‘No democ­racy in our pol­i­tics’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

Former Ba­sotho African Congress (BAC) leader, Paanya Phoofolo, is not happy with the way gov­ern­ment is han­dling the is­sue of prin­ci­pal sec­re­taries (PSS), am­bas­sadors and gov­ern­ment sec­re­tary (GS) whose dis­missals have cost the tax­payer at least m15mil­lion to-date. Prime min­is­ter Pakalitha mo­sisili has since said the shakeup is meant to en­sure the right peo­ple are in those posts, but ac­cord­ing to mr Phoofolo — who was also once Le­sotho’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions and GS — this move is only go­ing to cre­ate prob­lems for the King­dom. mr Phoofolo tells Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, why he be­lieves this is a bad call by the seven-party coali­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion which came to power early this year.

LT: Could you please briefly give us your po­lit­i­cal back­ground?

Phoofolo: Per­haps I should start by stat­ing that I left the civil ser­vice when I re­signed as gov­ern­ment sec­re­tary in 1995. I left the post purely from a pro­fes­sional point of view af­ter re­al­is­ing that my ad­vice to gov­ern­ment was mostly not be­ing ac­cepted. We had been taught that as se­nior civil ser­vants and ad­min­is­tra­tors, our duty was to im­ple­ment gov­ern­ment poli­cies as well as give ad­vice and be loyal to the gov­ern­ment of the day. But where you feel strongly that the ad­vice you are giv­ing is not be­ing ac­cepted, you have two op­tions — either you re­main con­stant in im­ple­ment­ing de­ci­sions as the gov­ern­ment sees fit, or if your con­science and pro­fes­sion­al­ism don’t al­low you, then you will step aside. That is what I did. I left the civil ser­vice in Jan­uary 1995, when the BCP was in gov­ern­ment. Dr Ntsu mokhehle was prime min­is­ter at the time.

LT: So ba­si­cally, your de­par­ture was a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple…

Phoofolo: That’s right, but in ad­di­tion, I was also con­cerned about what was hap­pen­ing in Le­sotho at the time. There was so much in­sta­bil­ity be­cause of the armed forces, just like what is hap­pen­ing to­day. The army was desta­bil­is­ing gov­ern­ment, and you will re­call that in early 1994, the sol­diers started fight­ing among them­selves. That in­sta­bil­ity, re­gret­tably, ended with the death of then Deputy Prime min­is­ter Selometsi Ba­holo. He was killed by the army at his res­i­dence in Ha-matala. It was then that I de­cided to be ac­tive in pol­i­tics. I joined the BAC un­der the lead­er­ship of Ntate mo­lapo Qho­bela. Ntate Qho­bela then de­cided to leave the BAC and was re­placed by Dr Khauh­elo ra­di­tapole.

LT: So when were you in the diplo­matic ser­vice and why did you leave?

Phoofolo: I was the coun­try’s am­bas­sador to the UN and in 1993, gov­ern­ment re­called and ap­pointed me GS. That is what brought me home from New York. But I con­tin­ued to be am­bas­sador in ad­di­tion to be­ing GS. I know it did cause some con­ster­na­tion, but there were rea­sons be­hind this.

LT: So if the BCP trusted you so much to make you GS and am­bas­sador at the same time, what went wrong that you had to re­sign?

Phoofolo: I was be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned with BCP pol­i­tics. And within the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (which was in power be­fore the BCP), there were peo­ple who were not happy with what was go­ing on. Some of them ap­proached me know­ing I was out of gov­ern­ment, and our dis­cus­sions re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Pro­gres­sive Party. I be­came the party’s deputy leader but as time went by, we started to dis­agree on cer­tain is­sues. I then went back to the BAC as an or­di­nary mem­ber, but I was later elected into the ex­ec­u­tive. And when Dr ra­di­tapole be­came the leader, I be­came her deputy. When Dr ra­di­tapole re­tired, I was elected to take over. But that was when we be­came con­cerned with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Le­sotho. There were just too many po­lit­i­cal par­ties mush­room­ing in our coun­try. We then took a po­si­tion and in­vited all the smaller par­ties to form one party. But out of the par­ties we had ap­proached, only the Le­sotho Peo­ple’s Congress (LPC) and BAC agreed to our idea, re­sult­ing in the for­ma­tion of the African Congress Party. LPC leader, Ad­vo­cate Kele­bone maope, be­came the leader and Dr ra­di­tapole his deputy. We went for the 1998 gen­eral elec­tions to­gether, but af­ter­wards, there was a split once again. We then ended up with the African Na­tional Unity move­ment, of which I was now the leader. We con­tested the 2007 elec­tions, but as we went to the polls, I dis­cov­ered there was some­thing not quite right about the party. I took a fi­nal de­ci­sion to step out of ac­tive pol­i­tics af­ter the 2007 elec­tions and I have been in­ac­tive ever since.

