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We’re the only ones who can walk the talk on national development: Mahao 


LESOTHO has entered the home stretch and the eagerly-awaited elections are just a few days away. All the political parties are busy wrapping their preparations ahead of the polls on Friday. Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao, this weekend took time off from his busy schedule to sit down with Sunday Express (SE) Editor, Herbert Moyo, and Deputy Editor, Silence Charumbira, and share his final thoughts on his party’s preparations and prospects.


SE: With just a few days remaining before the general elections on Friday, how would you rate the BAP’s preparations?

Mahao: It’s all systems go. We are ready. We’ve done what needed to be done but then again we have to continue work until the last day. Unfortunately, there’s one constituency where we won’t be fielding a candidate. That’s Lebakeng up in the mountains. Our would-be candidate failed to deliver his nomination papers on time.

SE: What are your chances? Do you see a BAP government being inaugurated into office after the polls?

Mahao: We will do very well. We are one of the big four parties in these elections, there’s no doubt about that!!!

SE: Your election manifesto is premised on three core principles, namely, the rule of law, good governance and socio-economic development. Please unpack these issues.

Mahao: Certainly, good governance is what this country desperately needs. Right now there are very serious issues of corruption; the public service has deteriorated and become unprofessional. Any government that seeks to turn things around will have to confront the issue of good governance.

The country has deteriorated and is failing to uphold the rule of law. The consequences are there for all to see: crime has become endemic to the point where the country has earned an unwarranted distinction as the top-ranked in Africa for murders and third in the world for homicides. Ours is a party and government which will work to restore the rule of law. We need to get the country on the right track.

With respect to equitable and inclusive economic growth, Lesotho ranks number eight in the world in terms of the huge disparities between the rich and poor. This is the result of low socio-economic development since the 1990s. We need to focus on stimulating growth, we need to build an inclusive and equitable economy for our people. We need to build social cohesion and national unity by ensuring everybody has a stake in the economy.

SE: You speak so eloquently about these issues but so have other parties. Can you tell us what sets the BAP apart from other parties that have made similar promises to Basotho?

Mahao: Talk is cheap, walking the talk is another matter altogether. You see the Basotho Action Party is an action-driven party. It’s no coincidence that ours is the only party which has the word “action” in its name.  We believe in walking the talk. We’ve developed a doable, achievable and deliverable set of activities to realise the three core principles that will result in a better Lesotho for all.

Not only that, we have the political will to follow through on all our promises. We have done our homework very well and recruited people with right mix of skills, political orientation and temperament to execute our party programmes.

Ours is the only party that demanded police clearances from all people who wanted to represent us in the polls. We had to ensure that we don’t have criminals in our ranks because we can’t be sending tainted and compromised people to parliament. Such people can’t be expected to manage the public purse or play an oversight role. In all this we have distinguished ourselves. Herein lies the difference between us and other political parties that will simply talk on about things they have no willingness or ability to deliver.

SE: You’ve alluded to the high crime rate. Theft, murders and the abuse of vulnerable people have reached unprecedented heights in Lesotho and the nation is livid about these. Where does the problem lie?

Mahao: The problem partly stems from the high unemployment rate in the country, secondly there is the issue of moral decay that has affected our people. Thirdly, we have government incompetence to blame. Over the years government, has emaciated the law enforcement agencies through unprofessional and politically-motivated appointments. The government has also deprived these institutions of the resources to enable them to do their job. That is why crime has increased exponentially. The laws are inadequate and the penalties are not deterrent enough.

SE: Some political parties have called for the implementation of the death penalty. They have called for the execution of convicted murderers as a way of fighting the high homicide rates. Is this something you subscribe to?

Mahao: If we cannot even catch a criminal, how would the death sentence be a deterrent? This (calls for the implementation of the death penalty) is simply an emotional response. What is needed is to catch the criminals, conduct thorough investigations, conduct a thorough prosecution of criminal cases, pass effective sentences on time and keep the criminals behind bars where they belong. The problem is not the sentence, it has to do with failure to do all the other things before we get to the sentencing of criminals. In most cases we never get to that point. Put another way, what I’m saying is that we need to look at the whole value chain from apprehending criminals right up to sentencing.

