I will not serve more than two terms as Prime Minister’

Tom+ThabaneIt’s exactly 510 days since the inauguration of Lesotho’s first-ever coalition government when Lesotho Times (LT) editorial executives caught up with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last week for his first-ever detailed review and assessment of the coalition government’s efforts since it assumed the power.

The PM shares with us his views on the performance of the coalition government hitherto and the prospects of its survival till the next general elections in 2017 amid persistent media reports that its cohesiveness and durability is in doubt. Excerpts;

LT:  It’s 510 days today (about one year five months) since you assumed office at the helm of Lesotho’s first-ever coalition government since independence from Britain in 1966.

Enough time has since lapsed for us to ask you to reflect on the coalition’s performance and a full assessment or review of its efforts in office thus far?

Thabane:  I think the most important aspect of the coalition, in my view, is that it has completely changed my attitude towards power and about the general feeling that whatever party is in power has the sacred right to impose its policies on every person and that the achievement of this objective is by winning elections at all costs and securing total power.

As a student of political science and history, I learnt that rulers who hung on to power were those who were ruthless and did not tolerate what they looked upon as the inability to toe the line.

That line being the party line.

I grew up in the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) of the late Ntsu Mokhehle after I had been his pupil at the age of 14.

Whoever was not a member of the party was branded a sell-out and had to be punished.

When the Basotho National Party (BNP) emerged as a new party in 1959 and was clearly sponsored by French/Canadian missionaries of the Catholic Church, its emergence was clearly regarded as a complete betrayal of the struggle for independence against British rule in Lesotho.

Anything and everything should be done to rid Lesotho of such attitudes and the lesson we can all take from the unity government thus far is that it is possible for us to work together as Basotho for the good of this nation.

LT: Questions are already being asked about the cohesiveness, coherence and durability of this coalition with reports suggesting that it is on the brink of collapsing.

Your opponent Monyane Moleleki (Democratic Congress (DC)) has repeatedly predicted the coalition’s imminent demise. What do you say to that?

Thabane: Coalitions are by their very nature always going to be difficult because they are a union of parties that were contesting for victory, each with its own manifesto and its own plans and agenda in the event of being victorious.

Our coalition consists of parties that went to the elections as adversaries but all of a sudden found themselves united by their common disagreement with the party we had differences with (the Democratic Congress).

Anything to stop them (the DC) from taking power was desirable.

Fortunately, we now know there is more to our coalition than just stopping the former PM (Pakalitha Mosisili) and his colleagues from forming a government.

We have over time learnt to recognise the strengths that each one of us possesses in the coalition.

We have also learnt how our very differences and perceptions of how Lesotho should be governed have, with time, shown us where we thought we were right individually and also where we had been wrong.

We used a system of proportionality (to form the coalition) based on numbers wherein the ABC, because of its bigger numbers, produced the Prime Minister and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), by similar consideration, produced the deputy PM.

Of vital importance here is the fact that the PM and deputy PM would not take any decisions in the absence of our third partner, Chief Thesele Maseribane (leader of Basotho National Party -BNP).

In reaching our decisions, we do not vote but strive to do so by consensus.

We therefore take full ownership of all our decisions without anyone thinking that they have been pushed against their will.

We used this proportionality in determining the number of ministers and officials in other key areas of government.

We have through this process discovered that there is a lot of talent in our country.

I must hasten to point out that we are speaking of this proportionality in only those civil service posts that can be regarded as political such as principal secretaries.

For the rest of the civil service, everything is left to the ministries and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

LT: Can you thus say this coalition is durable and cohesive and will last until the next elections in 2017 or there is a credible chance of its collapse, prompting early elections?

Thabane: It will be a measure of the individual and collective strength of us as leaders, our committees and followers to evaluate and approve the value of working together in this fashion.

It is also to our members, our friends in the opposition to critically and truthfully say whether or not they feel that the idea of coalitions, which has never happened in the country before, is a bad idea.

