Prioritise social responsibility
SOCIAL responsibility is defined as an ethical framework which suggests that an entity, be it an organization, individual or state, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.
Social responsibility is a duty every individual or entity has to perform so as to maintain the balance between the economy and the ecosystems. Ecosystem according to the Concise Oxford English dictionary is defined as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. Though social responsibility is a very broad concept, I will for purposes of this column, confine myself to, “be it an organization, individual or STATE, HAS AN OBLIGATION TO ACT FOR THE BENEFIT OF society at large”.
The Lesotho Constitution under “Principles of State Policy”, from section 25 to 36, enunciates what I term social responsibility programmes that government is enjoined to, mark my words, not obliged to, discharge to the population. I am fortified in my argument that government is enjoined to adhere to these principles by the leading constitutional case of street vendors versus the Lesotho Government and section 25 of the Constitution.
Owing to shortage of space I will only give you the gist of the judgment of this Constitutional case and quote the section, (25). I will not quote the other subsequent sections extensively save only to give you their numbers. In this case the street vendors argued that the respondents had a legal duty to ensure their right to livelihood under the Constitution. The Court ruled that these are principles of state policy, enforceable only if the economy of the country permitted and that they are not legally enforceable rights in the strict sense. This judgment is in keeping with section 25.
Section 25 instructively provides: “The principles contained in this Chapter shall form part of the public policy of Lesotho. These principles shall not be enforceable by any court but, subject to the limits of the economic capacity and development of Lesotho, shall guide the authorities and agencies of Lesotho, and other public authorities, in the performance of their functions with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or otherwise, the full realization of these principles”.
Like I earlier indicated, these principles and their respective sections are the following: Section 26, Equality and justice, S27, Protection of health, S28, Provision for education, S29, Opportunity to work, S30, Just and favourable conditions of work S31, Protection of workers’ rights and interests, S32, Protection of Children and Young Children S33, Rehabilitation, training and social resettlement of disabled persons, S34, Economic Opportunities, S35, Participation in Cultural activities and S36, Protection of the environment. To make these principles of state policies to be enforceable in courts of law would, owing to the economic fragility of Lesotho, be impracticable and foolhardy. However, this debate belongs to another day.
It is worth noting that the concept of social responsibility is not confined only to government in Lesotho, like in all modern states around the world. Social responsibility is also the province of the church, non-governmental organisations (NGO’S), private sector and indeed as the definition of the concept rightly envisages, is the purview of every individual, entity and organization. However, we cannot detract from the precept that it is primarily the duty of government to discharge its social responsibility functions. Nevertheless, this has to be done in collaboration with other en- tities for the benefit of society.
It also worth noting further that social responsibility extends to not only individuals but also the church, NGO’S and community groups at village and regional levels. These sectors of our society discharge their social responsibility functions in a very commendable manner and ought to be assisted by government and the private sector materially and in monetary terms. This is the crux of my column today.
Most schools in Lesotho, from elementary, secondary and high school to tertiary as well as a few health institutions have been founded and are run by churches. Government plays in most cases the role of paying the salaries of these institutions which in itself is commendable. However, evidently, the churches have found running these institutions on their own to be prohibitively expensive on their meagre resources. This situation is exacerbated by the ever-drying or dwindling domestic donors. For instance, these hospitals, which I cannot mention for ethical reasons, have been founded by the churches are now terribly rundown in terms of infrastructure, services and otherwise.
It goes without saying that these hospitals serve a large percentage of our population in terms of health services that cover a very wide area called a Health Service Area. If they were to deteriorate further or close-shop altogether, the consequences for the government and the affected area would be too ghastly to contemplate. These hospitals that also belong together with tertiary institutions to the church which I also cannot mention for ethical reasons, are located in very remote areas where they extend commendable developmental tertiary and health services to communities that would otherwise not get them from other sources.
Further, these hospitals also offer nurses’ training courses as well as in some instances, midwifery training to these remote areas in our country and to ordinarily difficult-to-reach communities. All these nurses’ training centres are accredited with the relevant ministries such that their graduates serve the whole of this country with distinction in every nook and cranny.
Needless to say, as earlier alluded to in this column, with regard to elementary education, the majority of schools were founded and continue to be run by churches. These schools offer basic education as well as high schools, to literally tens of thousands of needy fees subsidized by government and fed during the day, for day scholars and all meals for boarders throughout the year when the schools are open.
Further, these are social rehabilitation institutions situated in remote parts of the country (names withheld) whose main objectives, among others, are to conscientise the general populace about the evils and dangers
of alcohol and drug abuse. They are geared towards and rehabilitating drug and alcohol addicts who volunteer to access their services at very affordable costs. Their intake cut across all age and gender groups, irrespective of any consideration.
They therefore play a critical role in bringing back to make errant members of our societies to partake fully in the development of their families, communities and to be responsible members of the communities.
At village level Basotho are also cognizant of the fact that government like any institution, has limited resources in terms of development, therefore Basotho at village level have set-up community and development forums that have as their main objectives, depending on financial contributions from their members, install water, sanitation, electricity, built feeder roads and schools as well as creches in the villagers for the betterment and socio-economic development of their respective communities.
As a result, many communities through these joint efforts have realized socio-economic upliftment successes.
It is therefore very clear that from the foregoing that the aspect of social responsibility does not only belong to government but it is also the purview of organisations, individuals, NGO’S and churches.
It also very instructive that the church in Lesotho, and I believe elsewhere around the world is not only responsible for the spiritual well-being of the faithful but also the general members of the population in terms of socio-economic, health and educational upliftment.
While admittedly the private sector also plays a very significant and meaningful role in social develop- ment programs, I advisedly chose not to include the private sector in this column as it has resources, though limited too, to discharge this social responsibility mandate.
I confined the column to the above entities because while they have to play a role their resources are significantly limited to discharge this noble mandate through contributions and grants from both the government and the private sector.
It is imperative therefore for government to extend whatever resources including monetary to assist them in their mission. More- over, the funds and contributions of domestic and international funders of these entities are drying-up.
If government and the private sector cease to fund these important entities thereby ceasing or cutting-back on their social responsibility programs it would be tantamount to killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs.
Government and the private sector are therefore implored to continue and if possible, increase their financial and material assistance to these entities that are critically helpful to Basotho at large. This is even more important during these tough economic times and impending recession.