For many Basotho today, talking about sustainable development goals and why their country fails to attain these important milestones and realise prosperity is mostly blamed on a corrupt cabal influential over state power referred to as State House.
State House, under normal circumstances, is an eminent house in any country, of course, second after King’s Royal Palace in the Mountain Kingdom. It is supposed to be a working home for the Prime Minister, and a grandiose home for his family.
However, Lesotho’s State House name is tainted. It has become synonymous with a place for clandestine meetings by corrupt cabal conniving self-enrichment schemes through illegal and corrupt awards of lucrative government jobs and tenders.
Weekly news reports, for months now have painted a gloomy picture of the country, where members of this corrupt State House cabal are now usual suspects accused of abusing public office for private gains or fingered in abuse of state resources or fiddling with award of lucrative tenders.
Led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane into public office under the disguise of a messiah, an anti-corruption champion poised to salvage the country from the quagmire that former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili led congress parties’ corrupt clique had thrown the country into, assumed office.
Mosisili’s 2015-2017 led seven parties coalition government had its biggest scandal of awarding the government fleet tender to a South African firm, Bidvest Group Limited, that ended siphoning from treasury almost if not more than 1 billion Maloti.
Accusing Mosisili’s led coalition of being monstrous, Thabane and his corrupt clique also decried Mosisili for nepotism.
Rethabile Mosisili, a son to the former premier Pakalitha Mosisili was assigned to the office of deputy principal secretary for the ministry of water affairs during his father’s tenure as the Prime Minister of Lesotho and later on appointed a Chief Delegate of Lesotho into a lucrative bilateral Lesotho and South Africa led Lesotho Highlands Water Commission.
The commission governs on behalf of the two governments, the multibillion Maloti water projects constructed in Lesotho for South African industrial hub of Gauteng.
Rethabile enjoyed various top government positions considered to be politically motivated and granted either by his father or to appease his father by ministers.
While in opposition, Thabane used to suggest Mosisili deliberately placed his son on strategic areas of the government when he also had him appointed to Letšeng Diamond Mine as a board member.
But the anti-corruption champions—State House—elected with hopes to hold Mosisili’s corrupt officers accountable went on to do the worst. Leaving some of Mosisili’s critiques to backtrack on their accusations.
Since 2017 to-date, Selimo Thabane a nephew to Thabane was placed to Letšeng Diamond Mine’s to replace Mosisili’s son, in a shocking move that went on to include many other unscrupulous decisions.
Today, December 9, as the world commemorates the International Anti-Corruption Day the United Nations reminds us that “Corruption is a major bottleneck to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and a global concern”.
“It is found in both rich and poor countries and hurts poor people disproportionately. It contributes to instability and poverty and is a dominant factor in driving fragile countries towards state failure.
The United Nations further say people often feel that they are at the mercy of corruption and think that it is just a “way of life”.
A visit to Basotho communities reveals a tale of hunger and poverty.
Public schools’ students in 2019 had a rough year as they were forced to bunk school due to protracted teachers strike. Teachers were demanding higher pay and better working conditions, a cry by teachers that remains answered.
The Sustainable Development Goals talk of Health and access to health care as one important aspect of life, but Lesotho’s only referral hospital’s, Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital run by South African Net Care, war with Health Ministry over costly services has caused many facing their death and hoping for treatment to be turned away and told to go back home or referred to under-resourced clinics.
Health care challenges are further mounting for the country as many go without food with government making appeal for humanitarian assistance. Amid the unresolved Health crisis caused by the feud over high fees facing in the country, mismanagement of government funds and bulky per diem and international travel consume millions.
As though the various challenges facing the people are not enough, access to jobs is politicised and based on nepotism. Those awarded jobs, a thing of Mosisili’s government is replicated by Thabane and candidates are handpicked from ruling parties’ constituencies’ lists and submitted to a minister first for scrutiny.
A shocking act of Thabane’s government that left thousands reeling in hunger is the localisation of wool and mohair, an initiative believed to have seen ministers pocket kickbacks for initiating.
