‘Le­sotho can’t af­ford to lose AGOA’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Africa Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) has helped cre­ate em­ploy­ment for more than 40 000 peo­ple in the country’s tex­tile fac­to­ries since the early 2000s. While the United States (US) govern­ment re­cently re­newed Le­sotho’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for trade pref­er­ences un­der the fa­cil­ity, the eco­nomic gi­ant also ex­pressed “se­ri­ous con­cerns” about the govern­ment’s al­leged fail­ure to ad­here to AGOA gov­er­nance cri­te­ria, say­ing it would mon­i­tor the im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­forms ahead of the next el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view process.

Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter Billy Ntaote caught up with for­mer Trade and In­dus­try, Co­op­er­a­tives and Mar­ket­ing Min­is­ter S’khu­lumi Nt­soaole this week to dis­cuss the country’s AGOA prospects in light of the warn­ing made by the US govern­ment.

LT: You re­cently crit­i­cised Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing for re­marks he made at a press con­fer­ence upon his re­turn from an in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion trip in the United King­dom. What was the ba­sis of the crit­i­cism?

Nt­soaole: What I found most an­noy­ing was the state­ment that the clo­sure of fac­to­ries would not af­fect him (Mr Mets­ing) per­son­ally or any of the min­is­ters. He said this would only af­fect fac­tory work­ers. Those re­marks were in bad taste and very un­for­tu­nate, es­pe­cially com­ing from a deputy prime min­ster. There will be neg­a­tive ef­fects on the econ­omy if we fail to qual­ify for AGOA on ac­count of re­fus­ing to im­ple­ment the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) com­mis­sion of in­quiry’s rec­om­men­da­tions. This is why the deputy premier’s state­ment was un­for­tu­nate and cer­tainly not well thought out.

LT: The country’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for AGOA is un­der re­view. What are its ben­e­fits and why is it so im­por­tant to us?

Nt­soaole: AGOA is a US law which gives pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to African states like Le­sotho in trade and this guar­an­tees jobs and rev­enue. It also has sig­nif­i­cance in pro­mot­ing democ­racy and good gov­er­nance. The el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria em­pha­sises a strong com­mit­ment to good gov­er­nance, hu­man rights and a country only qual­i­fies when it re­spects th­ese demo­cratic prin­ci­ples. Should we be de­clared in­el­i­gi­ble, Le­sotho would not be the first country to lose out. It hap­pened to Sene­gal.

Mada­gas­car also lost out af­ter the cap­ture of state power by the sol­diers. Closer home, Swazi­land re­mains on the list of in­el­i­gi­ble coun­tries. We are all aware of our own gov­er­nance chal­lenges and if we fail to speed­ily ad­dress them we could lose the lu­cra­tive mar­kets we get un­der AGOA.

LT: To what ex­tent has the country ex­ploited the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by AGOA?

Nt­soaole: Although we can ac­cess the US mar­kets and po­ten­tially sup­ply 4 000 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, we con­tinue to sup­ply only two prod­ucts. We mainly sup­ply textiles. We also have hand­i­crafts but there is still a need to meet the mar­ket stan­dards and re­quire­ments. We have in­deed failed to di­ver­sity our prod­ucts for the US mar­ket over the last decade. Un­for­tu­nately the country ap­pears to ex­cel at in­ter­nal con­flicts.

We need a strong pri­vate sec­tor in or­der to grad­u­ate from be­ing a least de­vel­oped country and for that to hap­pen there must be se- cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the country. Even then we can­not suc­ceed with­out ac­cess to such lu­cra­tive mar­kets. That is why it is im­por­tant for us to speed­ily im­ple­ment the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions or we could suf­fer the fate of Swazi­land on AGOA.

LT: Hav­ing been in­volved in AGOA ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing your ten­ure as a min­is­ter, what do you think would be the con­se­quences of govern­ment’s fail­ure to speed­ily im­ple­ment the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions?

Nt­soaole: The prime min­is­ter and his peo­ple think that by re­peat­edly claim­ing that the 30 Au­gust 2014 in­ci­dent was not a coup at­tempt by the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF), they can change per­cep­tions that those be­hind the in­ci­dent did not com­mit trea­son. It was an at­tack on our leader, then premier Thomas Tha­bane, and it was trea­sonous of­fence. We know that Sub-in­spec­tor Mokhe­seng Ramahloko died dur­ing that coup at­tempt.

What is more shame­ful is that even af­ter that, the army went on to kill (for­mer army com­man­der) Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Maa­parankoe Ma­hao in cold blood (although the army in­sists he was killed while re­sist­ing ar­rest for al­leged mutiny).

Those in­ci­dents demon­strate the ab­sence of the rule of law in our country be­cause no one has been brought to book. More­over, the acts were com­mit­ted by sol­diers who are known to the au­thor­i­ties. They still haven’t been charged de­spite the rec­om­men­da­tions of the SADC Com­mis­sion of in­quiry. And we will lose our el­i­gi­bil­ity for AGOA if we fail to ac­count for such is­sues.

