THE All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s legislator for Matsieng, ‘Matsepo Ramakoae, has emerged as a dark horse in the race to replace outgoing Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Initially, the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) proposed Chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, Deputy Secretary General Nkaku Kabi and Deputy Spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti but the NEC has bowed down to demands from the party’s legislators to widen the list to include legislators who are not members of the NEC. And as succession race gathers steam, some party legislators have proposed Ms Ramakoae for the top job on account of her experiences in government as former deputy Finance Minister as well as her roles as in the regional parliament. They also say she is a smart compromise candidate who emerged with her reputation intact from the infighting within the party. In this interview with the Lesotho Times (LT)’s Deputy Editor, Silence Charumbira, Ms Ramakoae, speaks on her attributes which make suitable for the post and why it’s time to give a woman the chance to run the country.
LT: What qualities do you think a prime minister should have?
MR: I think for now what we need is a unifying kind of leadership. A person who will ensure that he or she only doesn’t unify ABC as a party but also unifies parliament, unifies the government. The government must be unified because we are in the process of reforms and if the government itself or the politicians within the parliament are not unified, then we can forget about the reforms. We need a person who has the capacity to look at such things not only in terms of their educational background but also experience and the human qualities.
We need a person who understands the difficulties that the country has gone through. This country needs stability. It needs economic empowerment. The masses don’t need leaders going to them to promise what we are going to do; they want to see things happening. They need service delivery, job creation and effective state institutions that respect rule of law. They want to be paid for the services that they provide. Private sector wants the government to provide conditions favourable for their empowerment. The businesspeople do not want the government’s money. They have their own money but they are not being paid for the services that they provide to the government. They are left dry. They want well defined partnerships that does give other unfair advantage, furthermore they need timely payments of their services offered to the government.
All the processes and initiatives of jobs creation are done haphazardly. Corruption is at its peak and tender processes are a mess. Civil servants are competing for tenders and they are taking money and its bad.
Being the chairperson of the Prime Ministers’ Ministries Committee, which supervises the key ministries, I know how they operate. I am also a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in parliament. I am also a former Deputy Finance Minister.
Sometimes I sit and say are these people reading or seeing what is happing in other countries? Because these things that are happening in South Africa; Bosasa and other scandals where ministers are asked to account for; it’s going to happen in this country because people are not following government regulations. Money is being used where it’s not supposed to be used. Money is being taken where it’s not supposed to be taken. We allocate money as parliamentarians and it’s not going where it’s supposed to go. There is no follow up, there is nothing and that is happening… We will soon be asked to account, even the parliamentarians will be asked to account… Public service regulations say you should account for the money you’ve taken. We don’t… Yet you see people acting as if it’s business as usual; no, it’s not.
We need someone who will monitor and ensure that officials account for everything. They must account to their leader and the people who voted them into positions. That means they must account through the national executive committees (NECs) so that they can take things to the grassroots.
If you appoint a prime minister, that prime minister must account to the NEC through a clear framework that the latter must establish, of which will assist in terms of giving regular updates on government projects and major political decisions … and I think we have plenty of people with premiership qualities in parliament.
LT: Are you one of those with the right qualities
MR: I believe I am one of them. The fact that I was approached before I could even avail myself to serve in that high office it is an indication that my colleagues understand that I have capabilities. I am of the view that despite of whatever procedures of selection are followed if everything is done in a broad day light with observation of democratic systems of fair and equal opportunity of competition actually, I can become the next prime minister. That is if they (the NEC) decide to pick a parliamentarian because the law says it can be one of the members of parliament who holds the majority of people in parliament. My party has the majority. I am a member of parliament for Matsieng, I have my own constituency. I can be elected. I have experience. I’ve been in the civil service for a long time. I have also been in parliament. I am the chairperson of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament. I am the chairperson of the Regional Women’s Caucus of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)… So, I have the experience to hold the post.
LT: Do you think now your party would support someone like you? Elections do not always come up with the ideal candidate. Some say the loudest person is often elected. Do you think your party has come to its senses and now appreciate the gravity of the situation so much that they would elect someone like you?
MR: I think my party would probably elect according to what the NEC has outlined as procedures to follow… Or maybe a compromise could be reached where all ABC – MPs could come to a consensus to have someone acceptable to all groups / factions that were belligerent to each other. As I said, we have never had experience where prime minister resigned before end of the term or elections before. Hence the NEC will probably have to figure out a suitable model which will strike a balance between transition process from Ntate Thabane to new Prime Minister, and a stability of the party subsequent to conflicts that have ravaged the party for period more year… And they’ll probably use what they think is going to be the best for them as a party to progress. It’s not only me, there are lots of women in that parliament who have what it takes, the ones who command the majority of support whom I think you should also interview. You will find that as women, we can make a difference.
