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.

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