SE: In the event you win power, what would be your priorities?

Mahao: The first thing would be to rebuild public confidence in the government. We need to get people to believe that they can trust their government to deliver. To that end, I will immediately fill up the potholes along the roads. I will immediately work on reconstructing bridges that have collapsed in different parts of the country.

I will immediately set up a commission to go through all of all the auditor general’s reports, the public accounts reports as the first step towards addressing financial impropriety. Corruption will be investigated and rooted out.

We will also ensure that all ministers and senior public servants sign performance-based contracts with clear deliveries and expectations.

We will trim cabinet to just 18 ministers and dispose of several perks and benefits they don’t need like extra vehicles.

All government ministries would have to operate from government offices instead of the current practice where they are operating from different and often expensive rented premises. We need to ruthlessly cut down on the wastage of scare resources. There will be a proper fiscal management system in place.

SE: You were part of the 10th parliament which failed to pass the constitutional amendments which were part of the multi-sector reforms process. How do you explain this? Was there a genuine will on the part of legislators to pass the reforms?

Mahao: There are two ways of explaining this. First, it came down to utter government incompetence in managing the reforms process. The first amendment bill reached parliament around October last year and it was sent back for revisions. It was sent back to parliament in April this year but because government was either fast asleep or just didn’t care, there was a lot of fooling around in parliament instead of getting on with the job at hand. There was no supervision and no leadership provided by the executive from April until the last week before parliament was dissolved in July.

The bill eventually left the National Assembly and it was presented to Senate. But this was too late. The Senate only had three days to look into a very comprehensive set of amendments to the constitution due the incompetence of government. I blame the Prime Minister (Moeketsi Majoro). When you are a prime minister, you are the overseer but he didn’t do his job to supervise the process.

Secondly, in the National Assembly, there is the leader of the house who happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister (Mathibeli Mokhothu). He just didn’t care either. He was too busy campaigning and he wasn’t here to supervise the reforms process in parliament.

Incompetence and lack of focus on the part of executive is what failed us.

The second issue is that once the bill reached parliament, there wasn’t a genuine interest on the part of the leadership of the governing parties in achieving reforms. They were not willing to support any amendments to ensure that all appointments to key statutory positions were professionally done and removed from the control and discretion of the prime minister.

You will recall that in the past the constitution mandated the prime minister to sit with a council of professionals who would advise him on the best candidate for the post of army commander. This particular aspect of the constitution was later amended and this was the beginning of unprofessional appointments by politicians who wanted to control the army and other key agencies for their own selfish ends. The current political leadership did not want to change this. They are happy to continue with unbridled powers for the prime minister. This partly explains why they did not genuinely support the reforms.

SE: What will you do about this if you win power?

Mahao: We will naturally retrieve the constitutional bills and push them through the two houses of parliament and thereafter hold a referendum to secure the nation’s seal of approval.

SE: Just to take you back to your manifesto. You speak of socio-economic transformation. What does this entail in real terms?

Mahao: Socio-economic transformation involves bringing our people into the formal work environment. To do that, we will have to boost private sector growth. A major weakness of this country is that over the years the private sector has remained very stunted. This has led to high unemployment because the government’s focus on growing the public sector is highly unsustainable.  The tax base has declined, Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenues have declined and foreign donors have also entered phase of fatigue.

As a result, we are in a crises whose consequences including a deteriorating health sector, poorly funded education sector, poor service delivery and rampant crime.

So, a BAP government will put the brakes on public sector expenditure and redirect the savings to boost private sector growth. We will recapitalise our health sector. Presently there is one doctor to 8000 patients; our aim is that to improve that to one doctor per 4000 patients.

