LESOTHO has been ranked the 83rd most corrupt country out of 180 countries on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2020.
This represents a slight improvement from 85th in the 2019 rankings.
According to Transparency International, the corruption watchdog, “scores 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and businesspeople”.
“A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
Lesotho achieved a score of 41 while the joint top ranked least corrupt countries Denmark and New Zealand scored 88 out of 100.
Somalia and South Sudan were ranked as the joint most corrupt countries in the world with scores of 12 out of 100 apiece.
Lesotho’s slight improvement should not be a cause for celebration as there are several other African countries, including South Africa (number 69), with much better rankings in the corruption perception index.
At number 35, fellow southern African country, Botswana, is the top ranked African country followed by Cape Verde (41), Rwanda (49), Mauritius (52) and (Namibia (57).
São Tomé and Príncipe (63), Senegal (67), Tunisia (69) and Ghana (75) are the other African countries ranked higher than Lesotho. Benin is ranked 83rd alongside Lesotho.
Transparency International said its 2020 report “paints a grim picture of the state of corruption worldwide”.
It said while most countries had made little to no progress in tackling corruption in nearly a decade.
“2020 proved to be one of the worst years in recent history, with the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating effects. The health and economic impact on individuals and communities worldwide has been catastrophic.
“As the past tumultuous year has shown, COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis, but a corruption crisis as well, with countless lives lost due to the insidious effects of corruption undermining a fair and equitable global response.
“Reports of corruption during Covid-19 have reverberated across the globe,” Transparency International states.
Lesotho’s own Covid-19 response has been marred by allegations of corruption after the disbanded National Emergency Command Centre allegedly gobbled M161 million out of the M698 million budget set aside to fight Covid-19.
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 command centre allegedly spent more than M10 782 618 on food for its staffers drawn from different ministries at the time health professionals were going with no personal protective equipment (PPE). Other money was spent on purchasing office equipment and other related items at grossly inflated prices.
The command centre was disbanded by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) in June 2020.
However, NACOSEC has not fared any better with Acting Auditor General Monica Besetsa’s preliminary audit findings showing that the Covid-19 budget had ballooned from the initial M698 million to M1, 5 billion “due to extra expenses to pay for operational costs of NACOSEC” and not necessarily interventions required to contain the deadly pandemic.
Under a section of her report titled “Budget for NACOSEC”, Ms Besetsa says,
“NECC had an approved budget of M698 million. The proposed budget escalated to M1, 5 billion due to extra expenses to pay for operational costs of NACOSEC.
“This takes Covid-19 issue out of context of being an emergency, disaster and pandemic, hence a need for the involvement of parliament in this kind of establishment,” the audit report states.
Although the Transparency International report does not specifically speak of corruption in Lesotho’s Covid-19 response, it states that corruption has undermined the global health response to Covid-19.
“Our analysis shows corruption not only undermines the global health response to Covid-19, but contributes to a continuing crisis of democracy. This year’s report shows corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle the Covid-19 pandemic and other global crises.
“From bribery and embezzlement to overpricing and favouritism, corruption in health care takes many forms. We risk losing even more, however, if we don’t learn from previous lessons in times of crisis. Over the last year, despite Covid-19, people around the world gathered in force to join massive protests against corruption and for social justice and political change.
“Many governments have drastically relaxed procurement processes. These rushed and opaque procedures provide ample opportunity for corruption and the diversion of public resources. Contracting processes must remain open and transparent to combat wrongdoing, identify conflicts of interest and ensure fair pricing.
“The COVID-19 crisis exacerbated democratic decline, with some governments exploiting the pandemic to suspend parliaments, renounce public accountability mechanisms, and incite violence against dissidents. To defend civic space, civil society groups and the media must have the enabling conditions to hold governments accountable.
“Consistent with public opinion surveys that show most people are hopeful that they can make a difference in the face of corruption, these protests made headlines and highlighted the power of collective action in speaking out,” the report states.
To fight Covid-19 and curb corruption, Transparency International recommends that it is essential for countries to strengthen oversight institutions and ensure transparent and open contracting of service providers.