Majoronomics good for Lesotho..
ALLOW me to revisit the national budget issue even though I am a week late. Even though I entirely disagree with his arguments, it was quite refreshing to read Ntate Mathibeli Mokhotu’s critique of Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s 2017/18 budget speech.
At the rate at which they are currently going, it seems the current crop of opposition politicians will achieve distinctions in terms of the shallowness, hollowness and sheer concavity of their arguments. It will indeed be a sad day if the current crop of opposition leaders were to outdo one Bokang Ramatšella or Mophato Monyake in being daft.
I shall not dignify Ramatšella any more by ever referring to him in detail. But for those who have forgotten, Monyake, was that guy who was ignominiously fired from the first Tom Thabane coalition.
He then reincarnated as an opposition leader, promising to convert Lesotho into a United States style federal government so that the head-boys and head-girls in Qacha can set up their own semi-autonomous state and choose their own governor to determine the good destiny of their flocks of goats and sheep.
Monyake’s party symbol was a middle finger at the voters. As fate would have hit, he got zero votes. Meaning that he even changed his mind about voting for himself on election day. He did not get a single vote. After Monyake, enter the Ramatsellas of this world and we have tales better forgotten than told.
If the current opposition leaders want to be taken seriously and hope to ever win power again, they better get serious. They better change course. And the responsibility of ensuring that rests squarely on Ntate Mokhotu, the leader of the opposition, who hails from the fallen Democratic Congress (DC).
Even though I disagree with him, I thought Ntate Mokhotu’s critique of Ntate Majoro’s budget was refreshing. His criticism of the budget was constructive. He must thus ensure that the rest of the opposition emulates him.
In his critique, Ntate Mokhotu said Ntate Majoro had succeeded in pin-pointing the country’s problems but failed to table the solutions.
“A national budget is a major tool that those in power use to fulfil the promises they made to the people who put them in power but then we do not find this budget to address such issues except for the M700 (up from M580 for the old age pensions which they allocated as promised….,” opined Ntate Mokhutu.
He went further; “Ntate Majoro is one of the most educated people to hold the Finance portfolio and we had hoped he would be the perfect candidate to show us how to boost the economy….
“However, he just tabled the problems faced by the country and not plans to eradicate such problems…..”
Ntate Mokhotu then cited Ntate Majoro’s pledge to improve infrastructure without explaining how to achieve that as an example of the shortcomings of Ntate Majoro’s budget speech.
He also cited Ntate Majoro’s failure to address specifics on his plans to boost tourism and his failure to provide alternatives to compensate for dwindling SACU revenues among examples of other shortcomings.
“To see a problem and fail to provide a solution is no different from completely ignoring the problem. It is not only about those in power but all of us have to help develop the country…,” said Ntate Mokhutu in one of the best ever observations to come from our politicians.
I shall not seek to regurgitate Ntate Mokhutu’s entire argument against Ntate Majoro. Suffice to say that I found it constructive in terms of how he isolated specifics that he felt had not been adequately dealt with. His criticism showed a deep understanding of the budget.
In the end, it can be accepted that the role of the opposition is to criticise incumbents and keep them on their toes. But such criticism must be constructive and meaningful.
Ntate Mokhutu’s criticism was fair and balanced. However, he was still wrong.
Having read all the budget statements in the last 10 years or so, Ntate Majoro’s speech was the best Ntate Mokhutu.
To understand this point, just read the cut and paste budget speeches presented by your very own Mampono Khaketla from your very own DC.
In fact, if ever Ntate Mokhutu’s critique is relevant, it has to be applied to Mme Khaketla’s two cut and paste budget speeches, which must rank as the worst ever in the history of finance and economics the world over.
Iwill give one example. It is common cause that at the centre of Lesotho’s economic problems is the lack of innovation which in turn translates to lack of actionable ideas that lead to enterprise development, job creation and wealth generation.
Ntate Mokhotu is thus right to pin-point that Lesotho’s poor education is at the core of this and to state that Ntate Majoro’s budget did not go far enough in explaining how to reform the country’s unacceptable education system.
But it is also true that the little money generated in the economy is pilfered away by the government on less productive needs.
This is where I found Ntate Majoro’s budget to be most encouraging. They say a fish rots from the head. By targeting the head, Ntate Majoro was able to at least set in motion the process of arresting the country’s fiscal decay.
The huge benefits and amounts of money lavished on our politicians and senior government officials are most undeserved in a country as poor as Lesotho. If our politicians fail to lead by example, then nothing will ever change. Even South African ministers don’t zoom around in plump Toyota V8s yet their economy is several thousand times bigger than Lesotho’s.
One of Mme Khaketla’s budgets identified the government’s financial profligacy as a major cause for worry. But what was her only solution or attempt at austerity? She announced a ban on the government’s purchases of copies of the Lesotho Times and other newspapers. Really Mme Khaketla?
Scrutator would really want to know how much you saved by banning the purchase of copies of the Lesotho Times and your draconian and illegal moratorium on advertising in this popular newspaper?