We have to ac­count for cases of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions or this could re­sult in many peo­ple los­ing their jobs.

Even be­fore one David Ndlovu wrote to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ( two weeks ago) about the sit­u­a­tion in the country, the Amer­i­cans had al­ready called on the govern­ment to put its house in or­der or face the con­se­quences. It must be clear that if we fail to meet the US de­mands, we will be sus­pended from ac­cess­ing their mar­kets un­der AGOA. The US mar­kets has been very im­por­tant for us for a long time, and we could even ex­port more goods if we di­ver­sify our prod­ucts.

We ought to lis­ten to them and the EU (Euro­pean Union) be­cause they have al­ways sup­ported us. No one would give us as much sup­port as they do, and so it is bet­ter for us to pay at­ten­tion to them. Even the Chi­nese will not be a bet­ter op­tion for us. All th­ese coun­tries have em­bassies and am­bas­sadors in our country and they re­port back on what is hap­pen­ing on the ground. So if for­eign­ers are at­tacked in our back­yard and we say or do noth­ing, we will fail to at­tract for­eign in­vestors be­cause we can­not guar­an­tee their safety.

It’s very dis­turb­ing to note that Ba­sotho to­day will only watch when a Ger­man tourist is mugged at a bus stop and the cul­prits go scot free. It’s also wor­ry­ing that when a for­eigner is mur­dered at one of the lodges, no crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­ducted. For­eign in­vestors won’t come un­less we re­solve such is­sues and up­hold the rule of law. Those who are a law unto them­selves should be called to or­der and only then can we be deemed a des­ti­na­tion wor­thy of in­vest­ment.

LT: What op­tions does the govern­ment have to en­sure our con­tin­ued el­i­gi­bil­ity for AGOA be­yond 2016?

Nt­soaole: It is not just the op­po­si­tion mount­ing pres­sure on the govern­ment to be ac­count­able, but we have the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity also tak­ing the same stance as well. The US and the EU have al­ready writ­ten to the govern­ment about the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and our govern­ment has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions of the SADC com­mis­sion of in­quiry. Any just and cred­i­ble govern­ment would im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions and as­sess the short­com­ings.

Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili’s role is to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions and if he has prob­lems he should con­sult with SADC and seek as­sis­tance on is­sues he can­not im­ple­ment with­out help. It is also worth not­ing that Ba­sotho Na­tional Party deputy leader Joang Mo­lapo stated on ra­dio that the party was will­ing to en­gage the govern­ment on set­ting up a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion type of com­mis­sion to help the country move for­ward. We cer­tainly would not want the country re­gress­ing to a point where we would not be able to come out of an eco­nomic cri­sis.

LT: What are your views on the govern­ment’s re­cent in­vest­ment drive to the United King­dom un­der the lead­er­ship of Mr Mets­ing?

Nt­soaole: It is point­less to seek in­vestors in the EU when that re­gional group­ing was one of the first to speak out about the need to im­ple­ment the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions. I don’t think EU in­vestors would feel safe in­vest­ing in our country if we fail to up­hold the rule of law. Af­ter our charm of­fen­sive, they would still go on to con­duct their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions on our hu­man rights record and rule of law rank­ings. Would our courts give them guar­an­tees about their abil­ity to speed­ily de­liver im­par­tial de­ci­sions on cases, with­out some in­di­vid­u­als be­ing seen to be above the law? In­vestors al­ways want guar­an­tees that their in­vest­ments will be safe and they won’t lose their funds.

Un­less they are talk­ing to those who are only seek­ing to make in­vest­ments in con­flict-rid­den coun­tries in or­der to plun­der re­sources and go, gen­uine in­vestors would not be at­tracted to come un­der the cur­rent state of af­fairs in our country.

LT: Apart from at­tend­ing a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional fo­rums on AGOA, what else are you in­volved in?

Nt­soaole: As a for­mer min­is­ter who was in­volved in a rig­or­ous ne­go­ti­a­tion process for the re­newal of AGOA, I can’t stand and watch the country sus­pended from the list of Agoa-el­i­gi­ble coun­tries. I worked tire­lessly for AGOA to be re­newed for all African coun­tries.

Right now I am work­ing on the launch of a re­gional non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion whose man­date would be en­sur­ing that our coun­tries utilise op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by AGOA more than we have done so far. We need to be send­ing more goods to the US and we can­not lose this op­por­tu­nity.

How­ever, it will be dif­fi­cult for me to work with other coun­tries in the re­gion on es­tab­lish­ing this or­gan­i­sa­tion if the country does not im­ple­ment the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions.

For­mer Trade and mar­ket­ing min­is­ter S’khu­lumi Nt­soaole

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