US warns Le­sotho on AGOA

Lesotho Times - - News - Billy Ntaote

WITH the March 2017 dead­line for Le­sotho to ad­dress African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) el­i­gi­bil­ity con­cerns draw­ing closer, the United States gov­ern­ment says no fur­ther progress has been made to ful­fil the re­quired gov­er­nance bench­marks.

Among the bench­marks the Amer­i­cans say Le­sotho has not ad­dressed in­clude im­ple­ment­ing the rest of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) Com­mis­sion of In­quiry’s rec­om­men­da­tions af­ter mak­ing the “pos­i­tive step” of re­tir­ing for­mer army com­man­der Lieu­tenant-gen­eral Tlali Kamoli.

For the gov­ern­ment’s part, Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Joshua Setipa, will on 13 Fe­bru­ary 2017 visit his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part in Wash­ing­ton DC to “demon­strate” Le­sotho’s com­mit­ment to­wards ful­fill­ing AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

The US gov­ern­ment last month deemed Le­sotho el­i­gi­ble for AGOA in 2017 to give the Moun­tain King­dom more time to meet the bench­marks which also in­clude im­ple­men­ta­tion of se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms and fa­cil­i­tat­ing an amnesty for LDF mem­bers fac­ing mutiny charges.

AGOA pro­vides for duty-free en­try of goods into the US from des­ig­nated sub-sa­ha­ran African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Le­sotho, and ap­plies to both tex­tile and non-tex­tile goods. The leg­is­la­tion, which was ap­proved by the US Congress in May 2000 is meant to in­cen­tivise African coun­tries to open their economies and build free mar­kets.

It was re­newed for an­other 10 years in June 2015 as the AGOA Ex­ten­sion & En­hance­ment Act and amended to al­low the US to with­draw, sus­pend or limit ben­e­fits if des­ig­nated AGOA coun­tries do not com­ply with its el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria. The new AGOA leg­is­la­tion pro­vides the ad­min­is­tra­tion greater flex­i­bil­ity in re­view­ing coun­tries on an on­go­ing ba­sis, in­clud­ing by ini­ti­at­ing “out-of­cy­cle” re­views at any point dur­ing the cal­en­dar year

AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria was re­lated to re­spect for hu­man rights, rule of law and due process among oth­ers.

Le­sotho’s tex­tile and gar­ment in­dus­try, which is an­chored on AGOA, em­ploys more than 40 000 peo­ple, in ad­di­tion to other down­stream sec­tors.

In grant­ing the el­i­gi­bil­ity, the Amer­i­cans stressed that the gov­ern- ance con­cerns should be ad­dressed in the first quar­ter of 2017 lest Le­sotho loses out dur­ing an “out-of-cy­cle” re­view.

Mr Setipa yes­ter­day told the Le­sotho Times said he last month re­sponded to US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Am­bas­sador Michael Fro­man out­lin­ing how the gov­ern­ment would work to­wards ad­dress­ing the con­cerns.

Am­bas­sador Fro­man replied to the min­is­ter in a letter dated 13 Jan­uary 2017 and seen by this pa­per in which he re­it­er­ated the ur­gent need to ful­fil the set bench­marks.

“As you know, AGOA re­quires an an­nual re­view of com­pli­ance with el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for each cur­rently el­i­gi­ble ben­e­fi­ciary coun­try. On De­cem­ber 15, 2016, Pres­i­dent Obama de­ter­mined that Le­sotho will re­main el­i­gi­ble for trade ben­e­fits un­der AGOA in 2017,” he said.

“Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous el­i­gi­bil­ity re­view for 2016, the US gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fied se­ri­ous con­cerns about the gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho’s ad­her­ence to cer­tain AGOA cri­te­ria.”

Am­bas­sador Fro­man cites the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria that Le­sotho was be­ing mon­i­tored for as stip­u­lated in his March 2016 letter to the gov­ern­ment.

“These bench­marks in­cluded im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions found in the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into the Cir­cum­stances Sur­round­ing the Death of Bri­gadier Ma­hao: se­cu­rity sec­tor re­form ef­forts to trans­form the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) into a pro­fes­sional and co­he­sive in­sti­tu­tion; and hu­mane treat­ment of all LDF per­son­nel in cus­tody and ac­cess for in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions to ver­ify the con­di­tions of their de­ten­tion in light of the SADC re­port find­ings of tor­ture and abuse.”

He said the then-pres­i­dent Obama’s de­ter­mi­na­tion that Le­sotho would re­main el­i­gi­ble for AGOA ben­e­fits in 2017 was based on ac­tions Maseru had taken to demon­strate com­mit­ment to meet­ing AGOA’S el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

“In par­tic­u­lar, the de­par­ture of LDF Com­man­der, Gen­eral Tlali Kamoli marks a wel­come and pos­i­tive step for­ward in im­ple­ment­ing the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions.”

The gov­ern­ment re­tired the army chief last month and re­placed him with his for­mer deputy Lt-gen Khoan­tle Motšo­motšo.