LT: From your ex­pe­ri­ence in the civil ser­vice, how do you think it should be

struc­tured for it to be ef­fec­tive?

Phoofolo: We had a three-party gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing the 2012 elec­tions. That coali­tion was proof that Ba­sotho were tired of Ntate mo­sisili’s lead­er­ship af­ter he had been prime min­is­ter for 15 years. Un­for­tu­nately, that coali­tion led by Ntate (Thomas) Tha­bane didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? It was the re­sult of what I would call the big­gest po­lit­i­cal en­emy in Le­sotho, and that is poverty. Peo­ple are fight­ing to con­trol gov­ern­ment. Peo­ple want to line their pock­ets to the detri­ment of na­tional de­vel­op­ment. Dur­ing Ntate mo­sisili’s pre­vi­ous regime (29 may 1998 to 8 June 2012), some­thing very un­for­tu­nate hap­pened to the civil ser­vice; it be­came very politi­cised. This politi­ci­sa­tion man­i­fested it­self in what the gov­ern­ment of the day did by mak­ing prin­ci­pal sec­re­taries con­tracted of­fi­cers. That was bound to bring in­sta­bil­ity.

LT: But what was hap­pen­ing prior to this?

Phoofolo: Civil ser­vants are sup­posed to be pro­fes­sion­als. The Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, which is the re­cruit­ing agency of gov­ern­ment, was re­spon­si­ble for the re­cruit­ment of all classes of civil ser­vants but stopped at deputy PS level; it did not re­cruit PSS and deputy PSS. Be­cause we were us­ing the Bri­tish sys­tem of gov­er­nance, th­ese were be­ing ap­pointed by cabi­net but on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. The PSS were loyal to the gov­ern­ment of the day, not po­lit­i­cal par­ties as is the case now. I once worked un­der the BNP gov­ern­ment, while I was not a sup­porter of the party. But I was clear on one thing: mine was to be hon­est to the gov­ern­ment of the day al­though I had al­ways sup­ported the BCP. Gov­ern­ment comes with pro­grammes which are worked out by civil ser­vants who are the ex­perts. min­is­ters should not be in­volved in the day-to-day ad­min­is­tra­tion of gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. That is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of se­nior civil ser­vants. The New Zealand re­port (writ­ten last year af­ter a group of lo­cal politi­cians, civil so­ci­ety mem­bers and se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials had vis­ited New Zealand to study the coun­try’s gov­er­nance un­der a coali­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion) strongly rec­om­mends that be­cause our civil ser­vice is now very politi­cised, only po­lit­i­cal will can de­politi­cise it. The re­port re­quires gov­ern­ment to en­sure the ser­vice is neu­tralised. I want to re­it­er­ate that when PSS started to be ap­pointed on a con­tract ba­sis, that was when gov­ern­ment ef­fec­tively politi­cised the civil ser­vice.

Some se­nior civil ser­vants would con­test elec­tions and when they lost, still come back to the pub­lic ser­vice. What is hap­pen­ing in Le­sotho is very unique, hence I am shocked by Ntate mo­sisili’s re­cent an­nounce­ment that his gov­ern­ment will get rid of se­nior civil ser­vants who don’t sup­port the seven par­ties in gov­ern­ment. He is again politi­cis­ing the civil ser­vice by adding that those po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees will au­to­mat­i­cally leave when the gov­ern­ment’s term ends. It was not cor­rect for him to sug­gest this is the prac­tice all over the world. our gov­ern­ment claims to be fol­low­ing the West­min­ster model, but this is only true to a cer­tain ex­tent. In some in­stances, we don’t fol­low that model of gov­er­nance. We just pay lip-ser­vice to some of the ethics and prin­ci­ples of Bri­tish democ­racy be­cause there is no democ­racy in our pol­i­tics. We have pol­i­tics of poverty in Le­sotho; of align­ing to a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal party at the ex­pense of de­vel­op­ment.

LT: Jus­tice Mpa­phi Phumaphi — the chairperson of the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry prob­ing Le­sotho’s pre­vail­ing se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges — has de­scribed the coun­try as fer­tile ground for in­sta­bil­ity due to many par­ties. Do you agree with this ob­ser­va­tion?

