The brouhaha around legislators’ debts
Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane
OUR air is thick with a vibrant furore around the now (unofficially) widely publicized cabinet decision to disburse M43.5 million to a commercial bank in settlement of the personal interest-free loans of (maximum) M500 000 per person taken by some legislators against government guarantee in the ninth, short-lived, two-year parliament that consumed a mere 40 percent of its lifespan.
This will be the second such disbursement, igniting same thunderous indignation as the first, which was done in the ninth parliament in favour of the eighth parliament lawmakers. The first failed to be tabled as a motion and one of the last acts of the eights parliament when it suddenly folded tent in November 2014.
Having forced a snap election by breaking ranks with his partners as the deputy prime minister and signed an alternative government pact with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), Mothetjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) brought the motion to insure maximum commitment to the no-confidence motion that parliament dissolution and snap election was seeking to head off. The motion’s justification was that the sudden death of the parliament would cut short the parliamentarians’ period of gainful employment, over which they were expected to be able to service their debts – yet this was voluntary assumption of risk, consciously triggering one’s own foreseeable death.
Despite the motion not being allowed, and such decision not being passed by the House, the new DC/LCD government (plus five other parties) paid the loans without referring the matter to the House; and without the creditor bank having indicated any default by the (former) parliamentarians and impracticability of enforcement as a result of the debtors having since lost the wherewithal to discharge their obligations. This second disbursement comes against the background of the DC leader Pakalitha Mosisili vainly trying to avoid a palpably disastrous no-confidence motion by threatening to win the inevitable snap election and condemn his adversaries to misery by not paying their debts on his return to power – a resurrection he dismally failed to contrive.
This blackmail and threat had an ironic ring of tacitly declaring these vicarious disbursements as routine while simultaneously remaining simultaneously remaining subject of Dr Mosisili’s emotional predilection. So incensed by Dr Mosisili’s declamations, and full of fury and burning hatred for his precipitously corrupt, divisive, and murderous regime – whose landmarks of odious killings include security forces’ members Lt-Gen. Maaparankoe Mahao and Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng – that unofficial leading voices in opposition and other activist public forums and popular radio talk shows cheered on the pro-motion legislators with counter-threats to give Dr Mosisili a crushing defeat and deliver a government that would pay those loans if push came to shove. The motion parties never made that promise, the closest to that being the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and current prime minister Tom Thabane’s plea to party members to actively consider returning their parliamentarians in their constituency candidate elections. The DC had ordered there be no such primaries in the incumbents’ constituencies when it banded with Mr Metsing to fell the first coalition government.
Yet if we can go back and stand at December 2016 when Dr Mosisili brandished the threat of loans, and if we remember what was at stake – and if we can say, faced with that we said we’d rather fell him and settle those debts (which I recall we said), then we shouldn’t find it so hard to painful. I sympathize with views that these parliamentarians weren’t the only ones that sacrificed or soldiered to flush away the cruel ancient regime and its terror, and that morally upright politics should be its own reward and not seek to be a betting ticket for scooping a fortune for personal aggrandizement. I am not myself sold to a knee-jerk payment of these loans by the government, and this is where the LCD’s deputy spokesperson Apesi Rats’ele has joined my long-crafted platform of November 2014 (when Mr Metsing started this spurious, self-idolising, sidekick-pampering crusade to “finance” the felling of his own Letsema coalition government), that the qualification for this reprieve this should be means-tested. Unlike the banks which collect or receive the payment, cabinet cannot be one to determine ability of a person to service his loan, and the stunts of Metsing (2014) and Mosisili (2016) was a political ploy that raked in even the cabinet ministers who were voluntarily reimbursed for upright settlement of their debts. The “opponents” of this crusade like my comrade and former minister Advocate Haae Phoofolo were also included in this universal, unsolicited, and unnecessary mercy, and were quizzed on radio talk shows debates for not rejecting the same false mercy by “returning” the money. The “blessers” might explain away this as avoiding discrimination, but it is self-serving both on their part and those others on the cabinet who don’t opt out of this sphere whereas they can very ably service their debts.
Let me now address those who protest that citizens are now suddenly taken as “undependable” for merely questioning the morality of the scheme – whereas the parliamentarians themselves are not any better in honouring promises; while others led by deputy home affairs minister Machesetsa Mofoobe say an ungrateful public threw the pro-motion legislators down the mine shift with false promises for its salvation. True enough, the nation’s salvation was in the hands of the parliamentarians, the same way that our fate was in the hands of the prime minister and the king cooperating or parting ways bid by their conscience and political calculations. I want to propose than in an ironic fashion the compact (of the voters and the legislators in the no-confidence vote) has actually delivered its goodies: the parliament shackled and threw away Mosisili government, and the populace completed the act by overwhelmingly deserting the DC 68, 000 votes and a thumping 11 constituencies. That has given the no-confidence parliamentarians the mantle to tackle the subject of debt without being on their knee to Mosisili or suffer consequences of not worshipping. That said, given the repugnance that the public already felt these loans constituted, it wouldn’t have done any harm for the people’s representatives to bring the cabinet resolution as recommendation to parliament. All these points traversed here would have been canvassed in the House, the Members follow live radio phone-in talkshows, and interest groups would make research-based input – and if these were not vulgarly distorted by portfolio committee chairs and secretaries as until recently, the end product would certainly be a meeting of minds of the public and the bearers of state power.
These loans are the thread that joins together the last one-party government of the LCD and these three Thabane-Mosisili-Thabane coalitions governments of 2012-17; and a unifier of their common compass. Their parentage is unfortunate (being a trade-off for that corrupt appropriation for themselves by the ministers in the form of three-year old cars at so-called 1 percent residual value); and they were at inception the prime minister tauntingly nicknamed them a grain he was throwing at chickens that couldn’t plough corn for themselves. That was in answer to a question whether the parliament would take up the loans, given the public outcry against them as a moral outrage. Whatever justification is found tenable for them, it seems to be a convergence of both supporters and opponents of the scheme that the arbitrary payment by government clearly brings out the moral turpitude. Their invocation by leaders of government in machinations of defeat of democracy is indicative enough. The pauparisation of the debtors through burden of their servicing these loans renders them pawns of captains of political immorality; while on the converse it becomes tempting to purposefully seek material accumulation throw drawing cycles of laws that can be rapidly cleared for them, and cultivate them artificial economic and political power elites accountable only themselves through routinized no-confidence motions or other routes of accelerating the collapse of government.
Mr Selinyane’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lesotho Times.