LT: Already there are multiple candidates who have been mentioned. The top three are obviously Sam Rapapa, ‘Matebatso Doti and Nkaku Kabi. Then there is also Moeketsi Majoro, Tefo Mapesela and Samonyane Ntsekele among others. Pitied against such characters, what do you think are your chances considering what you perceive is required for the top post?
MR: Almost all of them have been in parliament and they have their own experiences, so they all have a chance. A lot of them are in government now, so, maybe that can be perceived as an advantage as they are already ministers. Again, as opposed to myself, some are in the NEC, so they are likely to be the ones to be elected. I am not in the NEC.
The bulk of these people were heavily involved in the fierce fighting for power in the party leading to the current divisions. The others are in the state house faction and the others are in the Prof Mahao camp. Maybe one would look at that because myself I have been on the side lines.
In the factional fights, my point has always been that we cannot just tear our party like this. I talked to both factions and asked them to focus on building the ABC, and to say most of all, let’s stick to providing service delivery to people because we will end up losing this party or losing government if we keep on fighting. All these people cannot doctor themselves from antagonism and past conflict experiences which preceded the situation we have now. In my view the competitive advantage is that within or without conflicts characterising all these factions I will be able to focus on national interests as I have no skeletons in the cupboard that might compromise decisions to turning around the service delivery processes. One Ntate Thabane leaves power people will want feel a new flavour which will be radiated by fact that the person in charged is completely new and has not been involved in the previous scandals that occurred during Ntate Tom administration, this is my advantage to all these people you have mentioned.
LT: You obviously have a huge vision. What is your programme of action if you were to become the next prime minister?
MR: What pains me most is service delivery. This is one thing that tells me that we have not fulfilled our promises to the people. We have not fulfilled our mission to revive the country’s economy. So, my point would be to find out where we went wrong. While some officials will obviously be dropped, I will work with the current team and give others a chance to try and reorganise the government. If we do not do that, then people will never stop blaming us. We have done so much wrong and that is why the task is so difficult. Everyone blames us for the current situation. We must build the people’s confidence in us. You build people’s confidence by engaging them and find out what they think. As a policy maker, one must find a strong team…If you do not have a strong team, there is no way you can deliver. I like what Barack Obama said once: “I made sure that I backed myself up with an excellent team and that helps me to do the best”.
LT: Dr Thabane had you in his first cabinet but not the current one. It is largely believed that the current cabinet is responsible for the mess that the country is in. What exactly do you think the cabinet did wrong?
MR: To be honest with you, I think we derailed completely from what we promised our people. Some like me may be out of that team because we specifically made it clear from the beginning to say that no, some people should not be involved in government business. I am out of cabinet because I said don’t engage some people in the decision-making processes. I have always said that when you get old, people take advantage of you. I think some people took advantage of Ntate Thabane’s advanced age and pushed their own agendas instead of trying to assist him.
LT: When Dr Thabane was elected, he was 77 elected for the current term. Was it wise for the ABC to elect him?
MR: We didn’t have a succession plan and that still remains a problem. It was the best decision to ensure Ntate Thabane pulls us through until we are stabilised and have the best person to succeed him. Our parties never had succession plans because when you raise such issues, people say you are fighting the leader.
There must be a clear criterion of selecting a leader. The parties avoid that specifically because each of us wants to be a leader. They don’t want the process to be open. They want to take chances and get in through the back door.
Unless that changes, we are not going anywhere as a country and as a continent.
Another issue is that this is a man’s world. Men want to do things on their own and they think that they are the only people who could actually do things better. But we have since proved that they have failed. It’s not that women cannot fail or have not failed in other areas, but I think we should be given a chance perhaps, women can think otherwise.
LT: Are you saying it’s time to give a woman a chance?
MR: Oh, yes. And fortunately, my national executive committee seems to think that they can give a woman a chance. I applaud them for that, because they have a good vision.
LT: In this contest you are pitted against another woman. From my vantage point, Ms Doti has a very good appeal to different audiences in terms of how she handles herself. She is a respectable woman. How would you rate her in this race?