Phoofolo: He is def­i­nitely right. The for­ma­tion of all th­ese po­lit­i­cal par­ties is not a ques­tion of prin­ci­ple; it is a ques­tion of say­ing ‘ I also want to have a share in gov­ern­ment.’ They all want to be in par­lia­ment. Last year when par­lia­ment re­con­vened af­ter pro­ro­ga­tion by Ntate Tha­bane, His majesty ap­pealed that ‘good peo­ple, put the in­ter­ests of the coun­try first’. But the first thing that Deputy Prime min­is­ter mo­thetjoa metsing said in par­lia­ment, which was echoed by most of the mps, was ‘what is go­ing to hap­pen to our gra­tu­ities?’ That be­came an is­sue in par­lia­ment, in­stead of ad­dress­ing the King’s state­ment. They were just con­cerned about their money. The very same peo­ple who had said they were pa­tri­ots serv­ing this coun­try, gave them­selves m500,000 loans, tax-free, when or­di­nary cit­i­zens con­tin­ued to suf­fer. They are bur­den­ing the coun­try’s fi­nances with such ex­cesses.

LT: Gov­ern­ment says it is com­mit­ted to con­sti­tu­tional re­forms that would make Le­sotho a bet­ter place. Do you be­lieve this is pos­si­ble?

Phoofolo: When you look at the del­e­ga­tion that went to New Zealand, there are peo­ple in the cur­rent gov­ern­ment who were part of that tour. Those peo­ple in­clude the min­is­ter of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, Pon­tšo Sekatle, and Home Af­fairs min­is­ter Lekhetho rakuoane. The gov­ern­ment can­not be telling us that they are re­formist when they can­not even com­ply with a re­port that some of them were party to. I re­mem­ber Ntate metsing say­ing ev­ery mosotho is en­ti­tled to em­ploy­ment, yet gov­ern­ment is fir­ing peo­ple on po­lit­i­cal grounds.

LT: What would be your ad­vice to gov­ern­ment?

Phoofolo: our lead­ers should be hon­est about the civil ser­vice. They should not tam­per with it, but leave it to be pro­fes­sional. They should not politi­cise it. A strong civil ser­vice can sus­tain the coun­try. Way back in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Italy was very un­sta­ble. You know what sus­tained that coun­try? Its civil ser­vice. Prime min­is­ters were com­ing and go­ing, but the gov­ern­ment of Italy sur­vived be­cause they had a very strong civil ser­vice.

LT: Are there any other chal­lenges you fore­see for Le­sotho?

Phoofolo: our army; it is be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by politi­cians. The prob­lem is not only those peo­ple in the army; even the politi­cians are to blame. The BCP gov­ern­ment was desta­bilised by the army, lead­ing to the death of Nate Ba­holo. When you look back, you will find that politi­cians have been us­ing army el­e­ments to achieve their own goals for a long time. So ba­si­cally, what is hap­pen­ing with our army to­day is not new. The Coun­cil of State (which ad­vises His majesty) also needs to be looked into. Its com­po­si­tion is un­for­tu­nately dom­i­nated by civil ser­vants who owe their al­le­giance not nec­es­sar­ily to the King, but prime min­is­ter.

Our lead­ers should be hon­est about the civil ser­vice. They should not tam­per with it, but leave it to be pro­fes­sional. They should not politi­cise it. A strong civil ser­vice can sus­tain the coun­try

LT: So what do you sug­gest should hap­pen con­cern­ing the army?

Phoofolo: Surely for a coun­try like Le­sotho, what does it need an army for? Take that an­nual bud­get of over m500 mil­lion that is used to buy ar­moured ve­hi­cles and ri­fles for use against Ba­sotho and chan­nel it to de­vel­op­ing the coun­try. Small coun­tries like Le­sotho, some of them don’t have armies, they have guards. This can be learnt from Costa rica which de­mo­bilised its army. The Sey­chelles also don’t have an army.

LT: Lastly, what do you think of the on-go­ing SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry?

Phoofolo: I am quite happy with the way the com­mis­sion is go­ing. At least it is re­veal­ing what has been hap­pen­ing in our coun­try. one can only hope its rec­om­men­da­tions, once en­dorsed by SADC, will be im­ple­mented by gov­ern­ment. There should be no favours. If the com­mis­sion rec­om­mends that cer­tain peo­ple must be charged, so be it. That, I think, will be a good start­ing point in re­build­ing this coun­try.

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