Economic integration needs full ministry

THE government seems to be having enormous challenges regarding the issue of integrating economic policy between its different ministries.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry, Co-operatives and Marketing is for instance leading trade negotiations at World Trade Organisation and other bilateral levels.

On the other hand the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is the focal point for the country on economic issues within Sadc.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also somehow involved in negotiating trade matters at bilateral and multilateral levels with foreign governments.

In my opinion there is a serious overlapping of responsibilities by these three different ministries.

Because we do not have a ministry specifically dealing with economic integration we have diplomats trying to negotiate trade deals during their various foreign assignments.

But are these diplomats well equipped to negotiate trade deals at any level?

We all know that trade matters often involve legal and technical jargon which requires people who are either experienced or are experts in the fields.

These skills are not necessarily required of people who are sent on diplomatic missions.

In certain circumstances we have diplomats who are sent to their different assignments merely because they are sons and daughters of government ministers or are loyal members of the ruling party.

They come from all walks of life with most of them being former teachers.

As a result Lesotho has in the past signed agreements and treaties without conducting scientific research to assess the possible impact of such pacts.

Lesotho has made irreversible commitments to the WTO and is working with its neighbours to complete the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union.

We certainly need a new ministry of economic integration to deal with these matters.

The first thing that the country needs to do is to assess the relevance of current ministries.

Ministries such as defence should get lesser funds to reduce the burden on the fiscus with more funds being allocated to the new ministry.

The Ministry of Defence has been allocated about five percent of the national budget and this has been constant since the days of military rule.

The proposed new ministry should champion the implementation of agreements, protocols and other national commitments.

The government could also seriously consider abolishing the position of assistant minister and allocate the resources to the new ministry.

The position of assistant minister is a waste of national resources in a country such as ours.

Besides, these assistant ministers appear to be operating with no clear terms of reference.

The third alternative would be to reduce the number of ministries that appear to be doing similar tasks.

I insist there is no point in separating the agriculture and forestry ministries.

The forestry ministry’s primary task appears to be to plant trees.

The new ministry could ensure consistency and avoid duplication of efforts between different government ministries.

It could also serve as a gateway for all stakeholders to engage the government on matters of economic integration.

This will also stem the current confusion where government ministries tend to pronounce different positions on economic integration matters.

For example, during the EPA negotiations the two ministries of finance and trade held on to diametric positions.

The finance ministry argued the agreement would result in a decline in revenue whereas the trade ministry wanted to sign the agreement believing it would bring substantial benefits to Lesotho.

The trade ministry also argued that the deal would attract investors in the textile and garments industries in order to export to the EU.

Economic integration is about empowering local businesses and consumers through benefits coming from the opportunities offered by the removal of trade barriers.

The government also needs to have a clear policy on how both the private sector and consumers will be engaged in economic integration negotiations.

The country currently depends heavily on international funding but sooner rather than later donor fatigue will set in resulting in limited resources for Lesotho.

Lesotho should however invest in developing its human resource base to have experts who will champion the country’s interests.

We have relied on outsourcing services to foreigners which is very expensive.

The cost of bringing an international trade expert for a single matter out-weighs the cost of training three locals to become specialists in the field.

The benefit of training locals is that they will be used for the foreseeable future while outsourcing is a short-term solution.

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