An­other chance to put house in or­der

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

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.

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