Am­bas­sador Fro­man adds: “De­spite this progress, we re­main deeply con­cerned that Le­sotho has not made fur­ther progress in meet­ing the other bench­marks, in­clud­ing ad­dress­ing and im­ple­ment­ing the rest of the SADC rec­om­men­da­tions.

“The Trade Pref­er­ences Ex­ten­sion Act of 2015 pro­vides greater flex­i­bil­ity to re­view coun­tries’ AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity on an on­go­ing ba­sis, in­clud­ing by ini­ti­at­ing an out-of-cy­cle re­view at any point dur­ing the cal­en­dar year.”

In or­der for Le­sotho to avoid such a re­view, he says “im­me­di­ate and con­crete steps” need to be made to meet the other bench­marks and “demon­strate con­tin­ual progress” to­ward meet­ing AGOA’S el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

For his part, Mr Setipa said the Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili-led gov­ern­ment was com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the re­forms.

“Our gov­ern­ment has launched the re­forms process. We first launched the se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms and then launched the institutional and con­sti­tu­tional re­forms un­der the aus­pices of the SADC Over­sight Com­mit­tee Chair­per­son re­tired judge from Tan­za­nia (Jus­tice Fred­eric Mwita Werema),” he said.

“The whole process has start­ed­tarted and as re­cently as this week, Deputyy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing chaired d a stake­hold­ers meet­ing where dis­cus­sions s cen­tred around the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­forme­form process.

“How­ever, I was not in that hat meet­ing and I can­not share the specifics off that meet­ing but all I know is that the break­fastk­fast meet­ing was part of gath­er­ings thatat will be go­ing on un­til we have achieved hieved what we set out to achieve.”

He said the re­forms pro­cessess would con­tinue to in­crease se par­tic­i­pa­tion of var­i­ouss stake­hold­ers to en­sure that all sec­tors of the so­ci­ety are rep­re­sented.

On the Amer­i­cans’ call for the gov­ern­ment to fa­cil­i­tate an amnesty for the e de­tained mutiny sus­pects,, Mr Setipa said the case was s be­fore the courts.

The 23 sol­diers were ar- rested be­tween May andd June 2015 for al­leged­lyy plot­ting to vi­o­lently re­movee the LDF com­mand. Eight t of the sol­diers have sincee been re­leased from Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison and placed un­der open ar­rest, which is a form of bail in the military. The other 15 re­main in de­ten­tion.

“Look­ing at the things that the US says it is still con­cerned about in the letter, one is on the de­ten­tion of the al­leged LDF mu­ti­neers. That process, as we have said, is be­fore the courts of Le­sotho.

“As we speak today, there are al­ready cases of some of the de­tained sol­diers who have been re­leased and placed un­der open ar­rest. So it is a process that is on­go­ing and the courts have de­ter­mined that there is a case to an­swer for and there­fore that’s why the process is un­der­way.”

On the Amnesty Bill, 2016 which is meant to grant mem­bers of the se­cu­rity sec­tor a blan­ket amnesty for of­fences com­mit­ted be­tween Jan­uary 2007 and De­cem­ber 2015, he said it was al­ready tabled in par­lia­ment. In its cur­rent form, the bill would ex­tend to mem­bers of the LDF whom the SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry had rec­om­mended should face prose­cu­tion.

“Laws are made in par­lia­ment and the gov­ern­ment does not make laws. It is the case in the US and in any other coun­try,” said the min­is­ter.

“Any­body who wants to change a draft law has a right to do so but it has to be in par­lia­ment.

“Right now, the draft bill is in par­lia­ment in the com­mit­tees where all the rep­re­sen­ta­tives and MPS are rep­re­sented. It is not for the gov­ern­ment to leg­is­late bills.”

On the ex­iled op­po­si­tion lead­ers, Mr Setipa said they had met their de­mands even though it was not part of the con­cerns raised by the Amer­i­cans.

For­mer premier and All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion leader Thomas Tha­bane, Ba­sotho Na­tional Party leader Th­e­sele ‘Maserib­ane, and Re­formed Congress of Le­sotho leader Keketso Ran­tšo fled to South Africa in May 2015.

The three lead­ers, and sev­eral mem­bers of their par­ties as well as army of­fi­cers, fled to the neigh­bour­ing coun­try claim­ing the military wanted to kill or ar­rest them to set­tle old scores.

“Gov­ern­ment has guar­an­teed their se­cu­rity as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers that are out of the coun­try upon their re­turn. We have also made sure that the for­mer prime min­is­ter will be com­fort­able and safe and pro­vid­ing him with hous­ing,” said Mr Setipa.

“We are very ex­cited about their pos­si­ble re­turn and think they should come back home. Gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to make sure it con­tin­ues to meet its se­cu­rity obli­ga­tions to en­sure their safety.”

He said next month’s trip to Wash­ing­ton DC would pro­vide him with an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage the new Don­ald Trump-led on a range of is­sues of com­mon in­ter­est.

“I will be in Wash­ing­ton on the 13th to the 14th of Fe­bru­ary and that will be my first en­counter with the US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“And I will en­gage them on a whole range of is­sues. I am also hop­ing that I will have the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue hav­ing the same open and frank re­la­tion­ship I have had with the pre­de­ces­sors.”

Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Joshua Setipa.

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