Lesotho: Mixed Feelings As Majoro Marks First Year in Office

Today is exactly a year to the day that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro took power.

Dr Majoro succeeded Thomas Thabane who was forced to step down by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party in the wake of damaging allegations by the police pointing to his involvement in the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane. The ABC also wanted him out because he had allegedly ceded control of both party and government to his wife, 'Maesaiah Thabane.

Dr Majoro took over after the ABC forged a new coalition with its main rival, Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu's Democratic Congress (DC) party. He came to power with a professed agenda of restoring good governance and the rule of law, fighting crime, containing Covid-19, ending poverty as well as reviving the comatose economy.

On the occasion of the Majoro administration's first anniversary, there are mixed feelings over whether the premier has so far lived up to his promises.

While some analysts have been dismissive, others argue it is still too early to reach any definite conclusions as to whether the new government has been a success or failure to date. They say it is still premature to evaluate Dr Majoro's success in implementing policies and programmes that may take many years to yield results.

Achieving political stability

Dr Majoro took power as head of a coalition government anchored by his ABC party and the DC.

The two parties initially had 78 parliamentary seats. Eight smaller parties also threw their weight behind the ABC-DC coalition with 19 seats. The smaller parties were Movement for Economic Change (MEC-six seats), Basotho National Party (BNP-five seats), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD-three seats) and one seat each from Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), National Independent Party (NIP), Marematlou Freedom Party and Democratic Party of Lesotho.

Given that the new administration had, at its inception, the overwhelming support of 97 legislators in a 120-member parliament, it appeared to have a solid support base to enable it to concentrate on implementing its development agenda without having to worry about stability issues which had dogged previous coalitions.

But this stability and numbers did not last long as the political developments just a week after Dr Majoro's inauguration, showed that the seemingly strong edifice actually had feet of clay.

The initial source of instability was not from the opposition or other parties in the coalition; it came from within the premier's own ABC party. Some ABC MPs who still professed allegiance to the ousted premier Thomas Thabane complained about their exclusion from lucrative cabinet posts.

They complained that members of the junior coalition parties were given ministerial posts at their expense. This was in reference to the likes of RCL's Keketso Rantšo who was appointed Labour and Employment Minister and his BNP counterpart Thesele 'Maseribane who was appointed Communications, Science and Technology minister.

The calls for the duo's dismissal and their replacement by ABC members reverberated throughout 2020. And on 3 February 2021, Dr Majoro appeared to succumb to pressure by firing Ms Rantšo and shunting Chief 'Maseribane to the Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing portfolio. This ministry was deemed less powerful by the ABC honchos who are said to have wanted one of their own to control the Communications portfolio whose significance derives from its control of the communications sector under which money-spinning entities like mobile phone services giants Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Telecom Lesotho as well as the regulator, Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), fall.

Two of the ABC MPs, Sello Mooki (Bobatsi constituency) and Mokherane Tsatsanyane (Stadium Area), even defected to the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD). Mr Tsatsanyane has since joined the DC.

Many other Thabane loyalists who remained in the party continued to undermine the government from within, making all kinds of threats to bring it down if Dr Majoro did not protect the former premier from standing trial for the murder of his ex-wife. They also made noise about what they regarded as the systematic purging from the government and civil service of Mr Thabane's appointees.

It seems these ABC members got their way as Mr Thabane has still not been prosecuted to this day. His wife, 'Maesaiah, who appeared in court last February is currently out on bail and has already set her sights on wresting the Mokhotlong constituency from the incumbent Tefo Mapesela, who was fired from cabinet last month by Dr Majoro before dumping the ABC to form his own party, the Basotho Patriotic Party.

Her political campaigns and Mr Thabane's new-found alliance with Dr Majoro, which led to former ABC deputy leader Nqosa Mahao dumping the ABC last month, all suggest that Dr Majoro has become beholden to the Thabane camp.

Political analyst Sello Sello said the subsequent formation of the Basotho Action Party (BAP), by Prof Mahao and nine ABC MPs as well as several other lower level former ABC officials, are clear signs that the government is far from stable. At best it will limp to the finish line when its tenure finally ends ahead of next year's general elections, he said.

National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer, Mahao Mahao, said Dr Majoro's failure to rise above factionalism and instability within his ABC was a stain on his one-year-old reign.

He said Dr Majoro's reign has been "unspectacular" as it had been dominated by intra-party squabbles "as opposed to tangible government programmes geared towards socio-economic and national interests".

