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Lesotho needs a research council

by Lesotho Times
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In last week’s Lesotho Times edition Kelebone Lekunya made another contribution to thoughts on advancing Lesotho’s development. He offered a ‘simple cure’ for solving Lesotho’s problems by establishing a National Research Council (NRC). I cannot agree more, but my take is that it will require more than a single institution focused in one area to effectively tackle Lesotho’s development problems which are rooted in several areas.

He asked me a question as thus “my question to him is what has been done so far to move along these lines (meaning rapid urbanisation, growing poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, economic stagnation, lack of adequate infrastructure and environmental degradation) except producing that voluminous document called the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) which is not even accessible to an ordinary Mosotho, and just remains but on paper”.

Mr Lekunya, and I suppose many other people, may not be aware of several creative planning ideas we have generated and are implementing currently. On July 23, 2014 we launched and disseminated the MDG report card, as well as articulated a new direction for Lesotho. Less than a month later on 13 and 14 August, 2014 we launched three interconnected strategies, namely the Job Summit process to consult business and to work collaboratively on a jobs creation strategy to secure Lesotho’s structural transformation; the Economic Policy Forum to bring together political and business leaders to discuss forward-looking ideas about Lesotho’s development trajectory; and the Investment Climate Reform Committee to remove all impediments to domestic and foreign investment.

Although at the time these may have appeared as events, considerable thought and time were expended in the preceding months and work is proceeding currently to develop comprehensive and carefully thought-through investment strategies. Underlying these events is new thinking about how to transform Lesotho and several critical ingredients have been brought together, benchmarking on the successes of Singapore, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Malaysia as follows:

  1. Strong exercise of leadership by political and business leaders in accelerating investment, as well as the assumption of responsibility by communities for their developmental wellbeing;
  2. mobilisation of key beneficial partnerships including with and between business, civil society, international cooperating partners (ICPs) and government and allocation responsibilities in line with capacities to assume it, as well as undertaking institutional development and strengthening;
  • adopting a focused (4+3) programme of transformation taking into account available resources and in particular zeroing on commercial agriculture, textile manufacturing, tourism and technology as focal sectors and water development, electricity generation and mining as complementary investments;
  1. underpinning the transformation process withpolitical and macroeconomic stability—admittedly this is an area that is presently challenging, but the political bickering must stop and give way to the critical development work planned;
  2. Targeting and measuring results—10,000 jobs must be created by the private sector annually and a performance and accountability framework is being developed. In the process we are learning lessons from Malaysia which has created 1.3 million jobs since 2010 and raised its per capita income by 42.5%; and
  3. finally restoring government’s legitimacy and credibility through the restoration of the rule of law, concerted elimination of corruption and other insidious forms of crimes, and effective and efficient delivery of services including through genuine devolution of power. This is the greatest challenge that is now threatening to scupper government, but failure will condemn Lesotho forever.

Despite recent political setbacks, progress is satisfactory; the Job Summit will slip from its original date of November 2014, but investment blueprints to implement the NSDP and create 10,000 jobs will be completed by the end of December 2014, while work on the regulatory and investment climate reforms has begun. I said it before: change is here and change is going to be permanent.

In response to Mr Lekunya’s listing of Lesotho’s “social ills” I wish to direct him and readers to the NSDP which has undertaken a thorough and useful problem diagnostic. The MDP is presently updating the ‘social ills’ diagnostic in the context of developing the second MCC compact and investment programming for the World Bank Group, the European Development Fund, and the UNDP. A final updated and synthesized diagnostic will be produced at the end of the year and will become a single national platform for developing interventionist actions by the development partners identified above. We are planning to leverage each of these official resources with private sector investment and the expected related resource inflow into Lesotho will be many times the size of these partner contributions. I will share the details of these in future, suffice to say that this is also a new and exciting approach that has been developed by this government. You will however agree that poor health, inadequate skills, poor investment climate, and poor government services are at the heart of the economic stagnation you refer to. The actions planned under the job summit process for government, private sector, civil society and ICPs will, for the first time, effectively address the humanitarian crisis and jobs poverty Lesotho faces. Indeed in some cases, elements of these are already being addressed, but each strategy must pass the sufficiency test to ensure that there will be impact and reversal of the social ills.

Although Mr Lekunya sees the NRC as the only critical institution to provide panacea to Lesotho’s problems, our plans envisage not only creating new institutions, but also ensuring existing ones become effective. As an illustration, we have initiated a process that would bring about dialogue between employers and tertiary and vocational schools in order to align curricula to employers’ needs. Indeed, Lesotho’s curricula design must be determined in the first instance by employers rather than under the current arrangement where trainers produce skills that no one needs.

That Mr Lekunya had not been aware of this very elaborate program following the publication of the NSDP is in part due to our irregular communication. The Ministry is actively sharing these ideas with the key partnerships and we are presently talking to business in districts where we are also distributing the NSDP to business leaders, civil society organisations, youths and others who attend our morning consultations. During the first week of December we will visit Mokhotlong, Thaba Tseka, Qacha’s Nek, and Semonkong to hold consultations with district business leaders on these ideas.

The NSDP and the investment plans that will soon follow from the job summit process must serve as platforms for performance and accountability by government and other key partners in our journey of structural transformation and in this respect we plan to widely disseminate them. The Ministry is presently restructuring its website (www.planning.gov.ls) to make it a better tool for investment information. In the meantime, the NEWS and Main Documents windows on the site already have useful information that captures our plans and actions, and including some of the information I have shared in this response. In 2015, we will explore using the more ubiquitous mobile devices as one of the dominant platforms on which to communicate policy and investment information.

Moeketsi Majoro is the Minister for Development Planning


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