightly pointed out and to their dependants.  This means that unemployment will dangerously spiral out of control and livelihood of hundreds of Basotho will be in jeopardy.

Under the first five-year MCC Compact, Lesotho got assistance among others in the field of the constructive of the Metolong Dam that provides water to Maseru, Roma, Morija and Mazenod.  The MCC provides mitigating assistance on the economic and health front in the form of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  In addition to mitigating the effects on maternal health, tuberculosis and other diseases.  Fortunately, the US has indicated it will not stop humanitarian and health-related aid to Lesotho, nevertheless.

The MCC has assisted in regularizing and registering the Lesotho land tenure system under the newly-established Land Administration Authority (LAA), operationalizing the newly-established Commercial Division of the High Court that seeks to engender a speedier resolution of commercial disputes to create an investor-friendly environment for Lesotho’s economy and rehabilitating the Lesotho natural ecosystem through preservation of the wetlands and sources of our major rivers as well critically rehabilitating and establishing new health care centers throughout the country and maintenance thereof including providing rural sanitation facilities in large areas of the rural areas.

Indeed the assistance of the US to Lesotho is immeasurable and long-standing by any standards.  How we will mitigate its huge impact should the US withdraw it is incomprehensible and makes one to shudder think of the disastrous consequences.

Shrinking of the tax base

If these 40 000 plus jobs are lost as a result of the US’s withdrawal of AGOA and MCC Second Compact, then this will have huge disastrous impact on the government’s tax base.  This means the number of institution and people paying tax will dwindle drastically thereby impacting negatively on the government’s revenue base.

It translates also to the knock-on effect that the spin-off industries such catering, manufacturing, street vendors, transport retail and marketing as well the informal sector of the economy will suffer immensely.

The general economic base of the entire country will be knocked-off the perch.  This will translate to government and other stakeholders failing or hugely decreasing their social upliftment, service delivery and economic upliftment programs.  This will inevitably lead to a restless and discontent populace that is hostile to government, governance and law and other social services will be over – stretched as too many people will struggle over limited facilities.

Moral degeneration

The last item above brings me to the hugely moral and social problem of moral degeneration among the populace if these 40 000 plus jobs are lost. Because of this huge number of people in urban centers will be rendered jobless and therefore without a source of income, there will be a phenomenal increase in crime, prostitution and other vile deeds that will impact negatively on our collective moral fiber as a nation.

Thousands of illegal immigrants into SA

If these jobs and others in the spin-off industries are lost as a result of disqualification from AGOA and MCA, thousands of jobless Basotho will flood into the neighbouring South Africa that has very pourous borders with Lesotho.  This will put further strain on SA’s economy and social services with disastrous consequences.

Conclusion

In conclusion as a serious clarion call to all Basotho, major stakeholders, government and  indeed South Africa as our only neighbouring  that has leverage on Lesotho and SADC, kindly be warned as the US envoy puts it if Lesotho does not implement SADC decisions: “I don’t know what the verdict will be, but the writing is on the wall.”

 

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