MR: I want a woman. It’s my priority because one of my priority areas as a chairperson of regional women’s caucus is that we should empower women. We want women to aspire for higher positions or aspire to build other women to take a higher position so that they can uplift other women. There is no way I would say that I cannot support the candidature of Ms Doti. She’s very presentable as you said, very solid. She has the experience of being a civil servant. Even though she joined politics after me, she has been a minister a long time. So, she has what she takes to be a leader. It’s a very challenging job but she can do it. If she was able to be elected a minister, a ministerial portfolio, she can be a prime minister.
LT: Do you think she has the aptitude to reconnect with the international community which is one of the critical areas that Lesotho requires?
MR: How else would she have been appointed a minister by the prime minister? How do you do that? There is no way a minister can work without engaging the international community… And for that you must have the aptitude. She has already worked with all these people.
LT: You have two distinct formations within one party then you have a third splinter group that wanted to form another party. How do you plan to unify or at least manage the ABC issues?
MR: ABC is very easy to unify. What you must do is go down to the grassroots. If you want to build your party, go to the grassroots level. I am talking through experience because I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t get support from the grassroots.
We must go and build up our committees at the grassroots and let them understand that they are the owners of this party. We must give them an opportunity to tell us where we went wrong and give them a chance to be heard.
That cannot happen when you go around insulting each other.
We should also involve international organisations to assist. Civil society should sit with us and help us map our plans. Even if we don’t put up civil society into the political parties, we should be able to sit with them…we should sit with the business community, the wool and mohair farmers who say they have been wronged and ask what we can do to mend the bridges. We should quickly make sure that the private sector is being paid.
The main point is that whoever comes in must start working on the reforms. If you leave the reforms programme out of your plan then we are not going anywhere.
I have seen the reforms processes unfolding…but my problem has always been that people who are supposed to be the implementors like parliamentarians, senior civil servants like the principal secretaries, do not seem to know the value of the reforms. Notwithstanding that, your question is much relevant to NEC, the fact that I will be working as deployed cadre of the party, taking mandate from the NEC, I might not have enough leverage to influence anything within party structures without their assistance. As result it is fine with me if i leave responsibility of the party programmes with the NEC whilst my major focus is limited to state administration and service delivery.
LT: You have said it’s time to give a woman a chance. You and I may not agree, but the perception out there is that the problems that are befalling this country right now are all because of one woman; the First Lady. What’s your take on that?
MR: The point is, I would not like to say yes, they are coming from a woman. But was this woman a policy maker? Was this woman anywhere in the structures of government to be able to do that? Was she there? Why did people let it happen like that? If you are a parent in the house, would you blame your child for running the affairs of the house? She got involved in these things because we let it happen.
LT: As the ABC or as the government?
MR: As ABC and as the government, we let it happen. We are to blame as a party, we are to blame as government. We let this happen. I still maintain that if this thing was stopped at early stage, there is no way that this woman would know that there is a tender that is coming up in the Ministry of Finance or in another ministry, and go and stop that tender. How did she know about it? Is she that brilliant that she can run this country? No. I have always said and I stood my ground to say do not involve her in government, don’t involve her in politics. I have always said so. No one listened so we are all to blame. If she was not given support, would she have done that? She probably wouldn’t. She wouldn’t have the mandate to get into my ministry as a minister and tell me what to do.
LT: Previously, everyone has blamed Dr Thabane for whatever was said to have been done wrong by the First Lady but this is a different dimension…
MR: They have allowed things to go wrong… perhaps part of the reason why I am not even in cabinet is that I once told Ntate Thabane squarely; take your spouse out of our party affairs and take her out of the government administration. I said it very clearly and I don’t blame myself for that. I could tell that the direction we were taking was wrong. But then everybody else should have said so too. Everyone in the NEC should have said so. Everyone in cabinet or on the level of backbenchers should have said so and showed (Dr Thabane) the direction. Why didn’t we say that? It could be very difficult for this old man to control his spouse, who also has influence because of the support she enjoyed from public officials. Nevertheless, Ntate Thabane has not necessarily done anything out of ordinary; he takes advice from his wife. However, final decisions are made in cabinet. It is surprising that First Lady was very conversant of some cabinet. You wonder, how was she involved in the important decision-making for the government? Perhaps those cabinet members are better positioned to explain this particular mystery.
However, there is a perception that the type of cabinet that was appointed was one that is going to say yes to everything that she says and allow her to be the one who says I’m appointing so and so as a minister although that person doesn’t have anything to give to the government.