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Only drastic action will do

THERE is no prize for guessing who has been dominating the news in the past weeks.
And it appears the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) might be grabbing the headlines for a longer period.
The department — which disburses the government’s educational bursaries  — has done so over the past years and all for the wrong reasons.
It’s quite alarming that such a critical department is at the centre of the crisis that has bedevilled Basotho students for donkey years.
The NMDS has, in short, failed to dispense with its deep-rooted incompetence.
We were shocked but not surprised to learn last week that hundreds of Basotho students on government bursaries studying in South Africa were facing eviction over the non-payment of rentals.
This came hard on the heels of a strike by students at National University of Lesotho (NUL) students over the NMDS’s inexplicable failure to pay out their allowances.
That time, a government minister blamed a “third force” of goading the students into demonstrating.
But this time round the NMDS circus has just turned absurd as the department tries in vain to plead its innocence in the latest fiasco.
The NMDS accuses a middleman, Bothatha Mahlala, of pocketing millions meant for rentals for the South Africa-based students.
Mahlala, in turn, denies the government’s claims and says the NMDS instead owes him around a million maloti.
Whichever version is true, the NMDS has proved once again to be very irresponsible and a big liability to suffering taxpayers.
How a government department can entrust millions of taxpayers’ money meant for rentals with a man it does not have any form of contract with simply boggles the mind.
Only rudderless and clueless organisations are capable of such weird feats.
For how long can we watch the NMDS mess up Basotho students and the country at large?
The mess at that department is just too depressing.
Student grants have been delayed and money has been reported missing.
Because the NMDS’s systems — if there is anything like that — are antiquated student files have gone missing.
The department doles out millions in loans every year but does not have a functional system to recover taxpayers’ money.
We have not heard of anyone who has been arrested for getting a loan from the department and deliberately avoiding repayment.
The circus doesn’t end there.
A few weeks ago the NMDS’s perennial bungling had fatal consequences as a student was killed by the police during the strike at NUL.
More than a dozen were injured.
By now it should be crystal clear to the powers-that-be that the NMDS is beyond redemption.
In August we were told that the dismissal of the acting director of the NMDS, Karabo Mabote, heralded the beginning of a new era of transparency and efficiency.
The new director is barely four months in office, but the situation has only gone from bad to worse.
We believe the only solution now is to shut down the NMDS and start afresh.
The finance minister must with the left hand receive resignation letters while the right hand takes fresh applications at the same time.
The NMDS is too rotten to be redeemed.
We don’t need piecemeal reforms but a complete overhaul of that department.
That way the department’s rotten systems will die with it.
But that — as Mabote said in an interview with this paper — needs political will.
We believe it is political will that earned Lesotho praise for tackling corruption in the multi-billion-maloti Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
Multilateral institutions and donor countries were impressed with the way tiny Lesotho punched above its weight as it arrested, tried and imprisoned corrupt officials and bribe-paying corporations.
But that feat might be a hollow achievement if the government does much more to rid this kingdom of corruption.
We have no doubt that the NMDS is at the mercy of corrupt officials and employees, considering the department’s rotten systems.
The government must therefore take quick action to rid the NMDS — as well as other government departments — of the twin evils of corruption and incompetence.

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