"While Thabane bowed to pressure and gave way to a new administration in May 2020, he chose to stay on as ABC leader, a move that perpetuated the ABC factionalism that had characterised the party since the election of the new NEC in February 2019.

"Most analysts felt Thabane's continued involvement in ABC matters would only prolong intra-party hostilities because those around him would use his senility to forge their own ambitions within the party and influence its direction. As to how far the warring within the ABC affected government operations would be a different analysis altogether, but the fact remains that Majoro's tenure thus far has been unspectacular at a time when so much was expected following Thabane's era when service delivery lay dormant," Dr Mahao said.

Restoring good governance and the rule of law

On assuming office, Dr Majoro was immediately confronted with the challenge of addressing potential instability due to the infighting in the police pitting the Commissioner Holomo Molibeli against his subordinates in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA).

LEPOSA members accuse Commissioner Molibeli of incompetence, cronyism and the failure to stamp out police brutality against ordinary citizens. The police boss in turn accuses his juniors of insubordination.

It is a fight which began when Mr Thabane was still in power and several analysts, including NUL political science lecturer Mohlomi Mahlelebe, say the Molibeli-LEPOSA fight has the potential to destabilise the country in the same manner that previous fights within and among the security agencies have done.

Dr Majoro had appeared on course to tackle the police challenge last August by appointing an inter-ministerial committee headed by Prof Mahao, the then Justice and Law Minister to probe the infighting in the police and other security agencies.

The committee summoned Commissioner Molibeli, other senior police officers and LEPOSA before presenting its findings which were made public last December. The committee appeared to exonerate Commissioner Molibeli with Dr Majoro saying he had found no basis to fire him as demanded by LEPOSA.

The police union then accused the government of shielding Commissioner Molibeli despite that it had presented "overwhelming evidence" of his alleged incompetence and his failure to deal decisively with the issue of police brutality.

A lawyer who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, said Dr Majoro "risks ruining his legacy by failing to deal with the scourge of police brutality as well as the police's inexplicable failure to arrest known criminals responsible for the high murder cases in the country".

The lawyer's assertions have been borne out by this week's Court of Appeal judgement which awarded M250 000 to a victim of police brutality and slammed the police for turning the country into a "lawless state" through its acts of brutality against citizens. (See story on Page 6).

Another failing of the government in terms of maintaining the rule of law- according to analysts and political players- relates to the paltry budget allocation to the judiciary. Prof Mahao, who served as Justice and Law minister until he was fired last month, has bemoaned the government's failure to allocate adequate resources to the judiciary, saying this had hampered plans to appoint seven new judges to ease the shortages in the High Court which had resulted in the huge backlog of cases estimated at over 4000.

"You may have plans but if you don't align resources with the plans, then the plans have no significance at all. I presided over the Ministry of Justice and Law and although one of the key institutions of state is the court system in a country, the resources that we are providing to the judiciary are about a quarter of what they used to get 10 years ago. And this is reflected in the very poor service that the institution is providing to the nation. I suspect that those who allocate resources allocate them according to their own plans, independent of what the plans of the individual ministries require," Prof Mahao said.

His comments come against the background of revelations by the Judicial Service Commission that the government had only allocated a measly M937 366 to be shared by all the country's courts including the High Court and Court of Appeal in the first quarter of the current financial year.

To put the matter into perspective, the M937 366 budget for all the courts is much less than the M1, 3 million electricity debt owed by the Maseru Magistrates' Court alone.

It is inconceivable how the government expects the Court of Appeal, High Court and over 50 subordinate courts to use the paltry amount to cover their operational costs which include electricity, gas, coal, water, fuel, stationery and telephone bills among others.

Political analyst and youth activist Motsamai Mokotjo said the paltry allocation shows that the government does not care about ensuring the judiciary operates efficiently.

"They were supposed to cut the budget of other ministries that are stable and give the judiciary the amount it needs to operate at full capacity. They were well aware of the problems in the judiciary because when Professor Mahao was still a minister, he had raised the issue of hiring more judges," Mr Mokotjo said.

On his part, lawyer Martin Mohanoe said the Majoro government had proved to be no different from the Thabane administration as it had also failed to tackle corruption and police brutality among other ills.

"Ntate Majoro's administration has really disappointed me as he had excellent credentials which included international exposure when he came to power. I am disappointed to say that I did not expect such failures from a fairly young and well-educated leader. There is nothing to celebrate but we have to mourn," said Advocate Mohanoe.

