Job creation will end rampant crime: Lephema

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NEWLY appointed Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police minister, Lebona Lephema, held a party during the weekend to celebrate winning the Teyateyaneng constituency at the 7 October 2022 elections.

Mr Lephema won the constituency on an RFP ticket. He polled 4414 votes to beat his nearest challenger, Lebohang Thotanyana, of the Basotho Action Party (BAP). Mr Thotanyana, who is also secretary general of the BAP, got 1117 votes.

Held at Pitso Ground in Teyateyaneng, the glittering event was graced by Prime Minister Sam Matekane, several RFP officials and prominent businesspeople.

But as Mr Lebona explained in an interview with Lesotho Times (LT) Deputy Editor, Silence Charumbira, on the sidelines of the party, the merry-making by victorious RFP officials will have to quickly give way to the urgent tasks of implementing election campaign promises to fix the pressing socio-economic problems affecting the country.

Excerpts: 

LT: Congratulations on your election victory and subsequent ministerial appointment. Has it sunk in that you are now a legislator and cabinet minister?

Lephema: Thank you very much. We are grateful to Basotho who came out in large numbers to elect us. I am sure they had high hopes in our leader, Ntate Sam Matekane. I think they had become tired of successive governments that were coming in and collapsing without delivering on their promises. They were really looking for change. They now have the change; a government which promises to deliver for them.

LT: Now that you are an MP and cabinet minister, would you say that this a different terrain to the business environment that you’re accustomed to?

Lephema: I don’t think there will be much of a difference. When you do business, you are dealing with the community. You have people working under your leadership and you have to sit on them to ensure they deliver on their mandates for you to be a successful businessman. We’re going to carry the same work ethics into government. Therefore, there won’t be any major differences.

LT: Your portfolio is huge and diverse due to the merging of what used to be three different ministries. Now you have to superintend over local government, home affairs and the police.  Do you see this as a challenge?

Lephema: It may seem a big ministry but in reality it isn’t like that. We used to have what was called an interior ministry in the past and that’s what we have gone back to. The tendency has been that when politicians are elected and appointed to such cabinet portfolios, they don’t deliver on their mandate; they don’t deliver services to the nation. However, I intend to deliver. And in as much as it may look like a huge task, I really think that there isn’t too much on my shoulders because in all the departments, be it home affairs, local government or the police, there are officials I will be working with and superintending. Within the local government department, there are district administrators among others. All these officials have to deliver and my job is to monitor and ensure that they deliver on their mandates to the people.

The same applies to the Home Affairs department. It has been politicised for a long time but it doesn’t have to be that way. People must understand that once elections have been held, that should be the end of politics. The real work of delivering services to Basotho should then begin.

LT: Before he left office, former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro had initiated a process to sack Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli over several issues including his alleged incompetency, the failure to curb crime as well as stop rampant police brutality. The police boss has also been involved in perennial fights with the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA). How do you plan to deal with this matter?

Lephema: The first task is to unify the country. I believe there is a reason why there were those fights (Molibeli versus LEPOSA) but I cannot act on what my former prime minister had thought of doing. We have to sit down and find out why that (fights) had happened. Only then can we act.

LT: Are you saying that you have begun processes to diagnose the problems within the police force?

Lephema: Yes we have.

LT: Crime has escalated with the police seemingly failing to tackle it. Lesotho is even toping the murder rankings in Africa and we are number six in the world for homicides. The army has even stepped in to help fight crime due to the apparent failure by the police. What is your take on all that?

Lephema: I don’t think it is wise for us to just point fingers at anyone at this stage. I think we must sit down and identify where the problem is. Normally, there is no smoke without fire, so we have to find where the fire is and then we will know where the smoke is coming from. I’m saying this because one of the biggest problems that we have in our country is unemployment. The minute you have lots of people who are not working, then you start seeing the crime that you’re talking about. So, as the RFP, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Ntate Sam Matekane, we think the first thing that we must do is tackle unemployment. If everybody is working, we are definitely going to see a quick change, a quick turnaround. If people are not working, their minds become the devil’s workshop (and crime escalates). So, we want to deal with that.

LT: Security sector reforms are outstanding. One of the issues that needs to be dealt with under the envisaged reforms is establishing clear demarcations between the army and the police. The army has been accused of encroaching on police territory and this has resulted in clashes between the two institutions in the past. Do you have any plans to deal with these issues?

Lephema: In his inauguration speech, Prime Minister Matekane said one of the first things we would attend to when we got into parliament was the issue of the reforms. The previous parliament failed to implement the reforms. Starting this week in parliament, we intend to deal with the reforms.

LT: While he was prime minister, Dr Majoro labelled the Famo gangs as “internal terrorists”. How do you intend to deal with the gangs given that some of them have been accused of murders and other violent crimes?

Lephema: This too, is a simple matter. Just give people jobs. The minute we turn around this country and create jobs for everyone, crime will not be a big issue. So, we will have to focus on job creation. We should be able to forget about these ills once the economy is revived and there are jobs for the people.

LT: Lesotho’s civil service has always been polarised and toxic because staffers are usually employed on a partisan basis. This has negatively affected service delivery. How do you intend dealing with that?

Lephema: As I have already said before, politics ended on the day of elections on 7 October 2022. On that day, the people of Lesotho pointed the way and chose who they want to govern them. As the RFP government, we are going to do things differently. It’s not going to be like it used to be that whenever a political party assumed power, it would bring its own people or supporters into the public service.

At the end of the day, we are all Basotho and everyone deserves equal treatment and equal opportunities because this country is theirs. I know that the government’s wage bill is too high but every Mosotho has a right to work in this country. As you know, the government is the biggest employer but we have to do all we can to take that load off the government by capacitating the private sector to create jobs. You may be aware that the prime minister spoke about a establishing a development bank. This bank would help fund the private sector to do its job of wealth and job creation. Once we have a vibrant private sector that is able to create jobs, this would relieve the government of the burden of employing our people.

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