Friday, 3 October 2014

Corruption and crime are roots of Lesotho conflict By Moeketsi Majoro


Lesotho’s capital city Maseru woke up to dramatic security-related events. Several radio stations, including the government-owned Radio Lesotho, went off-air in the early hours of Saturday.
In the morning reports emerged that several police stations were taken over and the residences of the prime minister and one of the three coalition leaders were surrounded by the army.

The attempted military coup and subsequent and continuing usurpation of executive power by some parties supported by a section of the army has jolted Lesotho back into the news again. But for residents, it was a violent culmination of events deliberately orchestrated much earlier, and this is the aspect that the international community and media have missed and continue to struggle to comprehend.

It is inescapable that current events have their roots in the genetic formations of Lesotho’s post-independence political landscape. In this respect, today’s events can be linked to, and have their genesis in events, that took place before the 1966 independence, the period prior to the 1970 elections, 1970-74, 1993-98, 1998-2007, and 2007-12. But the 2007 election outcome and the period leading to the 2012 election has more to do with today’s events.

In 2007 the popular vote of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), then the core and largest of the congress party splinters, fell to just over 50% in a continuation of a declining trend since the 1993 election. It also became evident the LCD would not be able to govern alone in future, starting with the 2012 election.

The ensuing politicisation of the public service started soon after the 2007 poll and continued to the last months before the 2012 election as a result of panic in the LCD about the inevitability of sharing power. As it happened, the persistent conflict within the congress movement ensured that the LCD split once again, giving birth to a larger splinter group, today known as the Democratic Congress (DC), which then failed to secure enough seats to form a government in 2012.

Lesotho’s political reform has remained incomplete, as vested interests in the status quo by dominant incumbent political parties prevented full reforms. The mixed-member proportional electoral model was negotiated by the Interim Political Authority (IPA) following the 1998 political conflict. The "interim" in its name betrays the wish by the ruling party then (the LCD) to have political reform curtailed.

Indeed the so-called "New Zealand Reforms" (which were compiled in 2002 after a study visit to that country by politicians from Lesotho but never implemented) that coalition leaders have now agreed to implement, could have been part of the agenda of the IPA had there not been vested interests in limiting reforms. In the same manner the political dialogue of the mid-1990s failed to accomplish much for the same reason and conflict resurfaced only a few years later in 1998.

While the legacy of incomplete political reform is the accelerant in this present conflict, corruption and crime are the root causes. During the life of the previous government, instances of public funds being laundered through tenders for both party and personal gain have been investigated and are a matter of public record.

Nepotism, kickbacks, opaque and irregular procurements, and conflict of interest were used by powerful people to fund themselves and their parties in complicity with several dirty corporations. During the period 2007-12, a conducive environment emerged in which investigative institutions (auditors, police, anti-corruption agencies) acquiesced to this skullduggery.

In such an environment, many public servants felt free to also indulge in this gluttony, masquerading as independent suppliers and overcharging government for goods and services illegally supplied. Even when the Lesotho media pointed to malfeasance, politicians went out of their way to defend the irregular tenders. Offshore financial centres played their part to facilitate these illicit transactions.

Several murders and assassination attempts (including on prime ministers) have yet to be fully resolved, but are seen as politically motivated or at least linked. The convergence of interests by some politicians and alleged perpetrators of crimes to wrestle power from the government and secure immunity from prosecution from commercial and other serious crimes are the root causes of the political crisis.

The sought-after fall of the coalition government and an emergence of another coalition, which is believed to want to tread lightly on these crimes, would make impending criminal charges go away, if successful.
But a simplistic narrative has dominated, and not without the help of the protagonists seeking the fall of government, and sections of the international media which are ready to gulp up the propaganda. The story line is that "the prime minister of Lesotho, facing a vote of confidence he is certain to lose, has suspended parliament". This was punted for more than a week by some international media houses. As already demonstrated, the Lesotho story is more complicated and sinister than conveyed by this superficial take.

Four weeks down the road, insecurity remains acutely a problem. Defiance of executive authority has continued in complicity with at least two political parties that are on record supporting this behaviour. The prime minister and Sports Minister Thesele Maseribane, another leader of the coalition, remain under foreign armed escort while many others continue to fear for their lives.

There are unconfirmed reports of hit lists, of plans for anarchy and there is more brandishing of unconcealed automatic weapons at public functions and sporadic nightly gunfire. Some politicians are deliberately and publicly stoking violence and sowing seeds of division amongst the Basotho people.

The credible growth and jobs strategy that government proposed only six weeks ago is now in jeopardy, under the burden of insecurity and political instability and these may metastasise into macro-economic instability the longer the impasse continues. The instability has inflicted pain on the economy and on prospective investment. Anecdotal information suggests that trade credit has slowed, while investors may have frozen deals or adopted wait and see positions.

More importantly, the energies and efforts to define a comprehensive package of focal investments and governance reforms could be sacrificed at the altar of political opportunism and crime. The international community should not allow this impunity to happen, for Lesotho is at a crossroads — the choice is between a trajectory of impunity and squalor or the edifying path that this government has chosen.

 Majoro is Lesotho’s Minister for Development Planning.

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