Coalition govt failed Basotho - Setipa
Joining politics is the right decision The BNP has no prospects of ever growing
PROMINENT businessman Joshua Setipa — has forayed into fulltime politics with the former Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) chief executive officer set to stand for a parliamentary seat on a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) ticket in the 28 February 2015 general election.
Mr Setipa joined the LNDC from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where he had held a senior post as an advisor to the WTO director-general.
He ran the country’s investment and trade promotion showcase for only two of his fiveyear contract with both the LNDC and Mr Setipa subsequently announcing they had reached mutual consent to amicably part ways early last year.
Below are excerpts from the exclusive interview Mr Setipa had with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, in which he speaks of his transition to full-time politics and why he left the LNDC.
LT: Why did you decide to join politics?
Setipa: It was not an easy decision, and ranks among the most difficult decisions I have ever made. It definitely ranks in the top three most difficult decisions I have had to make.
I am saying this because once you decide you are going to stand in front of the nation to say elect me so that I represent you in parliament, it removes whatever veil of protection you still had.
The boundaries of protection are removed. For instance, it is generally accepted that a civil or public servant’s family is out of bounce even if people do not agree with the way he/ she conducts themselves.
But once you stand for election it’s a different scenario. There is this unwritten rule that once you put yourself out there, the public is free to say whatever they want.
So, because of such things, it is not an easy decision to make. I have grown up children and a wife. And all of them, up until now, have lived their lives freely. I had to convince my wife and family, relatives and friends that this is something I believe in.
LT: What would you bring to local politics?
Setipa: I believe there is something that I can offer. I can make a contribution towards what I believe every Mosotho today wants to see, and that is to have this country back on track.
I believe that all of us have a responsibility to contribute to that effort. It does not mean all of us have to contest for elections to be in parliament. We do it in different ways and from different platforms.
But the most visible platform is that of a lawmaker; working with government to enact laws that create an environment conducive for putting the country back on track.
LT: What do you mean by country back on track’?
Setipa: I, for one, believe that we face a long list of challenges as a nation. Challenges that require serious-minded people and an unshakable commitment and confidence in this country.
I have spent most of my life as a public servant. I started off in the public service here in Lesotho and grew up working in it. Then I made the transition to being an international public servant.
I came back and went back to the public service. So I have seen firsthand how governments work and how good intentions get derailed. I believe that, at this stage of my career, politics is the right transition to make.
We have just squandered three years (of the coalition government) because of the failed relationship between the parties elected to government collectively.
I am not, in any way, apportioning blame to any party. But the reality is that the coalition government failed to meet the expectations of Basotho.
As a result, the country has suffered. Unemployment rates have gone up, students’ performance at schools has deteriorated, industrial production has fallen dismally and the security situation has deteriorated.
Perceptions of Lesotho suffered a serious blow. We are now perceived by the outside world as dysfunctional and unable to manage our affairs since we have to run and seek assistance elsewhere.
Even our own internal security can only be guaranteed by foreign forces. So all that points to a country sliding backwards. We need to get back on track. We have got resources and the intellectual capacity.
We have got people that, with the right environment, can get us back to where we are supposed to be. If I can be part of that effort, I would have made my contribution.
LT: What exactly do you want to contrib-
ute in the development of this country?
Setipa: With the passion, commitment and experience I have gained from working for successive governments in this country, I have a very good story to tell.
In the 46 years of our history (since independence in 1966), this is probably the most difficult time and we need to get back on track.
If we don’t, it means the future we continue to promise our children cannot be guaranteed. If we can’t guarantee them decent work, education and even security in their own homes, what type of future is that?
We need to go back to the drawing board and preach a message of tolerance. All these problems arise from the fact that we are not able to work collectively because of suspicion and intolerance.
If we were a country with many different tribes, we would have probably taken the route of countries like Rwanda which went through tumultuous periods before they realised divisions were not in anyone’s interests.
Politics is the only thing dividing us and that is our biggest vulnerability. Political differences are good because they encourage debate and innovative thinking. But there is need for acceptance of the fact that difference of opinion is healthy.
People in other countries argue while moving forward but we argue and stop working and start fighting each other.
We cannot claim to want to develop and advance as a society and still be stuck in what happened in 1970, 1998 or in 2007.
LT: So what do you think went wrong with the coalition government?
Setipa: It was like a marriage in which the couple expressed undying love for each other in the first few months only to end up in a divorce court. If you ask one of them what went wrong, they will narrate their version.
The husband will blame the wife and vice versa. All the parties that were in the coalition government made mistakes.m Now have we learnt from those mista mistakes?
That’s where the key is is. If we fail to learn from those mistakes, the next coalition government will also fall into the same trap.
LT: Why did you choo choose LCD ahead of
all other parties?part
Setipa: I decided to participate in a active politics after I evalua evaluated the four biggest pa parties in the country, na namely the Basotho Nation National Party (BNP), All BasothoBa Convention (ABC (ABC), Democratic Congres gress (DC) and LCD.
T The BNP, in my opi opinion, does not have an any prospect of growin ing and becoming a pa partner in any futu ture government t that would allow it t to be an equal partner and influence policy direction. It will always be a junior partner.
I also find its hist torical legacy unacceptable. Their values are not my values. As for the ABC, I have worked with its leader Ntate (Thomas) Thabane. I respect him. He is actually a personal friend. It’s just that I don’t agree with the way they approached issues in government.
They claim to represent the poor, which I think is a noble aspiration because this country is predominantly made up of poor people.
They need a voice; they need somebody to champion their issues. But that is not what I saw in practice with the ABC.
Being the bigger partner in government, the ABC should have shown leadership.
There are certain concessions the ABC should have made to make this marriage (coalition government) work because they were the strongest in this relationship. They failed to do that …... For me that was unacceptable.
LT: You have been linked with the DC and many people say you are a close ally of that party’s leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, and would naturally seek dalliance with his party. What is your take on that?
Setipa: I have a very strong and personal relationship with Ntate Mosisili and his family. His children are among my best friends. It is a relationship that goes back many years. The same level of access I have to Ntate Thabane is the same with Ntate Mosisili. People then interpreted that as political affiliation.
They began saying I was recruited into the LNDC by Ntate Mosisili. So many people were hired during the DC regime. I was given a job like any other Mosotho for which they felt I was qualified. And that’s it.
So that story about me being a DC activist just because I am friends with Ntate Mosisili is baseless.
LT: Is it because of those allegations that you did not choose the DC?
No. I would have been happily wel- comed in the DC. The DC is still by far the strongest party. It is an organised party. It has (good) structures and has experience in government.
But I strongly believe that in 2012 the voters sent a clear message to the DC; that it was time for change. They wanted change in how the country was being run. But that message doesn’t seem to have hit home.
The team the party contested the 2012 elections with is the same they have today. It sends only one message; that they failed to heed the message of the electorate.
They keep imposing candidates who the people would not vote for in 2012 because they had failed them.
A party that is not able to learn from its mistakes has a problem.
A significant number of candidates in the ABC and LCD are new, which shows their growth. In the DC, you have someone who has been in cabinet for 14 years and who wants to come back again for another five years.
No matter how hard working and smart that person is, he/she is bound to get tired. We age. A party that fails to realise that has serious limitations.
In other societies, the leaders are young and dynamic people because the challenges we face today require such kinds of people.
LT: Your departure from the LNDC was partly associated with politics, with allegations you were not on good terms with the coalition government.
There was a report stating that you misappropriated the corporation’s funds and that you fell out with the board of directors. Why exactly did you part ways with the LNDC?
Setipa: Looking at how this issue was handled; if anyone in any organisation is accused or suspected of behaving or conducting themselves in a manner that is not consistent with what the organisation stands for, there are processes to follow.
It has been proven beyond doubt to me that there are elements in government who, for some reason, saw it being in their best interests for me to go. They ran around finding an excuse to fire me.
I can show anyone who says I failed to do the job I was asked to do that I exceeded and went beyond expectations.
When I was first appointed at the LNDC in 2012, there was no single operating automotive industry in this country.
However, 18 months later when I left, we had three companies manufacturing car parts from the United States, Germany and Malaysia.
That is just one example. Imagine what I could have achieved in five years. My problems started with the board. It oversees the governance of the institution.
The day-to-day running of the LNDC is the responsibility of the CEO. When I was appointed CEO, nowhere was it was ever stated that I would be jointly managing the institution with the board.
So there was this misunderstanding concerning boundaries and some board members had a hidden agenda. I raised issues of governance on their part and they felt that I was investigating them and that I was being intrusive. That’s where the problem started.
So the whole issue then became concocted and became a bigger story about how I went and spent money with the corporation’s credit card.
It’s a very simple practice. When you travel, you use the company credit card for business and personal purposes and when you come back, you pay for personal charges which is what I did. End of story. I don’t owe the LNDC.
The sad thing about it all is that even the Trade Minister (S’khulumi Ntsoaole) never gave me the opportunity to explain or respond to all the allegations he heard about me.
It was already decided that they would fire me. And they did.
Former LNDC Ceo Joshua Setipa