The wool and mohair localisation policy imposed a prohibition on the export of wool and mohair to be sold by South African based brokers in favour of the Chinese broker based in Lesotho.
The policy wreaked havoc on wool and mohair farmers and left them destitute due to delayed payments and lower pay compared to South African brokers.
Small business development, cooperatives and marketing minister Chalane Phori, went above and beyond to continue to keep the law in place even after parliament in November repealed the law and ordered him to draw new regulations allowing farmer to sell wool at market of their choice.
The corrupt are rewarded with more responsibility and lucrative government posts, if not redeployed to further the interests of their masters, whom Basotho referred to simply as Batho ba State House [meaning People from State House].
One such appointment is that of new Mining Ministry Principal Secretary, Themba Sopeng. Sopeng was earlier this year fired from the state-owned, Lesotho Post Bank, where he was a credit chief officer.
He had transferred M7 million to another bank account held with another bank by controversial Chinese man, Yan Xie known as John without the consent of shareholders of a company that John used to be a shareholder of.
Regardless, Sopeng even after the scandal that caused the Post Bank M7 million, was recently appointed a Chief Accounting Officer of the Mining ministry allegedly with the influence of the State House corrupt Cabal’s influence.
In yet another recent development that exposed the deep-rooted corruption peddled by the State House reported by a local weekly as officials were grilled by parliamentary public accounts committee.
Local government principal Secretary Khothatso Tšooana and Maseru City Council Town Clerk Moeko Maboee disclosed to parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that Minister Phori attempted to arm-twist them into awarding the Mpilo boulevard tender to Chinese owned UNIK Construction.
The Mpilo Boulevard tender is meant to reduce traffic congestion in the city and also reduce car accidents.
Tšooana said Phori was supported by the First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and Local Government Minister Mahala Molapo when he directed that the lucrative tender be awarded to UNIK.
Tšooana said Phori, Molapo and Mrs Thabane wanted UNIK granted the tender as a reward to its Chinese owner only identified as a Mr Yang allegedly for his financial assisting to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his All Basotho Convention party members while in exile between 2015 and 2017.
Amid the State house rampant abuse of public office for private gain, there is much hope for Lesotho as the country traverse the road of journey of national reforms, especially if every sector of society and citizens were to take action and unite against corruption.
What Tšooana told parliamentary committee would become a thing of the past and competitive award of public jobs would prevail in Lesotho if the national laws are formulated to strengthen oversight institutions and accountability enforced.
As the country works on rebuilding and stabilising the country’s political landscape there is need to build into the new systems check and balances that promote accountability and transparency in Lesotho.
The following is some of the remedies other progressive countries have put in place that Lesotho, during this reforms era must consider to include:
- Declaration of Interest and Assets by all government officials, and private doing business with government and such declarations be renewed yearly and be accessible to member of the public and media.
- Anti-corruption body and the must independent and answerable to parliament. Be empowered and be seen to be free from any political influence from the appointment of the heads of that office through a public process that goes through parliament. The anti-corruption body is adequately resourced.
- Judicial independence is realised from an appointment, tenure of office, accountability mechanism be built-in and financial resources be availed for the bench.
- Introduction of competition and consumer protection laws. This would go a long way to curb collusion and protect consumers from big corporates.
- Whistle-blowers protection laws be put in place. Many government officials who witness and have access to evidence of wrongdoing are unable to report such incidents due to fear of reprisals.
- A police complaints mechanism independent from the Police Service that can keep in check the law enforcement agencies.
- Political parties funding be regulated, whether private and or public, political parties must be accountable on who funds them and this information be made public.
- State-owned enterprises are accountable to Parliament.
- An assets recovery and forfeiture unit is put in place for the recovery of proceeds of crime.
- Access to information laws be enacted and media freedom be constitutionally entrenched.
- The independence of the Prosecuting Authority be prioritised and made a reality. The Prosecuting authority boss be independently hired through a public process of scrutiny that goes through parliament.
The Inclusion of the foregoing into the national reforms agenda when reforming the constitution, judiciary, parliament, security agencies, and media would go a long way towards producing the Lesotho We want.