Stick to reforms path and solve problems: UN
THE United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in Lesotho Salvator Niyonzima (SN) says the country’s leadership should remain steadfast to the national reforms process to enable it to break the cycles of poverty, restlessness among the workforce and to ensure progress on the developmental front.
Mr Niyonzima sat down with the Lesotho Times (LT) this week where he said the problems that the country is facing in the judiciary, the economy and politically all point to the need to ensure the implementation of the national reforms process that has been protracted initially by the bickering among political players and lately by the fissures in the ruling party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC).
However, Mr Niyonzima says the problems are not insurmountable and can be solved through dialogue. He also said the government must play an active role in developmental activities as this will in turn attract more assistance from various partners.
He also spoke about the United Nations Development Assistance framework (UNDAF), a cooperation structure through which the UN brings in its contribution for the development of the country. Below are excerpts from the interview.
LT: Would you please unpack the United Nations Development Assistance framework. What does it seek to achieve and how does Lesotho benefit?
SN: The UNDAF is our cooperation framework and we have just completed the previous cycle which was from 2013 to 2018. And after that cycle, we developed another one for 2019 to 2023.
So, that is the one that we have just started to implement this year. The UNDAF as I said, it’s our cooperation framework but it’s only bringing a contribution, the contribution of the UN to the development of the country. So, ultimately the country is responsible, the government is responsible for the development of the country. But then the country has partners and UN is one of them. And so, the UNDAF is our joint contribution to the development of Lesotho.
Now, that is important because sometimes when media and people ask us, what are you doing in Lesotho, what have you achieved in Lesotho, you get the impression that they understand that we are the ones responsible for development. We are but it’s a collective responsibility with development partners and the government and the civil society and all the actors.
The UNDAF this time is based on several global and continental frameworks. The first one is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Agenda 2030. The second is the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and third, the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) Indicative Development Plan.
You may be familiar with the SDGs or Agenda 2030, which is the overall development framework, but it is completely different from what we had before with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs approached development in thematic ways, for example through, poverty, health or the environment.
On the contrary, the SDGs are an integrated approach that address issues of development, focusing on the People, the Planet, Prosperity (which involves inclusive economic growth), and on Peace and Partnerships. Those are the five Ps of the SDGS. The 17 SDG goals are all interlinked and are based on the principle of leaving no one behind. This principle is of greatest importance and has numerous implications across a broad spectrum of issues to try to ensure that actors address the challenges of the most vulnerable people and those farthest behind.
LT: We understand there is a synergy between UNDAF 2019-2023 and the government’s National Strategic Development Plan II, how are these two linked?
SN: Our UNDAF and the National Strategic Development Plan II are in fact both based on the SDGs. This means that the UN is supporting the implementation of development through both the NSDP II and the UNDAF frameworks. The formulation of this new UNDAF framework is the product of a highly consultative process with the Government, the youth, people living with disabilities, government officials, civil society organisations, private sector, and the academia
The UN focuses on priorities that have been determined by the government. NSDP II has four key priority areas: inclusive economic growth, Human Capital Development, enabling infrastructure and Strengthening Accountability Systems (governance in general). Barring the infrastructure pillar, as the UN does not have a comparative advantage in this area, these key priority areas are also the foundation of UNDAF 2019 — 2023. We do still provide technical assistance and policy advice in the areas of infrastructure, but our focus is on the three pillars that we as an organisation align closely to. These pillars are:
- Accountable Governance, Effective Institutions, Social Cohesion and inclusion.
- Sustainable Human Capital Development (health, education, gender equality and women’s empowerment).
- Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Growth. Namely economic growth, resilience building and climate action
The new UNDAF will support the joint response of the government of Lesotho and the UN to the national development priorities with the view to make substantial progress towards achieving the global 2030 development agenda and its 17 SDGs. Through the provision of policy advice, technical assistance, and seed funding, to name but a few, we endeavour to plan and implement together. We will be putting in place coordination mechanisms to ensure that all our joint plans are addressing the needs of the country and that we can deliver against them.