Fighting Covid-19

Covid-19 was first reported in China in December 2019 and thereafter it spread rapidly to other countries around the world. For a while, Lesotho was spared and it officially became the last country in Africa to record an infection on 13 May 2020, exactly one week before Dr Majoro was sworn in.

To his credit, Dr Majoro disbanded the wasteful and clueless inter-ministerial committee known as the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) which had been set up in March 2020 by then Prime Minister Thabane to spearhead the government's fight against Covid-19.

The NECC had already gobbled M161 million out of the M698 million budget set aside by the government to fight Covid-19 by the time it was disbanded by Dr Majoro in June 2020.

A sizeable chunk of that money was not spent on core activities aimed at fighting the pandemic but on luxuries like food and other items bought at highly inflated prices.

The extravagant NECC spent more than M10 782 618 on food for its staffers drawn from different ministries at a time health staff were going with no personal protective equipment (PPE).

The NECC has since been replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC), in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), and it reports directly to Dr Majoro.

Dr Majoro appointed Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Commissioner General Thabo Khasipe as the chief executive officer of NACOSEC. Mr Khasipe's appointment would have breathed new life into the fight against Covid-19 had it not been hampered by an acute lack of government support. On several occasions last year and early this year, the country endured crippling strikes by health professionals over risk allowances and demands for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment for hospitals.

Last December, the government showed its ineptitude in handling the Covid-19 crisis by allowing thousands of Basotho who live and work in South Africa into the country without testing or presenting valid Covid-19 test certificates. This contributed to a huge spike in infections and deaths which have only recently slowed down after the imposition of a hard lockdown by the government.

The government appeared to wake up from its slumber and began a mass vaccination programme which is now being hampered by delays in getting the second doses of AstraZeneca and other vaccines to vaccinate all those who are eligible.

Dr Mahao says the government has been found wanting in dealing the Covid-19 threat.

"While Dr Majoro came in as Covid-19 was peaking, and could be excused for being a victim of circumstance, the virus also gave him an opportunity to shine and display his true leadership credentials. However, controversies surrounding the massive wastage of money at NACOSEC, culminating in the resignation of Thabo Khasipe as chief executive officer, portrayed a clueless government in handling the pandemic.

"Squabbles over tenders and procurement of personal protective equipment and the legality of NACOSEC raged on. On the other hand, government had no clear strategy to mitigate against the losses businesses and the transport sector were incurring due to the frequent lockdowns. It was also reported that hotels and lodges government used as quarantine centres were not paid ...

"On a positive side however, the government continued to pay part of the wages for factory workers despite Lesotho's usual budgetary constraints," Dr Mahao said.

Reviving the economy

Even before the impact of Covid-19, Lesotho's economy was already comatose. Dr Majoro took over at a time the finance ministry had projected that the economy, which was already shrinking at the average rate of 0,3 percent over the past three years, would contract by 1,2 percent as of 31 March 2021 due to the impact of Covid-19.

Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Ntaote Seboka said the government has done well "under the difficult circumstances brought by Covid-19".

"No miracles were expected from this government given the enormous challenge of Covid-19 when it came to power.

"However, there were some things the administration could have handled differently. For example, the private sector relief fund to cushion struggling businesses has been poorly administered. It is taking too long for the funds to reach the beneficiary businesses causing them to sink deeper into financial trouble.

"The Covid-19 regulations had an adverse impact on business as they were mostly vague most of the time."

Mr Seboka also said the government appeared hellbent on imposing the Tobacco and Alcohol Levy which was likely to cripple businesses and fuel the black-market trade in tobacco and alcohol.

While Dr Mahao said Dr Majoro could not be wholly blamed for the economy's inept growth because of the Covid-19 situation, Mr Mokotjo blames the premier for failing to alleviate the plight of unemployed youths.

"When it comes to issues affecting the youth this government has failed dismally. First, they established a Youth Apprentice Programme under the Ministry of Finance and it was a failure in that it failed to address high unemployment.

"For me the government is a failure because it has failed to address the issue of unemployment. It is even more galling that at a time when there are serious economic challenges, the government and MPs connived to award MPs M5000 each per month as fuel allowances. This shows that they are not considerate at all," Mr Mokotjo said.

While the nation would have expected more from the government, the jury is certainly still out on its performance after just a year in charge.

Though the legal term of any government is five years, Dr Majoro only has two since he took over halfway through Mr Thabane's term. He is now left with a year and in that time, serious work will have to be done to deliver on its promises to stabilise the country and revive the economy.

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