…as looting spree thrives at a cost of people’s lives
The emergence of novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) has a negative economic consequence in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, stressing meagre resources and for the destitute, it has gnawed down at the roots of their existence while Covid-preneurs thrived like a clan of hyenas.
This Covid-preneurs, emergence added to woes of an already weakened health sector siphoning paltry resources allocated towards fighting COVID-19.
Those admitted into Lesotho’s national isolation facility after testing positive for COVID-19 make claims of how unprepared Lesotho is towards provision of care and support for those who have contracted the virus and flattening the curve of infection.
This is amid millions of Maloti spent and nothing to show but icy cold quarantine and isolation centers and lack of personal protective equipment for health workers that prompted a national health worker stay-away from their places they declared as hazardous.
In light of the aforementioned that suggests resources were never used to prepare for COVID-19 but for self-enrichment schemes, a legitimate concern over usage of USD 49.1 million (an estimated M800 million) “emergency support” received from International Monetary Fund (IMF) arises.
Yes, the inauguration of Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro came with an evolution from National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) to National COVID-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC).
In a desperate move, Majoro sought to give the body coordinating the fight some integrity, but its predecessor’s prowling that has tainted the country’s first line of defense against COVID-19 still linger and the people want transparency and accountability.
In the middle of new efforts with Majoro now at the helm of governance, the country woke up to an exposé published in a local weekly, Public Eye, in its July 31 edition, revealing how government, in entanglement with a shady Chinese national Yan “John” Xie, forked out M53 000.00 in daily rentals.
Xie is a controversial businessman and a former special envoy and trade advisor on China-Asia trade networks of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The weekly, said government “forked out M53, 000.00 towards daily rental fees at the ‘Manthabiseng Convention Centre” a government owned facility where Command Centre was housed since establishment in the wake of global threat posed by COVID-19.
J&M Properties, a local company linked to Xie and running the National Convention Centre, invoiced the government a whopping M2.9-million for using the facility for 77 days since the inception of the Command Centre.
Earlier on, absurd prices for catering for food enjoyed by those assembled at the now defunct Command Centre under the auspices of coordinating responses related to COVID-19 also surfaced showing a M20 million budget.
But with the COVID-19 cases surging, Thabane’s administration was exposed and questions on what preparations were in place emerged without answers as it was exposed the Command Centre was only used to pillage the public purse.
This recent exposé of daylight robbery whooping daily rent fees speaks to the emergence of the new breed of a corrupt cabal profiteering on a pandemic, the covid-preneurs.
The Covid-preneurs have from day one of Lesotho’s response to the pandemic been marauding on the state resources for own private gain while the economy was forced into a lockdown and with jobs lost.
COVID-19 in Lesotho
Lesotho confirmed first case of COVID-19 on May 13. The World Health Organization (WHO) define COVID-19 as an infectious disease that is caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus.
WHO, elucidate further that most people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment at times.
But older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer, WHO says are more likely to develop serious illness.
Since the first recording of the virus in the country, Lesotho swiftly took pre-emptive measures to address the pandemic.
These measures were in the form of establishing the Command Centre as well as the imposition of the state of emergency and national lockdown that crippled business and people’s means to make a living as movement of persons was restricted and non-essential services shut down.
A variety of mitigation strategies were also promulgated. They included those that have materialized, either in full or partly, such as the provisions of M800.00 grants to textile and garments factory workers, and those that have not seen the light of day, such as mass fumigation of public places.
Meanwhile, a number of factors can be used to elucidate the failure of some of the many promulgated mitigation strategies to see the light of day. These factors include lack of political will, centralized planning leaving out key stakeholders in planning response to the pandemic, will to attend to the needs of the people in the face of the pandemic, incompetence, and bad governance, a list to which I add Covid-preneurship.
Later, on some stakeholders were roped in as decisions were made and the strict lockdown were loosened to allow some businesses to operate. But in the meantime, whether strict lock down or ease of movement, the only business that thrived was Covid-preneurship.
Covid-preneurs milk government
To comprehend my take of who the covid-prenuers are, it suffices that I define entrepreneurship and entrepreneur. A basic explanation of entrepreneurship is an ‘activity’ of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit, while an entrepreneur in the same light, is a ‘person’ who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.
There are a variety of entrepreneurs from different perspectives. One of them for example is what is called conflict entrepreneurs. Conflict entrepreneur basically refers to an individual or a group that promote conflict for own benefit or profit.
These types of people typically engage in or directly benefit from illegal economic activity that promotes violence or undermines efforts for economic development and good governance.
The fact that we have conflict entrepreneurs, which is well grounded in the scholarly works, posit that we can also have a new phenomenon of ‘covid-preneurs’.
I therefore define covid-preneurs along the same lines of an entrepreneur in the business sense or from the conflict perspective, in which case, covid-preneurs are people, (for the purpose of this piece, government officials and politicians) who use the novel Corona Virus for the purpose of securing own private benefits which are often financial at the expense of the general public.
The underlying idea between the aforementioned forms of entrepreneurs is the motive of such an activity that entrepreneurs embark on.
Covid-preneurship manifested itself during Thabane’s administration. Then, the Command Centre was one of the most notable measures taken in response to the ongoing pandemic. It was tasked with among others, coordinating responses related to the virus and it relatively operated well fairly in its early days.
But the perception changed when there emerged claims of misuse of funds, not to mention that many of the plans once promulgated by the Command Centre have not materialized until its demise.
In fact, what has come to dominate whenever the name “Command Centre” comes up, is the highly inflated prices which included;
- M120.00 tea per person, Lunch of M250.00 per person, and Dinner of M120.00 per person;
- WIFI budgeted for M900,000.00 with M210,000.00 on airtime;
- Installation of GIS system for geo mapping was priced at M1,800,000.00;
- Connection of nine district administrators’ offices with routers and switches had been set at M500, 000.00.
- Installation of Call free Centre budgeted at M150, 000.00
In total, a whooping M700 million budget was proposed.
The M700 million budget was reportedly intended for disease prevention and mitigation and another amount as yet undetermined was identified for mitigating the economic and social impacts of the pandemic.
Of the M700 million budget, it was expected to cover things like:
- public awareness about the disease and information on ways to prevent contracting it;
- placing the country’s health system at a proper state of readiness. That included buying medical equipment, hiring additional staff, making bed space available, buying PPE, training etc;
- Coordination and communications infrastructure – vehicles, computer systems, contact tracing;
- Border security – Police and Army special COVID-19 needs.
But amid plans to put health system at proper state of readiness, infamous is the country’s efforts to have its own COVID-19 testing facility that were riddled with allegations of key decision makers peddling Covid-preneurship leading to a deal with private company that was to assist the country set up testing facility, Liselo Labs, collapsing.
The country’s COVID-19 testing ability were delayed greatly as a result possibly leading to infections increase going undetected.
Concerns and public outcry over inflated prices especially as meals and other logistics budget was leaked on social media caught the attention of National Assembly’s parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Economic and Development Cluster that did a noble thing and slashed the budget.
In light of the issues surrounding the now defunct Command Centre, one has no other sound explanation to provide except that in Lesotho, COVID-19 has led to a heart-wrenching unscrupulous and filthy feeding frenzy for the Covid-preneurs.
It is truly disturbing that, our taxes, even donations which ought to have been dedicated to capacitating our weak health sector especially in this trying times, were shamelessly squandered and taken advantage of by a greedy cabal of covid-preneurs, who like hyenas over dead bodies, saw COVID-19 as an opportunity for a feeding frenzy with total disregard of the masses of our poor people, who poverty and unemployment has gnawed down at the roots of their existence, SHAME!