The current UNDAF has been estimated at about US$256 million over five years. Approximately 62 percent of this amount is expected to be available through the usual agency funding and 38 percent to be mobilised as we implement.
LT: Lesotho is currently trudging through its reforms agenda but it has been marred by several challenges; first the bickering of the political players and lately the infighting within the main coalition partner in the government, the ABC. Similarly, the rest of the parties are also experiencing fissures of various magnitudes. What is your view in terms of the impact that these fights will have in the long run in terms of the development of the country? What do you think is the impact on a larger scale?
SN: There are a couple of things to say there. The first one is that reforms constitute a political process. And a political process by its very nature is a complex process. Unfortunately, as you know, the political elite in Lesotho is very much polarised. So, to get politicians to agree on what they want to do and how they want to do it is already a big task. That is why with regards to the reforms, there was an agreement to undertake a national dialogue with the aim of agreeing on what is wrong, and how it can be fixed. It is imperative that the national dialogue be as inclusive as possible because if you do not build a broad base then, somewhere down the road, somebody can turn around and say, “listen, I wasn’t part of that and I don’t agree with it”.
It is commendable that to ensure adequate participation, there were two National Leaders’ Forum, one national multi-stakeholder plenary in November 2018 and an extension in February 2019. The process has been going on for over a year now and I think it is nearing completion and with this the country has made progress. As to be expected in any dialogue that includes a multitude of actors, there were conditions and preconditions and negotiations that delayed the process a little bit.
The next step will be to finalise the dialogue and implement the reforms. It is expected that at the second plenary later this year the approval of a set of actions or perhaps policy papers and draft legislations will occur, making it possible to implement the national reforms. If you want to enforce large changes, such as the role of the police and the army, there is likely to be constitutional amendments decisions will need to be made.
A couple of weeks ago the SADC facilitator, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa was in Lesotho to ensure that the reforms will be protected and what has been achieved thus far will not be in vain. The idea is to secure what has been achieved, and make sure that whatever government is in place will be able to continue to work towards successful implementation of the reforms. These are steps we are looking forward to soon.
In terms of political infighting, it is a well-documented fact that fights within political parties weaken democracy. They weaken the internal democracy and the democratic culture within political parties. They also make it harder for the political elite and the political parties to make progress and strengthen the culture of democracy in the country. If internally, political parties have issues abiding by the democratic culture, it is to be expected that the same behaviours will be reflected at the national level.
In the case of the ruling party, the ABC, you can see that the internal conflict has spilled over to the national level. It has ceased to be only one internal political party issue and become a national issue because it is threatening the stability of the coalition government. It is unfortunate because such instability does not produce a conducive environment for the country, the government or its partners to focus on development.
Remember, I am speaking on behalf of the United Nations and our core business is development. If we are faced with such obstacles to development, the obstacles then too become a compounded part of the problem and we have a duty to contribute to solving them to ensure we remain focused on development.
The only real solution to the political situation is dialogue. We have learnt through global history; the prioritisation of dialogue will always trump the option of conflict. It requires commitment and political will, for all people to put their differences on the table and in good faith try to find solutions. For there are always solutions to be found.
LT: The political situation in the country also seems to have worsened the situation in the judiciary where there is a huge backlog of cases to be tried but now, we see a near paralysis looming with the President of the Court of Appeal Justice Kananelo Mosito on the verge of being suspended. This comes less than a year after the incumbent’s return to office and close to a year after the suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara. What do you think would be the net effect of these problems in the grand scheme of things and the development agenda of the UN?
SN: As I said in the beginning, if we have obstacles that are distracting all actors and taking their focus away from development from the national interest of growth, that is a problem. However, let me address the idea of ‘the grand scheme of things’. By this I mean, my understanding of democracy and what the four key pillars to democracy are widely thought to be; the rule of law, the protection of rights and freedoms for citizens, fair elections, and the accountability of the government, to its citizens.
These are the fundamental pillars of democracy and I believe in a fifth pillar, that is, checks and balances. When you talk about checks and balances, you are basically speaking to mechanisms that do not allow individuals’ positions to abuse power. Thus, it speaks to the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and the legislative branches of government to ensure their independence and prevent the concentration of power.
