17 April 2019

Lesotho: Expedite Reforms Process - Britain Tells Lesotho

THE British government has called on the government and other stakeholders to expedite the processes that are expected to culminate in the implementation of the multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.

The outgoing British High Commissioner, Nigel Casey, made the call in an interview with the Lesotho Times during his recent visit to the country to bid farewell to His Majesty King Letsie III, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and the entire government.

Mr Casey revealed that Britain will next month establish a high commission in Lesotho with a new high commissioner who will be resident in the country. Mr Casey who has been the High Commissioner for Lesotho from his base in Pretoria, said he will now just be the High Commissioner to South Africa.

"Britain announced last year that it will be opening its high commission in Maseru and it has appointed a new High Commissioner to Lesotho," Mr Casey said.

"We are only waiting for the (Lesotho) government's formal agreement to receive her and as soon as that happens, she will be coming to Maseru to reside and work from there full time.

"I am sad that I will no longer be the High Commissioner to Lesotho but I will continue to be the High Commissioner to South Africa. But I am delighted that Lesotho will have a full time and resident High Commissioner once again.

"Although there is no exact date for the new High Commissioner to take up her new role, we expect that it will be sometime next month. Her identity will only be disclosed once Lesotho's head of state (King Letsie III) signs off the permission for her to come."

Mr Casey said during his farewell visit, he met various government leaders and impressed upon them the need to get the reforms process going as their implementation was crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability in the country.

In 2016, SADC recommended that Lesotho implements constitutional, security sector, judicial, media and governance reforms. The regional body subsequently gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented the constitutional and security sector reforms but with just over two weeks remaining, it is evident that the deadline will not be met.

The reforms process stalled initially as a result of the intense of bickering between the government and the opposition after the latter made several demands including the formation of a government of national unity and the release of murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant general Tlali Kamoli as preconditions to their participation in the reforms process.

Lately the reforms process has been overshadowed by the power struggle that has gripped the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). Ever since the ABC's 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference, there has been infighting in the ABC between the old and new national executive committees (NECs). The new NEC is seen as loyal to Professor Nqosa Mahao who was elected deputy leader while the old NEC is seen as loyal to the party leader Dr Thabane who spoke against Prof Mahao's election in the run-up to the ABC polls.

In the interview with this publication, Mr Casey said the reforms were crucial to Lesotho's socio-economic development and he had communicated his government's concerns for Lesotho to get the reforms process going and "the need to get it right".

"The reforms are a crucial issue for Lesotho and I discussed the issue with the government leaders. I would say there is a shared concern about the state of the reforms process, a recognition of the importance of the reforms to Lesotho and a recognition of the need to get it right.

"We have underlined the importance that we attach to delivering on the promises that were made (on the reforms). We support the (reforms) process that SADC has been leading and we would like to see it bear fruit, not for our sake but for the sake of Lesotho. We know it is difficult and it is complicated. We know that it takes time because these are deep issues for any country but we want to see progress and that has been our message on this visit. We want to see momentum rather things being stalled. And so, when we are here full time, we will be joining our diplomatic colleagues who are urging progress and we will be working alongside our partners in SADC.

"Those we met (government leaders) have been candid that there has been turbulence within the political parties and that has been an impediment but there is some hope that this might be resolved and progress will be made. But we will have to see.

"We had meetings with the Prime Minister and four other ministers and all of them expressed confidence that they can move things forward. I can't speak for any of the (ABC) factions but I hope that the confidence that they expressed that they can now move forward with the reforms will be borne out by what will actually happen. We are going to support the reforms process and continue to offer encouragement."

Mr Casey said he did not meet Prof Mahao and the new ABC's NEC because his latest visit was to bid farewell the government ahead of his leaving the post of High Commissioner to Lesotho.

"But we are in touch with all sides in Lesotho and we will continue to take an even-handed role in encouraging progress in Lesotho," Mr Casey said.

He said Britain would ensure there were no trade disruptions with Lesotho and other countries when it eventually withdraws from the European Union (EU).

Lesotho and other members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), namely, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have a trading arrangement with the EU member states including Britain.

Britain voted in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the 28 member EU bloc in what was dubbed the Brexit vote.

The Brexit move immediately sparked uncertainty over the fate of several multi-lateral agreements that the Britain had committed to as part of the EU, including the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

However, Mr Casey said that Brexit will not have any negative impact on Lesotho.

"Brexit has generated some uncertainty but you can be assured that Brexit will not have a negative impact on Lesotho because even when we leave the EU, Lesotho will still benefit from our existing pledge to allow the least developed countries to export products duty-free and quota-free to the United Kingdom (UK).

"Everything except defence equipment can be exported duty-free and quota-free to the UK. So, Lesotho's interests remain secure and more broadly I would say that Brexit is an opportunity for the UK to expand on its relationships with Lesotho and other traditional partners where we have under-invested in recent years. So, our coming back to re-establish the high commission in Lesotho after an absence of some years is a good sign of our commitment beyond the EU to playing an active role in Africa and everywhere else," Mr Casey said.

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