It is also up to the intellectuals, analysts, the media like your newspaper, to truthfully tell your readers about whether or not they feel Lesotho has the capacity to sustain a coalition government.

I personally have agreed to your interview because I have measured your strengths and your fearless reporting based on your own judgment, which sometimes I have not agreed with myself.

I know that you are not here to please me but rather to ask probing questions and that through my answers you will independently report to your readers and hopefully everyone understands what we are doing and the value of working together.

LT: Recently the media reported that the coalition was on the brink because you had seized responsibility over implementation of the multi-billion Maloti second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project from Timothy Thahane (an LCD minister) and the LCD had subsequently given you an ultimatum to reverse your decision or they would consider their participation in the coalition? 

Thabane: The biggest challenge is to finalise preparations of signing leading to commencement of work on the Highlands water project.

The present situation has developed from consultations by officials, ministers and things are now at the stage of head of state or government level, meaning at President (Jacob) Zuma’s level in South Africa and myself in Lesotho.

I have found it necessary to satisfy myself, especially having been involved in the negotiation of the first phase of the project as then principal secretary of foreign affairs and member of the first negotiating team . . . It should be remembered that at that time, we were dealing with the apartheid government.

Today we are dealing with the ANC government.

The bottom line is that I am leading negotiations for Lesotho and President Zuma for South Africa.

In such negotiations, everyone puts their interests on the table.

Fortunately, most points have been agreed.

When I joined the negotiations which had been going on before, I felt that the main substance of the treaty itself , which is water transfer to South Afric . . . , and hydro electric power for Lesotho, which Lesotho would then use for domestic purposes and also sale to SA and other interested countries needed to be addressed. That question is being resolved and Thahane was leading the ministerial group from our side.

We may have different views about his performance on these issues but his present situation has been more a matter within his own party than at the coalition level.

LT: What are the sticking points in these Highlands water negotiations?

Thabane: The sticking point is the main issue of “water for South Africa and electricity for Lesotho”.

Negotiations by the previous government had ignored the second part.

These are the core elements of the treaty itself.

That’s why I have delayed signing.

I can understand South Africa’s position . . . However, we need a mutually beneficial process.

SA has not found my raising of the issue objectionable.

It would be funny if this caused a problem in Lesotho.

We should be happy that those who initiated the treaty were wise to realise that Lesotho should have hydro power for local use and for sale to neighbouring countries while SA gets the water.

In fact Botswana is also asking us to sell water and hydro power.

But that’s in the future. For now the entire deal is between SA and Lesotho.

 

LT: Is there any agreement now on all these issues about the water project?

Thabane: Yes, at ministerial level, I am expecting a final draft for approval by Zuma and myself and to sign it.

It is up to Thahane or his office to provide me with this information so I can communicate a date of signing to Zuma.

LT:  What would you therefore say are the milestones of the coalition government?

Thabane: The most important thing is that like Barack Obama in the USA, the coalition has spread a message of hope.

Just before last year’s elections, there was a lot of pessimism, despondency and desperation from the youth, adults, ordinary men and women in the streets up to the intellectuals. The debates among Basotho were dominated by a mood of hopelessness and of fear for the future because nothing was happening.

The mood has now changed because the coalition is delivering on its promises.

People are now eager to know how soon will this or that happen.

This is because they have seen things happening which were not happening before.

People can now produce food in their villages on their land, people can live in peace without fearing for their security.

There is openness in government.

Every Mosotho is free to make suggestions about the future and get serious attention.

Some of these suggestions are taken on board.

Immense challenges remain in health, education, infrastructure development and other areas.

But these challenges are being met and will be addressed through an aggressive programme of the government to provide solutions. We could not have resolved all the challenges in the short period we have been in power.

 

LT: But there are also allegations that certain things don’t happen fast enough because of the alleged logjam and disagreements in the coalition. Is that allegation true?

