LESOTHO has received a major boost after the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) reselected the country for a second multi-million-dollar compact funding programme.
However, the re-selection does not mean Lesotho will automatically start receiving millions of dollars for its social investment projects. Actual disbursement of funds is depended upon the government addressing various issues raised by the MCC including ending human rights abuses, implementing Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommended multi-sector reforms and fighting corruption.
Lesotho was reselected along with Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Malawi, Timor-Leste, and Tunisia to continue developing compacts aimed at reducing poverty and improving the quality of life of citizens through targeted investments to promote economic growth. The decision to reselect Lesotho and other countries was reached by the MCC Board of Directors at their quarterly meeting on Tuesday in Washington D.C.
"As part of their annual selection process, MCC's Board of Directors reselected Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Lesotho, Malawi, Timor-Leste, and Tunisia to continue developing bilateral compacts," MCC announced in a statement on Tuesday.
"The MCC Board also reselected Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and Niger as eligible for concurrent compact programmes for regional integration. This (reselection) allows the MCC to continue working with these countries to determine if there are potential regional programmes that meet MCC's strict investment criteria that could be supported through concurrent compacts... The MCC Board also reaffirmed its commitment to developing a compact with Kosovo."
The re-selection does not however, mean that Lesotho will automatically receive millions of dollars for investments in terms of the second compact.
Much more work needs to be done in addressing various concerns expressed by the US government about corruption, police brutality against citizens and the slow pace of implementing the multi-sector reforms which were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362, 6 million (about M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the compact programme over rampant human rights abuses under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's regime.
Lesotho's eligibility for the second compact was first confirmed by the MCC Board in December 2017 after the ouster of Dr Mosisili in the June 2017 elections and the advent of the second Thomas Thabane-led coalition.
However, there is now also growing displeasure with the Thabane coalition. The Americans have voiced their concerns at rights abuses perpetrated by the police as well as growing corruption and the slow progress in implementing the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC to bring stability to Lesotho. Lesotho missed SADC's May 2019 deadline for the full implementation of the constitutional and security sector reforms.
During the MCC delegation's last visit in June 2019, Jason Small, the MCC's managing director in the Department of Compact Operations (Africa Programmes) told the Lesotho Times that Lesotho and the MCC were "still a year away from a definitive agreement" on the size of the second compact which was most likely to be in the region of the first compact (US$362, 6 million).
Mr Small, however, warned that the failure to address concerns about human rights violations including the alleged acts of police brutality against citizens as well as the lack of political will to implement the reforms could scupper the granting of the second compact.
His warnings were subsequently echoed two months ago by US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, who said her government was gravely concerned over the "recent downward trends in governance".
"I am concerned by recent downward trends in governance and I appreciate our MCC colleagues' timely reminder to the government and to all stakeholders that immediate concrete action and demonstrable results on these critical issues will strengthen Lesotho's position with regard to reselection for a second MCC Compact," Ms Gonzales said.
In February 2019, Ms Gonzales had warned of a "delay or derailment (of the second compact) if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability".
"There is still potential for delay or derailment if we do not continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability. If we stray from that path, it will be even more difficult to find our way again.
"I am deeply concerned about alarming reports of corruption and police brutality -- behaviour that is unacceptable and non-negotiable. The consequences of an interrupted compact development will not be as serious as the negative impact to the people of Lesotho caused by failure to address these critical issues," she added.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki is on record saying Basotho should not panic about the potential loss of the MCC compact as the government was doing everything in its power to implement the reforms.
It remains to be seen whether the government, which is reeling from the infighting in Prime Minister Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC), will have addressed concerns over police brutality, the reforms process and other governance issues to ensure that the re-selection of Lesotho for the second compact is ultimately followed by the release of funds for the implementation of social investments to stimulate socio-economic growth.
So far there has not been any action taken in all high profile cases of police brutality, particularly the highly publicised July 2019 case of a Maseru man, Kabelo Ratia, who was tortured and made to eat his own faeces by the police.
The government has however, promised action against rogue police officers and to expedite the reforms process. A National Reforms Authority is expected to be established soon to drive the reforms process independently of the government.