Another chance to put house in order
IF anyone thought the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) warning to withdraw aid to countries that fail to meet its eligibility criteria were idle words, they were disabused of that notion with the events of this week. To the uninitiated, the MCC is an agency created by the US Congress in January 2004 to reduce global poverty through economic growth. The corporation provides time-limited grants and assistance to countries that demonstrate a commitment to good governance. Lesotho received its first five-year MCC grant in July 2007. The $362.5 million compact, among others, helped fund the construction of Metolong Dam, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
However, the MCC board on 16 December 2015 deferred a vote on Lesotho and Tanzania’s eligibility for a second five-year compact, citing the countries’ poor governance record. Ominously, on Monday the MCC’S board of directors voted to suspend their partnership with the government of Tanzania, saying the east African nation “engaged in a pattern of actions inconsistent with MCC’S eligibility criteria”. In a statement announcing their cessation of all activities related to the development of a second compact with Tanzania, the MCC emphasised that beneficiaries of the facility needed to uphold democratic principles and protect individual rights.
In the case of Lesotho, the MCC has raised concerns over the government’s handling of the events of August 2014, which saw Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members attacking police stations in Maseru ostensibly as part of a special operation. Sub-inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko was shot dead during the attack on Police Headquarters in what then premier Thomas Thabane described as a coup attempt. The agency also cited the killing of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015 in Mokema by the military allegedly while resisting arrest as another area of concern that led to the deferment of the reselection vote. In a letter to the government dated 15 June 2015 MCC Vice-president for Policy and Evaluation Beth Tritter stated that the MCC partnership with Lesotho was established on “mutual commitment to good governance, which includes accountability and respect for the rule of law”.
Another missive written early this month by the MCC’S Principal Deputy Vice-president, Africa Department of Compact Operations, Kyeh Kim, urges the government to explain the steps it was taking to address the corporation’s concerns on the rule of law and governance issues. In all fairness, the MCC is giving the government ample opportunities to address the governance concerns it has raised. Given what Lesotho stands to lose from the suspension of MCC funding, this is an opportunity we can ill-afford to miss. More so, after the recent decision by the European Union to withhold about M460 million in budgetary support citing Lesotho’s failure to “implement agreed policy reforms in the area of public financial management”.
A withdrawal of MCC funding support would be so momentous that there is a very real risk that other aid organisations might also reconsider their assistance to the Mountain Kingdom. While Lesotho’s sovereignty should always be respected, we cannot pretend to be selfsufficient or even entertain the idea of thumping our noses at the outside world. The popular adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch underscores that aid comes with governance conditions that we can either take or leave. Unfortunately, given the economic challenges this nation is facing, the latter is certainly not an option.
Lesotho and other southern African nations face the devastating effects of the strongest El Niño experienced in the last 35 years, which has left 500 000 people in desperate need of food across the country according to the Red Cross. This is in addition to a yawning infrastructure shortfall that is stifling economic development. The first compact went a long way in addressing the infrastructure deficit as aforementioned.
Ultimately, the government should not allow political expediency to triumph at the expense of national interest. Lesotho desperately needs to secure the second compact to ensure the continuation of the development trajectory it has taken in the preceding years. The fact that the MCC has not yet decided on Lesotho is a very welcome opportunity for us to put our house in order.