Thabane: The coalition at a political level is functioning well but the civil service is in some instances still sluggish.

This is understandable because there was a period of total neglect by the government in the areas of service delivery to the people.

Staff morale was low and in turn detrimental to the morale and optimism of the masses.

We are resolving this problem.

LT:  What’s your personal vision for this country and for the remainder of your term?

Thabane; When my first term ends, I would want every household in Lesotho to have three meals a day and to drink clean water and every man and woman to have free and cheap access to health services.

Similarly, I would want to enable every child to get education to the best of their abilities, irrespective of the economic state of their parents, for old people to die in dignity.

But above all I hope for every Mosotho to feel free of harm from another Mosotho and to rid Lesotho of all forms of crime.

On a more sophisticated level, I want to make Lesotho a place where people can invest their money and create jobs for both educated and uneducated Basotho.

Lastly, I want Lesotho to become a haven for peace and stability.

LT:  In light of the history of violence and political instability which has saddled this country in the past, you seem to have achieved a smooth transition from the previous regime to your coalition last year. What made that smooth transition possible?

Thabane: I would want to pay tribute to my predecessor and former boss (Pakalitha) Mosisili who phoned me to say “you are expected at the stadium (Setsoto) tomorrow” and when I got there, he informed me that he was going to witness my swearing in as Prime Minister.

This event has not received the coverage it deserved particularly because subsequent events may have clouded the singular importance of that occasion.

Whatever happens in future, (former) Prime Minister Mosisili will forever remain in my mind as the African leader who handed over power peacefully and voluntarily after losing an election.

I promise to follow his example.

I regard myself as serving only two terms if I am allowed by the voters and nothing beyond that and hope subsequent PMs accept the two-term principle.

That principle is not enshrined in the constitution but I think that before I leave office, I will ensure that this issue is entrenched in the constitution.

LT: The textile workers have been particularly critical of your performance as a coalition government because they say your promise to set a higher minimum wage for them from M908 to above M2 000 monthly has not materialised and they still face massive exploitation from their mostly Asian bosses?

Thabane: I accept that the pace has been much slower even in other sectors.

This one (the textiles sector) is by its very nature conspicuous.

The fact that our private sector employment depends on that precarious industry makes it vulnerable.

Balancing the interests of the employer and employee in certain volatile sectors is always a challenge.

Our other sources of employment are the mines and farms in South Africa over which we don’t have control.

The way forward therefore is to create more local jobs by local entrepreneurs and investors.

We have mines here which should create jobs.

The foundation of our mining industry is our main challenge.

Some agreements with investors in the diamond sector are very unsatisfactory.

In the diamond sector, we take 24 percent and the investor simply by bringing his spade and shovel takes 66 percent on the diamond.

Investors can’t be here for themselves.

The management of our treasury has also been unsatisfactory.

Some aspects of the civil service have not functioned well.

There has been corruption and some have stolen money.

All those challenges need our utmost attention.

LT: On the subject of corruption, Thahane has been arraigned before the courts over fraud and corruption.

How can you possibly claim to be fighting corruption when ministers facing such serious charges comfortably sit in your cabinet?

Thabane: The proper thing for him to do is to resign. I urge him to resign. I encourage him to resign.

He is much older than (Temeki) Tšolo (the former Trade Minister) whom I fired and he should know what to do under the current circumstances.

If he does not resign, we will take the necessary action.

LT:  Can you fire him like Tšolo since he is not from the ABC but from your other coalition partner the LCD?

Thabane: Constitutionally, the PM appoints and fires ministers.

In a coalition we consult.

I can fire him after consultation and it will be expected that his party nominates a replacement.

If Thahane was ABC, he would have been fired already. Tšolo was ABC and we acted.

I consulted myself (over Tšolo).

 

  • The interview with the PM was done before the LCD announced the firing of Thahane this week.

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