I think when the history of finance ministers of this country is finally told or written, Mme Khaketla will rank as the most incompetent and worst ever Finance Minister. Not only were her budget speeches cut and paste endeavours, they were devoid of any economics and financial imagination and were supremely outstanding in their hollowness.
I just cannot understand what Ntate Mosisili smoked when he surmised Mme Khaketla could be an effective finance minister.
It came as no surprise to Scrutator that instead of running fiscal policy efficiently, Mme Khaketla immediately found fame or infamy over the Bidvest scam and the M4 million briefcase; thanks to the revelations by Ntate Thuso Litjobo. This is not to completely trash Mme Khaketla. Indeed she is an educated woman with a doctorate in something and she cut her teeth in life as a teacher. But she should never have been deployed anywhere near the national fiscus because she lacked the knowledge, experience and economics education.
To his credit, Ntate Mosisili realised his mistake and removed her. But then to Scrutator’s huge surprise, instead of redeeming himself by giving us a serious appointment with the requisite experience in finance, money and economics, Ntate Mosisili went a worse step further by transforming himself from a Jane Fonda into a complete Dr Strangelove.
This he did by giving us Ntate Tlohang Sekhamane as our new Minister of Finance. What is it about Ntate Mosisili and his misappointments of finance ministers?
There is no doubt that Ntate Sekhamane was and is a good human being. As government secretary, he did a fairly reasonable job. But his appointment to the finance portfolio was wholly undeserved.
Some of you may say this criticism is unfair because Ntate Sekhamane never really got to present a budget. In fact Ntate Teboho Sekata of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) attributed Ntate Majoro’s good budget speech to Ntate Sekhamane.
“This is the budget that we have prepared for this fiscal year (2017/2018) but failed to present it due to the change of the government…,” opined Ntate Sekata.
That may be partially true. It would be folly not to believe that Ntate Sekhamane and his bureaucrats did not do the groundwork for Ntate Majoro’s budget.
But would they have been so frank to go as far as citing the breakdown in the rule of law in Lesotho, lack of accountability, among many other vices, identified by Ntate Majoro, as being at the core of Lesotho’s lack of economic progress. I don’t think so.
Would Ntate Sekhamane also have been bold enough to target all the unwarranted perks of his bosses and fellow politicians as an example of lack of fiscal prudence? I doubt that as well. In the final analysis, the finance portfolio is the most demanding if not the most important cabinet portfolio. It requires a deep understanding of international economics and the world’s complex financial and enterprise system.
It requires exposure to the workings of the global trade and financial system. Having cut her teeth as a teacher, perhaps somewhere in the mountains, and not having any exposure in the workings of any global economic and financial organisations, Mme Khaketla lacked the very basics to work as political head of finance. So was Ntate Sekhamane.
By Ntate Mokhutu’s own admission, Ntate Majoro is highly qualified and has worked in key global financial entities that have given him the best exposure to understand how an economy functions.
In the end, Ntate Majoro’s budget speech might not have been perfect, but it was deeply honest and a good starting point.
It proffered a proper diagnosis of Lesotho’s economic ills. As acknowledged in a commentary in the Lesotho Times last week, the theme of the budget “Pursuing fiscal sustainability within the context of political instability and insecurity” was honest enough. It speaks to what is at the core of Lesotho’s sustained economic decline. This was certainly not Ntate Sekhamane’s idea. I challenge him to prove me wrong.
Ntate Majoro rightly identified rampant corruption and lack of accountability, fiscal mismanagement (the government has never received a clean audit), unrestrained expenditure on unnecessary luxuries for our top politicians and senior civil servants, a bloated public and spectacularly incompetent civil service, a culture of impunity and complete breakdown in the rule of law (thanks largely to the previous coalition government) among the many vices holding this country back.
To begin to address these drawbacks, Ntate Majoro offered a credible austerity programme. If followed it could be the beginning of good things to come. Of course more will be required.
Perhaps Ntate Mokhotu missed the point, but Ntate Majoro did explain that this was a transitional budget and could not encompass all the promises of the June 3 elections. I have no doubt that his next budget speech will be better.
But the crux of the matter is in understanding that it’s not Ntate Majoro’s role alone to prescribe solutions to arresting Lesotho’s sustained slide into squalor. It is the responsibility of all of us. Which is why Ntate Mokhutu is also right in saying “it is not only those in power but all of us have to help develop the country….”
Therein lies the crux of the matter. Ntate Majoro was frank about the problems and proffered some solutions. Ntate Mokhotu is right that we all have to work together. So can we please have the action?
We all know what needs to be done. So why not get on with it. We know that SADC recommended reforms must be implemented. So why the stupidity of the opposition in threatening to derail the reform process because Ntate Tsooana is back as a PS?
We don’t have time for such dance acts? Ntate Mokhutu is right that we must work together. Ntate Majoro is dead right in bringing us Majoronomics. I believe this is the brand of economics that will save us. Ntate Majoro deserves our support. Let’s all support Majoronomics.
Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro.