Let cooler heads pre­vail in Le­sotho

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

IT wasn’t that we did not see it com­ing, but it is stag­ger­ing all the same. As re­ported else­where in this edi­tion, Vice-pres­i­dent for Pol­icy and Eval­u­a­tion of the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion (MCC), Beth Trit­ter, has writ­ten a let­ter to Fi­nance Min­is­ter ‘Mam­phono Khaketla ex­press­ing con­cern over “the rule of law and ac­count­abil­ity is­sues” in Le­sotho.

Among other things, the let­ter also re­veals that the Amer­i­cans took um­brage with Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili’s re­cent re­marks ad­mon­ish­ing Le­sotho’s de­vel­op­ment part­ners for “interfering in the coun­try’s af­fairs”.

The let­ter also goes on to warn that these and “other de­vel­op­ments” would be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion later this year when the MCC de­cides if Le­sotho should be awarded a sec­ond Com­pact. The cor­re­spon­dence is as forth­right as it is un­equiv­o­cal; un­less Le­sotho ac­counts for the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity un­rest rock­ing the coun­try — and ex­plains Dr Mo­sisili’s dec­la­ra­tion of 8 June 2015 in Maseru that for­eign­ers have no busi­ness med­dling in the coun­try’s in­ter­nal af­fairs — then the King­dom might as well for­get about the sec­ond Com­pact.

Omi­nously, this pos­si­ble with­drawal may also be cou­pled with Le­sotho also miss­ing out on the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) - a trade pro­vi­sion that al­lows thou­sands of prod­ucts from African coun­tries to en­ter the US tax-free which is due to ex­pire in Septem­ber. While the US Se­nate has re­cently passed leg­is­la­tion to ex­tend the Act for another 10 years, it still has to go through the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Both AGOA and MCC re­quire coun­tries which qual­ify for aid to up­hold, among oth­ers, the rule of law, prin­ci­ples of democ­racy and good gov­er­nance as well as the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights.

As stated in this col­umn on count­less oc­ca­sions, the US Se­nate’s ver­sion of AGOA reau­tho­ri­sa­tion pro­vides in­creased flex­i­bil­ity with, and ad­vance warn­ing for a coun­try whose el­i­gi­bil­ity is in ques­tion. In ad­di­tion to an an­nual re­view and re­quest for public com­ment on whether ben­e­fi­ciary coun­tries con­form to the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama may now ini­ti­ate “out-of­cy­cle” assess­ments.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the US gov­ern­ment will have more flex­i­bil­ity in deal­ing with ben­e­fi­ciary coun­tries not meet­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria. The Se­nate leg­is­la­tion pro­vides for the “with­drawal, sus­pen­sion, or lim­i­ta­tion” of duty-free treat­ment. This gives the pres­i­dent a more tar­geted way to pe­nalise vi­o­la­tions. Iron­i­cally, ear­lier this month, Dr Mo­sisili con­fi­dently stated that AGOA was al­ready in the bag and that “Ba­sotho have noth­ing to worry about”.

On the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Ac­count (MCA) Com­pact, the premier was also buoy­ant, say­ing the US had sent a high-pow­ered del­e­ga­tion to Le­sotho to dis­cuss the mat­ter with gov­ern­ment. How­ever, re­cent events will most likely have dis­abused him of that no­tion. While Le­sotho’s sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity are sacro­sanct, it would be fool­hardy for us to ex­pect de­vel­op­ment part­ners to turn a blind eye to al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

Af­ter all, the re­la­tion­ship is not trans­ac­tional but based on good­will with Le­sotho with the most, if not all, to lose if it is ter­mi­nated.

The gov­ern­ment’s bel­liger­ent ap­proach in ad­dress­ing the is­sue is likely to re­sult in a lose-lose sce­nario since the peo­ple they rep­re­sent are likely to suf­fer the most if the fa­cil­i­ties are re­moved. The com­pact has gone some way to re­duce poverty and in­crease eco­nomic growth in this im­pov­er­ished King­dom, which largely de­pends on the donor com­mu­nity for sur­vival.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure Dr Mo­sisili is un­der in this is­sue, it would be pru­dent for him to en­gage the de­vel­op­ment part­ners be­hind closed doors and iron out their dif­fer­ences than to fur­ther an­tag­o­nise them through the press. While he needs to save face within his po­lit­i­cal con­stituency, the premier can­not do so at the ex­pense of Le­sotho’s de­vel­op­men­tal well-be­ing.

As the diplo­matic tiff es­ca­lates and no party is pre­pared to back down, Dr Mo­sisili risks fur­ther back­ing him­self into a cor­ner that will be­come harder to be ex­tri­cated from.

Hope­fully cooler heads will fi­nally pre­vail.

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