Upholding these universal democratic values and pillars is of utmost importance. The tensions you mentioned within the judiciary are symptoms of a democratic system that is being destabilised by internal conflict. When the separation of powers become blurred, it allows for the potential for abuse of power and this poses a problem for the country and is an obvious threat to democracy. Lesotho is in a politically challenging situation but it is not insurmountable, and resolve is definitely possible.
The recent visit of President Ramaphosa, the SADC facilitator to Lesotho, marked a key milestone for the country, as all crucial political stakeholders agreed to remain committed to the implementation of the recommended multi-sector reforms. The successful implementation of the reforms is paramount to achieving long-term political stability and producing sustainable changes to the political system. This is because they will re-build and re-fortify the key pillars of democracy, some of which have been corroded, to facilitate a more robust democratic system.
LT: Lesotho is a country with a small but largely restive workforce. In fact, workers in almost every sector including the civil service are clamouring for salary increments. We have even seen an unprecedented strike by the police demanding increments. While these are justified due to the low salaries that they earn; the country seems ill-prepared for such increases. How best do you think the government can wiggle out of its unenviable position?
SN: It is indeed a difficult question. I have not read any particular publication about the productivity of Basotho workers. However, I think that is widely proven that motivation levels within the workplace have a direct impact on employee productivity. Workers who are motivated and excited about their jobs carry out their responsibilities to the best of their ability and production numbers increase as a result. However, there are definite issues that arise amongst a workforce if salaries are considered too low, considering the cost of living. Simply, it means that people are unable people to sustain themselves and their families.
It therefore becomes an issue related to the economy of the country because it must produce enough resources to be able to afford an increase in salaries, for example. The solution therefore cannot merely be to put pressure on the government by striking, the focus must be on facilitating economic growth that will enable workers to be paid more.
Hence, the real question is, how to facilitate economic growth?
Job creation is key to increasing and expanding the country’s economy. This is done by creating conditions that will stimulate investment by the private sector whilst reducing the government’s expenditure and reinvesting those resources more effectively.
However, there are broader issues at hand too. The government of Lesotho receives income from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) but it is based on the performance of the South African economy. This is because South Africa is the biggest economy in the sub region. As the economy in South Africa has also been dwindling of late, the cycle of proceeds to Lesotho have been decreasing.
In the budget speech, earlier this year, the Honourable Minister of Finance Moeketsi Majoro mentioned that the SACU income revenue decreased by 610 million Maloti in Fiscal Year 2018/2019. Although it seems to be stabilising at about M6 billion annually, it is still far lower than the M9 billion annually in 2013 and 2014.
To avoid a fiscal deficit, the government expenditure also must decrease if they are unable to source that amount of income elsewhere. The country is in the process of negotiating a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but some of the conditions that the IMF is bringing to the table entail decreasing expenditure further and trying to work out a balanced budget.
It is always extremely difficult and complex to reduce government expenditures without negatively affecting the population in one way or another. A multitude of policies need to be put into place for an austerity budget to be successful and many of these are deemed unpopular by affected populations. Above all, you are looking at keeping people at work, but also motivating them to produce more and respond to their own needs.
Issues around budgeting power are real, and they must be dealt with gradually. Economists will tell you that there are steps that you need to take to stabilise and balance your budget and to stimulate the economy to ensure that you create more growth and more jobs. Measures must also be put in place that will allow people to have decent salaries. That’s what I call decent work. But these are changes that take some time that is why they are so difficult.
LT: How would you rate the work that Lesotho has done so far towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals? Considering the country seems to have fared relatively poorly, what do you think could be the reason and how does it improve?
SN: On the implementation of the SDGs, I would like to make two series of comments. The first one is a general comment because it does not only apply to Lesotho, it also applies to every country in the world. We are three years into the SDGs. The UN has put in place a system of reporting and monitoring the implementation of the SDGs and countries have accepted to do Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) of the of the SDGs.