We are talking about a jobs-based growth but this can’t be achieved without overhauling and reforming the entire education system. We will revise the curriculum to incorporate skills development particularly in sectors such as agriculture, skills in agriculture, commerce, science, technology, engineering, medicine and health, mathematics and computer studies.

Over time, we will ensure that at least 60 percent of our graduates from tertiary institutions will be from the aforementioned disciplines.

We believe that a proper system of education would also produce people who are not only suited to the job market but also create jobs than to just seek employment.

We are also concerned about disparities between our rural and urban areas. We will work hard to uplift the lives of people in rural areas because the areas have been neglected. We will build the necessary infrastructure to improve lives in rural areas.

Some of these rural areas are home to large-scale mining projects and yet poverty still abounds. We will reserve a portion of the mining royalties for reinvestment in infrastructure and service delivery in the rural areas.

SE: What will be the foreign policy thrust under a BAP government?

Mahao: Our immediate focus would be our relations with our neighbour (South Africa). Lesotho has bi-national commission with South Africa but it hasn’t been used effectively because of very poor foreign policy considerations on our part. In our manifesto, we indicate that we will use bi-national commission to negotiate how the two countries must interact. One of the first things is to ensure free movement of people and goods between the two countries. We also want to negotiate for Lesotho citizens to have the same rights as South Africans when they are in that country.

The third element is to negotiate on behalf of our miners who work in South Africa to have decent packages and benefits when they retire. It is common cause that many of the miners suffer various diseases related to their work. When they retire from South African mines, it should be our responsibility to ensure that their retirement funds stashed in South Africa are repatriated so that they can benefit from them.

With respect to SADC and the African Union (AU), our foreign policy will align to the general outlook of these regional and continental blocs. You will recall that we suffered an embarrassment when the previous government changed our position with regards to Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. This caused SADC and AU to regard us with distrust. We have a responsibility to restore the integrity of Lesotho.

SE: Lesotho’s relations with South Africa could well be compromised by some Lesotho nationals, particularly the Famo gangs, who are now committing crimes in the neighbouring country. Some analysts have accused leading political parties of fraternising with the Famo gangs. What is your take on this?

Mahao: Two parties must take the responsibility of what is happening; the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Democratic Congress (DC) are the ones who are fraternising with the Famo gangs. Famo is a cultural genre. We’re worried that it has transcended into politics and criminality.

This country is also awash with illegal firearms and that is why we have high homicide rates. There are also elements within South Africa who appear to be supplying Famo gangs with weapons. We are also aware that high calibre firearms have disappeared from police and LDF armouries. So, our two countries have to develop a comprehensive strategy of disarming and pacifying society as a way of containing what may well be developing into regional terrorism. But the two political parties I have mentioned have to take the lead.

SE: Have you considered any alliances for a coalition in the event that you don’t achieve an outright electoral victory?

Mahao: We have taken deliberate decision to just focus on the election and deal with questions of who to hop into bed with after the elections. We will consider political parties whose policies and outlook mirrors our own.

SE: You have talked up your chances of doing well in the elections. But some parties are concerned about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s alleged failure to produce a credible voters’ roll. They say the roll is littered with so many errors. Among others, it is alleged that the IEC duplicated the names of several people and this could allow them to vote more than once at different polling stations. This would then compromise the credibility of the eagerly awaited polls. Apart from the “faulty” voters’ roll, the IEC is also accused of refusing to release the names of the people who registered as first-time voters during the registration exercise. 

The IEC also stands accused of refusing to release the names of early voters who will cast their votes tomorrow. It is further accused of refusing to allow political parties to observe the early voting process. What is your take on all this?

Mahao: We’re extremely worried about all these issues. Just yesterday (Thursday), we held a prayer meeting. We prayed that these issues do not lead to a controversial election which will be disputed. As things stand, these are unusual elections. Unusual in the sense that we are seeing the monetisation of polls due to the activities of some political parties. We’re asking ourselves whether the outcome will reflect the democratic will or it will reflect the monetisation of the polls.




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