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Graft-ridden Lesotho sinks on yardstick

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Many voters who were obsessed with the scourge of corruption in the administration of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili cast their vote for the then opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) on June 3, 2017, in order to strengthen the party’s leader Thomas Thabane’s hand in his promised fight to root out corruption.

Thabane eventually won and became the prime minister.

He told a packed Setsoto Stadium during his inauguration that his government would “respect the rule of law, rebuild and strengthen the pillars of democracy, and abhor corruption in all its forms”.

Many voters who supported him applauded when former ministers were hauled before the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), with former minister of finance, Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla being slapped with a corruption charge.

According to the charge sheet, Khatletla together with her co-accused, Thabo Napo, were accused of the alleged solicitation of a M4 million bribe in exchange for an infamous government fleet tender in 2016.

The tender was eventually controversially awarded to a South Africa-based Bidvest Bank Limited.

About three years later, the interpretation of the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) – one of the notable instruments that are used to rate and measure a country’s level of corruption – suggests that the assumptions about Thabane’s ability to deal with corruption were probably wrong and people’s vote was ultimately wasted.

The index is considered to be the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, which uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

It ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and businesspeople.

The CPI for 2019 released last week, ranked Lesotho 85 out of 180 countries with a score of 40 out of the possible 100.

What this simply means is that Lesotho remains among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Transparency International said 2019’s analysis showed that corruption was more pervasive in countries where big money could flow freely into electoral campaigns and “where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals”.

Unfortunately, compared to recent years, Lesotho’s poor 2019 performance is nothing new.

In 2018 Lesotho ranked 78 and scored 41 while it ranked 74 in 2017, when Thabane became prime minister, with a score of 42.

The analysis of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 indexes shows a deterioration that indicates that Lesotho is making little or no progress in ending corruption.

In fact, the country is sliding in slow but steady regression on that ladder.

Lesotho’s neighbour, South Africa – a country that is suffering from the plague of state capture – performed better and was ranked 70 with a score of 44.

Botswana, a country Lesotho can emulate with respect to combating crime had a score of 61 and ranked at 34.

Botswana took the title of the second least corrupt country in the whole of Africa after Seychelles, which is ranked at number 28 globally with a score of 66.

CPI 2019 was released on 23 January.

 

On the same day, in a completely separate incidence, the United Kingdom (UK) spoke out against “repeated allegations of corruption” in Lesotho.

“We watch with concern repeated allegations of corruption that undermine the basic tenets of a just and democratic society,” the UK mission to the United Nations (UN) Geneva said in its 35th Universal Periodic Review statement on Lesotho.

The Universal Periodic Review – a unique instrument which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States – takes place at UN Geneva every five years. The review of Lesotho was held on January 22, this year.

Public Eye this week managed to obtain a draft report of the Human Rights Council working group on the universal periodic review of Lesotho.

Among many of its recommendations, the working group urged that Lesotho should not “relent in its determination to combat corruption and ensure good governance”.

The report read: “The recommendations listed below have been examined by Lesotho and enjoy the support of Lesotho.”

The working group also recommended that government should “continue the fight against corruption, including looking into the possibility of establishing a special court for grand corruption cases”.

Could it be that Thabane has been speaking a lot of anti-corruption rhetoric since 2017 when he assumed power, but with a not-so-serious political will to hold current and former politicians accountable for corruption and for the misuse of state resources?

In an op-ed to observe the international day against corruption in 2018, the United States (US) Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca E Gonzales, cautioned that it was imperative to understand that good governance meant fighting to eliminate corruption – “not just with words, but with actions”.

Gonzales said “these actions should not be finger-pointing” but should focus on equipping anti-corruption watchdogs like DCEO with resources and independence needed to do their jobs.

’Matlhokomelo Senoko, DCEO spokesperson, told Public Eye yesterday that inadequate financial resources and lack of political will in combating corruption were crippling the functions of the DCEO.

Many studies have concluded that controlling corruption in a sustained manner requires a consistent demonstration of genuine commitment on the part of the top political elite towards eradication of the menace.

Where the commitment of the top political leadership to the goal of eradicating corruption in a country is weak, as is the case in Lesotho, governments are only likely to engage in zero tolerance for corruption talk but continue to tolerate corruption, watchers say.

Senoko said the DCEO was undermined, among many other factors, by weak political will manifested in limited resources and staff capacity.

“We do not have adequate resources as we have been experiencing a sharp decline in the allocated budget over the years. We are still based in Maseru only; we do not have offices across the country and have a very limited number of employees,” she said.

In the 2017/2018 financial year, DCEO was allocated M32 million which was reduced to M28.2 million in the 2018/2019 financial year.

While presenting the budget for the current financial year, 2019/2010, finance minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro acknowledged that while the focus of his budget leaned heavily on creating jobs, that aim could not be accomplished unless peace, stability and justice reign in the country, and DCEO was allocated at least M23.6 million.

In July last year, Thabane appointed Moses Mahlomola Manyokole as the new Director General of the DCEO.

Manyokole took over from Advocate Borotho Matsoso who was sent on forced leave in February pending the expiry of his contract on June 30, 2019.

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