PAC working to reduce corruption

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is working closely with the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to reduce corruption in the country.

The Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report of 2017 ranked Lesotho the 74th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries in the world.

The CPI ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

In an interview with the Lesotho Times, PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, said that there is a high rate of corruption in the civil service due to lack of accountability as well as “unqualified” chief accounting officers. He said they are now investing efforts into reducing the country’s poor ranking by 2020.

“The government has a number of revenue collecting agencies but then most attention is paid to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) which means others remain unattended,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

“As politicians we also corrupted the system by removing permanent secretaries who were appointed on merits and replaced them with principal secretaries whose appointment is politically motivated.

“These secretaries are supposed to be chief accounting officers of the ministries that they are engaged in. However, since they would be clueless about what they are supposed to do, it becomes difficult for them to get public servants to account for the funds or revenue collected. As a result, funds are embezzled without any fear,” he said.

PAC has been praised by general public for exposing corruption within the civil service however, Mr Mochoboroane said that it was too early to point out achievements. He said they had set a target along with the DCEO of ensuring that they reduce corruption by working together on several cases.

“There are signs that PAC can contribute forcing government ministries to account. We are expecting to see achievements in two to three years’ time through reduction in the corruption levels.  When we met the DCEO, we set a target of reaching 55 points of CPI by 2020 from the average 38,62 points from 2005 until 2017.

“However, we have challenges for instance we recently set up a meeting but the chief accounting office of the ministry we were expecting (Trade) decided to take a trip instead of appearing before the PAC. This is a setback due to the pile of work we have, coupled with the 43 days which we wasted when PAC was moved out of parliament chambers.”

Mr Mochoboroane said that the PAC orders civil servants to appear before the body by writing them letters. However, in cases similar to that of the Ministry of Trade PS, or some who may no longer be holding public office, the officials are summoned or they order the police to find them and drag them to appear before the body.

He said that although the PAC is made up of politicians from both the ruling parties and opposition, they work together amicably with a common goal of protecting the interests of the country.

Mr Mochoboroane leads the committee as a member of the Movement for Economic Change. The committee also has five members from the All Basotho Convention, one from Alliance of Democrats and one from Marematloung Freedom Party. Two other members are from the Democratic Congress and another from Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

However, LCD leader, Mothetjoa Metsing has never attended the meetings as he is in exile in South Africa while DC deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu has also never attended.

“It is true that we are from different political parties but we understand that we have a common objective of helping our country regardless of our political affiliation. We have to move Lesotho from its status of the most corrupt country.

“We ensure that we solve our differences such as a recent case of Thuso Litjobo and Kaya Nyapane. As their leader I had to ensure that I unite them so that we could continue with the same team spirit.”

He said that PAC had already sat down to discuss the two letters which were written to the committee by local contractors complaining of foreign companies being given preference. However, Mr Mochoboroane said, they are yet to come up with a date for a hearing.

“It is not true that local contractors are incompetent. There are so many beautiful buildings in the country which were constructed by local companies including the Central Bank and the Royal Palace which is still under construction. The reason why the Royal Palace has not been completed yet is because of the challenges faced by the architects of that building and not the contractors.

“When it comes to roads there are challenges faced by local contractors but I shift the blame to public works which is supposed to supervise the work. If there is a problem, why is there no transitional period where a foreign company would be contracted and locals would understudy them. If public works had a vision to channel our people be at the level where they can do things on their own. We cannot be at 50 years of independence and still rely on foreign contractors.”

There had also been allegations that Mr Mochoboroane uses PAC to gain political mileage but he rubbished the claims saying he would do all in his power to ensure that national interests are served.

“I have been accused of gaining political mileage since I was the local government Minister. That is talk of lazy politicians who do not want to serve their country. It scares them as they believe that one who is working to serve the nation is gaining leverage over them.

“The problem is that our politicians put the interests of their parties before those of the nation, hence as the leader of Movement for Economic Change made a decision to sit on the cross bench and would only be involved when three principles of economic emancipation, national development and service delivery are involved.”

Asked whether or not it was true that he was in talks with the government for his party to join the coalition government, Mr Mochoboroane took a brief pause before saying he did not want to comment on the matter.

He registered his dismay over the way in which the current regime utilised the 2016/2017 national budget as there were huge amounts of money which were unused.

“The current government has had two budgets so far but no clear channel of economic investment has been in place. The way they used their first budget was a complete disaster as a large potion remained unutilised.

“We have ministries such as agriculture and small business but we do not see any sign of investment by the government which may lead to economic emancipation. However, I still believe they should be given more time.

“We are also not going anywhere as our economy is entrusted in the hands of foreigners. There are millions of maloti which leave the country through major jobs that are given foreigners who in turn after getting paid, take the money and invest it elsewhere.”

He also said that although the government has declared bankruptcy, it was premature for it to source funding from international bodies such as International Monetary Fund.

“I believe borrowing from international bodies should be a temporary solution because that money comes with terms which bind the country to stay in debt for a long time. If we mobilise local resources either through revenue collection or other means of making money, that would bring us a sustainable solution.

“The Pension Fund has collected over M3 billion and the question is why does the government not borrow from it to stabilise the economy. This would be sustainable unless the country’s foreign currency reserves are depleted. There is so much revenue which could be collected for example, the rent from the government’s Gauteng property which constitutes a million monthly. There is a problem when it comes to revenue collection as there is no follow up on why deficits are encountered in revenue collection.

“Borrowing money is not a sustainable solution to the existing problem. The government should fix structures that are supposed to collect revenue and should not be the burden of LRA.”

The country has embarked on a slow process of reforms which were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with a May 2019 deadline to fully implement the recommendations. Mr Mochoboroane said while constitutional and security sector reforms were a priority, the politicians need to be reformed first.

“We have to fix constitutional reforms to deprive politicians power over security sectors.

“Another serious issue is the economic reforms. The political instability is caused by hunger. Governments have in the past collapsed because of shoddy awarding of tenders as everyone wants money through a tender. We have the highest rate of unemployed youths who have sought to follow politicians in order to get tenders.

“Again, there is no political commitment to implement reforms. There should be a mediator which binds the government and opposition to implement reforms. Currently SADC is overseeing if we as Lesotho can do it on our own but they can still enforce steps to be taken.”

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