- says he wants outright victory because coalitions are a recipe for disaster,
- refutes claims that he ventured into politics to protect his business interests.
Bongiwe Zihlangu/Marafaele Mohloboli
BUSINESS mogul-turned politician, Sam Matekane, wants to go it alone.
The leader of the fledgling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party is aiming for a resounding victory that will enable his party to form government on its own and give him a free hand to pursue policies he believes will liberate Lesotho from a suffocating debt burden while simultaneously freeing the long-suffering citizens from the clutches of high unemployment and the resultant poverty.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Matekane said he was not keen on joining any other party in a governing coalition after the elections scheduled for October this year. He said he had observed how successive coalitions that had governed the country since 2012 had dismally failed to transform the country’s fortunes as they were consumed by squabbles, policy discord and the pursuit of their selfish interests at the expense of the electorate.
It has only been a month since Mr Matekane launched his RFP at his Mpilo Boutique Hotel premises in Maseru.
The party immediately became the talk of the nation as it attracted an array of prominent individuals who had previously shied away from politics.
These included former Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) governor, Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane; former Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara and Moshoeshoe Walk organiser, Thabo Maretlane. Former Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) head of investment promotion, Mokhethi Shelile, prominent businessman Lephema Lebona and former Accountant General, Sam Mphaka, are also part of the RFP.
The cash-rich RFP also sent shivers down the spines of the established parties by capturing some of their senior officials barely a fortnight after its formation.
Former Democratic Congress (DC) stalwart and ex-cabinet minister, Tlohang Sekhamane, is the most high-profile member of the Mathibeli Mokhothu-led party to jump ship and throw his lot with Mr Matekane.
But the biggest exodus occurred three weeks ago when former cabinet minister Mahali Phamotse and four other senior officials ditched the Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD) for the RFP.
AD treasurer and former Development Planning Minister Tlohelang Aumane; former Finance minister Leketekete Ketso; former Deputy Minister of Health, ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli and deputy secretary general Batlokoa ‘Makong were the others who dumped the AD for the RFP.
The defections and the general excitement surrounding his entry into politics have given Mr Matekane confidence that he could well break the 10 year jinx of parties failing to achieve an outright victory to enable them to govern alone.
“The RFP is still a baby but one that has been born with a full set of teeth,” Mr Matekane told the Lesotho Times yesterday.
“We are aware that it has become impossible for one party to win the elections and govern. Coalition governments are the order of the day. What is left is for the RFP to push hard to achieve an outright win. We need to push hard so that even if we must enter into a coalition government, we have the greater numbers to ensure that our policy agenda is not adversely affected.
“We need to bring change and there is no way we can implement our vision if we are not outright winners to enable us to govern alone. At the very least, we should have the majority seats in a coalition government or we will have a big problem on our hands. We need to ride our horse to the finish line.
“In the past ten years Lesotho has been stagnant. We have been moving around in circles. You would think that governing political parties would work together to benefit our country but the opposite has happened. We have learnt that coalition governments are problematic. They have not worked for us in the last decade. The thing with coalition governments is that they are focused on advancing economic interests of a few individuals; they engage in endless conflicts at the expense of poor Basotho. We need to work hard towards reviving the economy and breathe new life into businesses that folded at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Matekane said.
There has been talk in some quarters that Mr Matekane entered politics because he felt the current crop of leaders were threatening his stranglehold on lucrative government tenders. It has been said that both the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and DC, who anchor the current governing collation, had expressed their reluctance to renew his lucrative mining contract at Letšeng Diamond Mine when it expires in 2024.
It has been suggested that the need to preserve such high-paying deals is what pushed Mr Matekane into politics.
The Lesotho Times put this question to Mr Matekane and asked him to explain how he would handle the apparent conflict of interest arising from his lucrative Letšeng tender if he became prime minister and then sought to renew it when it expires in 2024. Mr Matekane said there was no risk of a conflict of interest as he and other prominent business people in the RFP had already begun handing over their stakes in business to relatives and others.
“It is not that one is merely after the premiership of Lesotho to protect their interests. That is not the case. We want to make a difference, to steer this ship in a different direction. We have gone past the stage of clamouring for government tenders. Businesspeople who are members of RFP are prominent people who have retired and handed over their businesses to their successors or are in the process of handing over to their children. When we assume government power, the last thing on our minds would be advancing our own interests,” Mr Matekane said.
The RFP leader said it was also absolutely not true that he had gone into politics to protect the interests of his foreign partners in the mining industry.
“It is a fallacy that I have formed a party to protect my business interests. It is a blatant lie that I am trying to protect the interests of my business partners. The white people being referred to are actually my employees and not my partners.”
He said upon becoming prime minister, he would excuse himself from any business dealings to avoid any conflict of interest.
“Being involved in the mining industry doesn’t deprive me of the right to seek political power. If I make it to government and there are business dealings that concern the same government, I can always excuse myself as a matter of principle. It is ethical to do so. In any event, there will always be panels to award tenders.
“We have realised that in politics people say whatever they want and get away with it. Nonetheless I made a conscious decision to get into politics knowing it’s not for the faint-hearted. For one to thrive in politics they need to develop a thick skin. But having said that, let me add that we are not here to fight anyone. Our only goal is to serve this nation the best way we can. Let us refrain from calling each other names. We are playing for the same team. That is the national team,” he said.
Although he is confident of winning the elections, Mr Matekane said he is under no illusions regarding the hard work his government would have to undertake to revive the country’s fortunes.
He said there was virtually no functioning economy in Lesotho and the debt burden was almost 59 percent of the GDP.
“We will be coming into nothing because we have been told over and over again that Lesotho does not have money.
“When we assume power, we will be starting from scratch, working from nothing. We are going to inherit a government that is broke, a country suffocating under mounting debts. People have lost confidence in the government.
“We are talking about a country whose debts amount to about 59 percent of the GDP. Our debt problems stem from the fact that we keep on eating without generating much. We live beyond our means.
“Before anything else, we will have to be disciplined. Before taking a huge loan, the first thing a government should do is assess what it has then explore what it can do with its resources. Indeed, we have water, diamonds and cannabis. These are very important resources which, if utilised properly, can help revive the economy. Countries like Botswana have grown economically because of the prudent management of their natural resources, especially diamonds.
“We need Basotho to be emancipated economically. We should strive to reduce our high unemployment. It breaks my heart to see queues of Basotho youths whenever there are job openings. That is indicative of complex problems we are faced with,” Mr Matekane said.
He dismissed talk in some quarters that he was a political greenhorn, saying running a government was no different from running a business.
“As far as I’m concerned, running a government is no different from running a business. I don’t see any difference because it is all administrative,” Mr Matekane said in his first local media interview since launching his party.