However, in a 2018 UN report on the implementation of the SDGs progress is slower across the board than it should be. Every country that has embarked on implementing SDGs is not achieving what they are supposed to achieve as fast as they wanted. The progress is slower than expected because it is difficult to transform a whole economy and the whole culture. It is not something that occurs overnight.
The second series of comments are going to be related to Lesotho itself. First, I would not be as radical as you were to say that the system has failed totally because I do not think it has. Lesotho has made a few steps forward.
One example is the level of poverty in 2015/16 was 57 percent. This year, it has decreased to 47.1 percent. So that is clear progress. If we look at education, the net enrolment of children in primary school, we have reached near universal enrolment, between 95 to 97 percent.
Life expectancy was in the 40s a decade or so ago and as of last year is 54.9. The Human Development Index for Lesotho was 0.51 and it has gone up slightly to 0.52. I think it is very important to notice that there have been successes and I am confident that the country will continue to make even greater strides forward.
In preparing the current UNDAF, we had a review called the Common Country Assessment where we gather information to be able to assess what some of the main challenges are and what is causing them. An interesting finding was that some key outcomes, for example in health, do not match the amount of investment. Basically, we should be seeing more positive results given the investment but are not. Finding solutions to challenges such as this is imperative in achieving the SDGs.
Lesotho has recently finished a Voluntary National Review that will be presented in New York this month.
This is a very encouraging indication because it means that the country has decided to take the courageous decision to say, “Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror and see how good or how bad we’re doing”.
This year the UN has indicated that it will review six SDGs among them; quality education, decent work, reducing inequalities, climate action, peace and partnerships. Some of these have been areas of progress whilst others such as climate action have not improved. This is even though Lesotho has a resilience framework and a climate policy but has not been able to implement them.
I know that UN and other partners are also supporting the country in acting on climate in two main ways. The first is through long term approaches, for example, there is currently an on-going project with WFP and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation to restructure the national public works programme. This will enable it to benefit the most vulnerable people through building of shock-responsive assets. The aim of the technical assistance is to align the public works programme to the existing frameworks and strategies on Integrated Catchment Management, while increasing the availability and use of water for productive purposes such as crop irrigation (agriculture) aquaculture and livestock. This is one way to try and manage the natural resources, in particular water and make it produce food for the people.
Now the short-term intervention is problematic because it takes our focus away from development and takes us into emergency and humanitarian action. Due to extreme climate conditions, at the end of last year, late rainfall led to people not planting on time or not planting at all.
As a result, they went hungry because they did not have any or enough produce from their harvest. Households dependent on subsistence farming were most affected and it was estimated that in November 2018, there were about 300 000 Basotho in need of humanitarian assistance.
This figure went up to 470 000 people in March this year and the published results from the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis show the number has passed the 500 000 mark. The situation is expected to worsen with a further increase to over 600 000 food insecure Basotho by the end of 2019.
This harvest season, in comparison to a good harvest year, crop production has been severely affected across the country-maize decreased by 73 percent, wheat by 61 percent and sorghum by 93 percent. This means that people will have to wait for the main harvest season next year.
As the UN, we decided to take early action, first, we started by mobilising US5.5 million of our own resources, from a mechanism called the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to address the needs of the 300 000 I mentioned for November 2018.
The response was implemented in the Southern districts of Mohale’s Hoek, Mafeteng, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek and is only funded until August. With the results showing that the whole country will be classified as in a state of food crisis by the end of this year, there are many challenges that lay before us and require swift action to be taken.
These are issues that must be addressed and I hope that the government will take action because ultimately, as I said, the government is responsible for investing resources and responding to the plight of its citizens.
So, the example is a bit long but what I meant to say is that there are two ways of looking at it, you have to look at it from a developmental point of view but you also have to address the current issues because if somebody is hungry today, you are not going to start planning for them for next year. You must do something today and now.
The key messages sent by the VNR was that we are not making progress as fast as we wanted regarding the SDGs. The second is that we need to work together more effectively and plan adequately to ensure we achieve the goals within the next decade. The third message is that the leadership of the government and the coordination of all partners is extremely important. The limited resources we have access to need to be spent in a harmonised and wise manner to ensure that we see progress in the outcomes we are investing in.