…and avail much needed resources to social development and poverty alleviation programs.
When COVID-19 started to spread across the world, I was working with a French filmmaker on production of a Film on Hunger in Lesotho.
Being a city dweller and frequently seeing reports by international organizations of the hunger and extreme poverty that my fellow countrymen and women live in has never really hit me as hard as it did when working on the film production.
I had to identify best characters that would best depict the suffering endured by Basotho faced with hunger, extreme poverty, and drought.
Found myself indecisive, unable to choose who would make the best characters for the film that we were to produce.
But at the end of the day, we did have our characters, some found in the most unexpected places.
What made it hard to choose who to feature in the film was the discovery that so many Basotho indeed live in hunger and go for many days without anything to eat.
Such is the reality in many droughts hit areas that have been dependent on food aid for months now.
We ended choosing to shoot most of the hunger part of the film in Qacha’s Nek villages near Sehlabathebe National Park and also in in ’Melikane, both locations are derelict and forgotten.
Learners at one village’s primary school in Thamathu, Sehlabathebe only attended school eager for their next meal, sometimes the one and only meal for the day for many.
One of the teachers, featured in the short film at the primary school disclosed that if there was no food offered to the children, they would never make it to school.
The school, and its impoverished Thamathu village, are a reflection of the poverty in many communities in Lesotho.
Food for children—remember the only meal for many—at the Thamathu Primary School is prepared from an unprotected open space makeshift kitchen, often the windy and rainy days are miserable as the food is either spoiled by sand or coming late due to rain hampering firewood cooking from going smoothly.
But, for 7-year-old Tlotla Moletsane who lives only with his 12-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother Limpho who had to drop out of school to look after animals, life is but a daily routine of begging for the next meal.
These children, who also feature in the film are in dire need of assistance. And such, I learned is a reality for many children in Lesotho today.
Taking Tlotla’s age, there is little he understands but it is the life so tender that Lesotho’s fourth coalition government led by Prime Minister Dr. Moeketsi Majoro and his Democratic Congress ally, Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu must care for and ensure the circle of poverty is broken.
While Lesotho was already in March 2020 unable to feed more than a quarter of the country’s population, and then came the spread of COVID-19 resulting in a lockdown that led to even more devastating hunger and extreme poverty in the country as hordes lost a means to earn a living, the country is in dire need for ample resources.
But while this is the case, Lesotho’s new government must garner resources to end hunger and ensure economic stability while ensuring we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic victorious.
Lesotho Diaspora remits M7 billion home
Meanwhile, in the middle of the many crisis situations the country moves from, hunger into COVID-19, Finance Minister Thabo Sofonea was already crying that the consolidated fund is running dry and a few pennies he has would not go for long keeping the administration of the state smooth.
Sofonea’s search for a means to meet his COVID-19 response budget were recently answered with an estimated M800 million International Monetary Fund loan.
The IMF loan will surely come handy in the short-run, but Majoro’s government needs to look for local alternative revenue streams to fund the country’s development agenda.
And I say he needs not look afar, but through the country’s human resource the requisite revenue stream can be tapped into.
Lesotho’s biggest revenue source has always been its diaspora working mostly in South Africa.
During one of the Basotho diaspora engagement forums held in Johannesburg in 2019, an event we coincidentally happened to attend with Majoro, of course he was a speaker and I was there for Journalistic work.
A Central Bank officer told these Basotho diaspora members who had gathered to hear how government intends to reconnect with them that they remitted through formal channels to Lesotho more than 7 billion maloti in 2018. He said through Shoprite alone—remember long queue you see daily—more than M1 billion was remitted to Lesotho by Basotho in 2018.
The M7 billion remitted to Lesotho in 2018 is more than what the country receives in loans, grants or aid from development partners yearly.
These M7 billion, is mostly directed straight to various needs by family members that include paying school fees for children, buying food and cloths, other necessities, building homes, farming and even starting businesses.
If they can remit 7 billion, they can repay loan bursaries billions worthy debt
What is interesting is that more Basotho who have attained a first degree were able to study through the assistance of loan bursary scheme financed under the National Manpower Development Secretariat.
Worrying is that there are no mechanisms for collecting these revenues from the Basotho diaspora, especially in South Africa where most are located. If they can remit 7 billion back home, then they are patriotic and can repay their loan bursaries debts that are estimated to be more than 10 billion Maloti.
But, many never repay this loan bursary for a number of reasons, but mainly due to the fact that there is no mechanism for repayment beyond Lesotho’s borders.
It is these billions worthy loan bursary debt that can be turned into a steady revenue stream that’s much needed for Majoro’s government to end the circle of poverty threatening the livelihoods of young boys and girls in Thamathu, Sehlabathebe.
Amid need for new revenue stream, Lesotho has failed to collect repayment instalments beyond the borders of the country even though Basotho would be willing to repay their loan bursaries so that the country’s development agenda can be well financed.
Lesotho, with such patriotic citizens willing to send back such huge sums of money formally and informally, would easily earn back what it invested in the education of its citizens and meet many of its responsibilities without having to borrow loans from international banks.
What is worrying is that the country’s first attempt to engage a debt collector was fumbled due to a cabal of corrupt politicians and government officers who wanted the coffers collected in repayments for the loan bursaries for their own private gain and never make it to the public purse.
But, that as it may be the case, if Lesotho engages a debt collector of integrity knowledgeable on where to look and how to look for those who benefitted from the loan bursaries administered by the NMDS, the country would add to its few revenue streams a steady flow of income that could be repurposed for other development plans.
Plans like the fight against the COVID 19 pandemic and mitigating the pandemic’s effects on all sectors of the economy.
Lesotho would earn millions of Maloti yearly back into its coffers and reduce the need for external borrowings.
The country is already faced with dwindling Southern African Customs Union revenue receipts but habitually fails to collect what is due to it, hence the need for a reputable debt collector with requisite skillset to trace beneficiaries of the NMDS who may have changed their identities in the erstwhile times when dual citizenship was but a dream and many changed to South African names and identities.
Majoro must however also not only engage a competent debt collector, but must also deploy adequate measures that will stamp out corruption.
Transparency and accountability remain a big challenge that needs to be addressed through a holistic approach. More so, a culture of ministers and chief accounting officers who demand kickbacks or shareholding in companies seeking to do business with government through their hidden proxies must be abolished.
It is also requisite to entice those who owe their loan bursaries to commit to repaying them through a working transparency and accountability initiative that will expose wrongdoing and abuse of public funds and stamp out corruption.