Lesotho Times

Not the sorry vehicle scheme yet again

leabuaBy Mahao Mahao

The political volcano that rumbled just prior to the 2007 national elections is beginning to show signs of activity again.

A chapter that Basotho thought had long been closed may be re-opened and with it a fresh reminder of the pain taxpayers went through when their leaders simply decided to show utter disrespect to them.

It is an issue I have written about more than once already and will not stop as politicians should never be allowed to become complacent, even to the detriment of their own careers.

It seems the thorny issue of ministers and other officials getting government cars at crazily discounted prices is back in the picture.

The latest episode comes a mere seven years since the 2006 horror movie Basotho were made to watch with disbelief as cars were reduced to the price of a video camera.

In 2006, the then LCD government embarrassed many of us with some international headlines such as “where it pays to be a minister”.

Political analysts are best placed to unravel the heavy loss LCD suffered in urban centres from Botha-Bothe to Maseru, the epicentre of that crushing defeat at the hands of the All Basotho Convention.

Political analysts will point to the furore that was caused by this ignominious grabbing of taxpayer-funded vehicles as one of the main catalysts to the urban voting patterns in that election.

It is a fact that in comparison with rural folks, urban dwellers contribute the most in Pay As You Earn and VAT to government coffers.

It is a fact also that urbanites have multiple alternative and independent information channels as compared to their rural counterparts who mostly rely on a carefully managed state-controlled information channel.

Another painful fact is that it is mostly those residing in urban areas who know the sacrifices they make to pay up their interest-laden car instalments to banks over a long five-year period only to witness government officials pay a ridiculous once-off price that should otherwise have spanned five years.

It made sense therefore when the urban voting bloc decided to unleash their anger at the then government and create an uncomfortable scenario where the governing party ministers lived and dined in the same city where an overwhelming majority of citizens hated them.

It must have been an awkward existence for them to daily drive around streets where their beloved rural voting bloc, which is ever-ready to endorse even corrupt practices, did not reside.

They were paying a well-deserved price for taking voters for granted.

For many we thought this was now water under the bridge but the issue has returned to dominate public discourse yet again in a classic example that may prove just how politicians never learn from past mistakes.

A political career can be long, fulfilling and lucrative for certain people.

For others it can be unpredictable and fairly short and make even more alluring the temptation to take a discounted car and prolong the ride of luxury or turn it into a quick money-maker. Dip your hand into the cookie jar while it is still accessible. That no one previously got into trouble intensifies the enticing nature of this offer.

No one got into trouble if we consider lawsuits and jail terms but you and I know that some politicians went to parliament in 2002 but never returned to occupy their seats after the 2007 elections.

Proportional representation seats salvaged some of their battered careers and prolonged them beyond an imminent dead-end.

A line had been crossed and the electorate had simply had enough and knew precisely where their power resided: in the ballot box.

Some of these politicians are still licking their wounds even today and are scarred for life.

If the present coalition partners have not learned anything from the old LCD, then I give up on politicians ever learning from past blunders.

Even more disappointing would be the ABC which gained a lot of political mileage from the vehicle saga of 2006.

Their campaign for 2007 was further strengthened by their condemnation and criticism of the vehicle scheme that the LCD government had been so heavily tainted with.

The ABC leader Tom Thabane even publicly disowned his Mercedes Benz at one of his rallies.

For Basotho to coin the name ‘likhapha tsa Basotho’ (Basotho’s tears) for these cars bears testimony to the pain they felt when politicians overstepped the mark and spat in their faces as voters and taxpayers.

The current LCD on the other hand has rebranded itself as a new party untainted by its previous existence.

If they want us to believe that corrupt elements left to form what is now the opposition, then they should start leading by example.

As for the other coalition partner, BNP, power has been elusive since the 1986 coup that toppled its leader Leabua Jonathan.

They may well be advised to build on the momentum and new life that has been breathed into them with this current government set-up instead of jeopardising any future prospects by alienating further supporters.

This scheme, should these coalition partners engage in it, is a rope that many of them are going to hang with.

Life is a field of choices; the wise do not make the choice that chokes them.


  • Mahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho



Lesotho Times

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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