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Lesotho risks losing out on second MCC compact

by Lesotho Times

Pascalinah Kabi

LESOTHO risks losing out on the multi-billion-maloti second compact under the United States sponsored Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) after American Ambassador to Lesotho Rebecca Gonzales expressed grave concern over the “recent downward trends in governance”.

Ms Gonzales and the MCC officials have previously warned that Lesotho could lose out on the second compact due to concerns about corruption, police brutality against citizens and the failure to stay the course on the implementation of the multi-sector reforms. The most recent warning was delivered in June 2019 when the MCC delegation visited the country for high level consultations with Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, opposition leaders and other stakeholders.

And it appears the government has not done enough to address those concerns as evidenced by Ms Gonzales’s remarks yesterday. Her remarks come at a time when another MCC delegation headed by its Managing Director of Selection, Eligibility, and Policy Performance, Daniel Barnes, is in the country for consultations with government, civil society and the business community to gather information ahead of the MCC’s Board of Directors meeting in December which will make the final decision on Lesotho’s eligibility.

A US embassy statement issued yesterday said the MCC re-selected Lesotho in 2017 to develop a second compact and “this decision was taken in recognition of concrete steps taken that year that demonstrated a commitment to addressing MCC’s concerns about the rule of law”.

“At the same time, the (MCC) board directed the MCC to continue to closely monitor events in Lesotho. Alongside implementing necessary policy and institutional reforms for the compact itself.  The MCC’s board of directors maintains its expectation that Lesotho demonstrate a clear commitment to MCC’s eligibility criteria.  As the MCC’s board has previously communicated to the government and stakeholders, key eligibility criteria include respect for inclusive political processes, respect for the rule of law, maintenance of investments from the first compact and implementation without further delay of the national reform process agreed to with the Southern African Development Community (SADC),” the statement said.

Commenting on their visit to Lesotho this week, Mr Barnes said yesterday, “our mission is part of the MCC’s ongoing effort to determine whether the government of Lesotho is demonstrating a commitment to these eligibility criteria and also to assess progress on the national reforms process”.

“During its December 2019 meeting, MCC’s Board will have an opportunity to review the most recent information and analysis of the situation in Lesotho.  The board will then determine whether to reselect Lesotho to continue compact development.”

The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.

In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362, 6 million (more than M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.

In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the compact programme over rampant human rights abuses under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s regime.

Lesotho’s eligibility for the second compact was first confirmed by the MCC Board in December 2017 after the ouster of the Mosisili regime in the June 2017 elections and the advent of the Thomas Thabane-led coalition.

However, there have been increasing reports of police brutality against citizens and graft in government in recent times.

The government and the opposition have also been dragging their feet on the multi-sector reforms process. There has been very little progress towards the implementation of the reforms. The country missed the May 2019 (SADC) deadline for the full implementation of constitutional and security sector reforms.

During the last visit in June 2019, Jason Small, the MCC’s Managing Director in the Department of Compact Operations (Africa Programmes) told the Lesotho Times that Lesotho and the MCC were “still a year away from a definitive agreement” on the size of the second compact which was most likely to be in the region of the first compact (US$362, 6 million).

Mr Small, however, warned that the failure to address concerns about human rights violations including the alleged acts of police brutality against citizens as well as the lack of political will to implement the reforms could scupper the granting of the second compact.

And in an ominous development yesterday, Ms Gonzales expressed concern over what she said were the “recent downward trends in governance”.

“I am concerned by recent downward trends in governance and I appreciate our MCC colleagues’ timely reminder to the government and to all stakeholders that immediate concrete action and demonstrable results on these critical issues will strengthen Lesotho’s position with regard to reselection for a second MCC Compact,” Ms Gonzales said.

In February 2019, Ms Gonzales also warned of a “delay or derailment (of the second compact) if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability”.

“There is still potential for delay or derailment if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability. If we stray from that path, it will be even more difficult to find our way again.

“I am deeply concerned about alarming reports of corruption and police brutality — behaviour that is unacceptable and non-negotiable.  The consequences of an interrupted compact development will not be as serious as the negative impact to the people of Lesotho caused by failure to address these critical issues,” she added.

However, Mr Moleleki insisted there was no reason for Basotho to panic, saying the MCC delegation appeared to be satisfied with his assurances that government was doing everything in its power to implement the reforms.

“They are convinced that the government of Lesotho is indeed making progress on the reforms, Mr Moleleki said yesterday.

It remains to be seen whether the government, which is reeling from the infighting in Prime Minister Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), will have addressed concerns over police brutality, the reforms process and other governance issues in time for the MCC’s meeting which is just over a month away in December.

So far there have not been any action taken in all high profile cases of police brutality, particularly the highly publicised July 2019 case of a Maseru man, Kabelo Ratia, who was tortured and made to eat his own faeces by the police.

The reforms process has moved at a snail pace and Lesotho even missed the May 2019 SADC deadline for the full implementation of constitutional and security sector reforms. The government has however, promised action against rogue police officers and to expedite the reforms process. A National Reforms Authority is expected to be established soon to drive the reforms process independently of the government.

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