Why Lesotho urgently needs a national dialogue
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industry faces many domestic challenges mainly relating to poor infrastructure and lack of technical skills.
The industry is also threatened by a slump in global demand and the growing supply of artificial diamonds which now accounts for 30 percent of the world market.
The private sector in Lesotho is in dire need of transformation and an upgrade. It is small and contributes less than 50 percent of GDP and, as such, is not the engine of growth. Perversely, government is. The medium, small and micro-enterprises (MSMES) account for 85 percent of the private sector and employ well above 200 000 people compared with about 80 000 employed by government and Lesotho National Development Corporationassisted companies combined. Most MSMES are survivalist and owned by entrepreneurs motivated and primed by poverty than by opportunity as there are few opportunities in Lesotho. No wonder why most of the youth cross the border into South Africa.
In terms of global competitiveness, Lesotho is ranked 137 out of 144 countries according to the AFDB African Competitiveness Report 2013. Being only seven points from the last position is nothing to be proud of. Within SACU, we are the only one classified as a least developed country. Factors behind this dismal performance are lack of access to finance, corruption, crime and theft, tax rates, and inefficient government bureaucracy. The financial system in Lesotho is weak, small and offers the common vanilla products not geared towards MSMES. There are no dedi- cated development finance institutions. Corruption continues to undermine Lesotho’s political and economic development and manifests in flawed procurement systems and processes, a demoralised civil service and state institutions.
The country is currently facing what one can term governance paralysis since the advent of coalition system of government in 2012. Within the space of two years, the country has a second coalition government. Frequent changes in government are a sign of political instability and can have a negative impact on a country’s economic growth and development. Lesotho is already feeling the pinch. Legitimacy and credibility of government in terms of its constitution, decision making processes and polity seem to be central burning issues. The country is deeply polarised and divided along party lines not differentiated by ideology or policy but by divisive politics of wanton expediency.
The above analysis is not exhaustive but provides a broad synopsis of the serious challenges Lesotho is currently facing. The most serious indictment for all Basotho is why, after almost 50 years of independence, we are still wallowing in a quagmire of poverty, disease and under-development and there seems to be no end in sight. Your guess could be as good as mine.
My observation is that Lesotho is entangled in what Paul Collier terms a ‘’Bad Governance Trap’’ and there lies a solution to most of its problems. The opposite of bad governance is good governance and this is what Lesotho desperately needs. Good governance is usually defined in terms of its principles, namely, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equity, inclusivity, and the rule of law. Consensus relates to a situation or process of accommodating as wide a view as possible of citizens in the political decisionmaking process.
Accountability is the state or quality of being answerable to those who will be affected by decisions made by the accounting entity e.g. government. Transparency relates to availability of information in understandable form to stakeholders as well as to situations where decisions are made in a manner that follows rules and regulations. Rule of law is about fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. Responsiveness exists where institutions try to serve stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe while effectiveness and efficiency have to do with processes and institutions that produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal.
One of the most important reasons Lesotho needs good governance is that it is not rich in mineral resources. Resource rich countries attract foreign direct investment regardless of the quality of governance e.g. Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Risk associated with governance is discounted for good returns from investment. Lesotho enjoys no such advantage. It relies heavily on foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign aid which are highly sensitive to good governance.
Without large FDI and foreign aid flows, this country cannot afford to redress the challenges outlined above. The case in point
is the Millennium Challenge Account and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) facilities that are offered by the US based on good governance and political stability. The US has already pressed alarm bells for Lesotho to put its house in order or risk being side-lined like Swaziland and Burundi. In a bad governance trapped country, domestic investment also gets throttled. Needless to say that a country like Lesotho also faces a serious saving investment gap.
Based on the foregoing, I move that government should, as a matter of urgency, call for a national dialogue to discuss issues of national interest with the objective of identifying solutions and charting plans to move the country forward. The dialogue should not be a once-off event, but a process through which government engages citizens to determine national destiny. Such engagement should promote ownership, legitimacy and credibility of national decision-making processes. It should comprise of politicians, civil society, NGOS, private sector, academia, and experts.
In the first instance, the national dialogue should focus on reforms relating to parliament and the constitution; security; judiciary; and the civil service and parastatals. These are currently the most fundamentally important matters to address going forward. Any unilateral action by government on the above will be marred with controversy and impotence. The process of reform should strictly conform to the governance principles mentioned above. Anything else will be doomed to failure. It is important for Basotho to note that the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry has a circumscribed mandate of investigating an alleged murder and mutiny. It is not about the determination of the country’s destiny. The latter lies squarely in the hands of Basotho.