Don’t dismiss coalitions as  dysfunctional silos: Analyst

TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI

In their examination of political alliances, coalitions and the political system in Lesotho after the 2007 and 2012 polls, academics argue that state governance has been marked by a generally very slow pace of policy implementation.

The country’s party system emerged as both highly polarised and was reconfigured during the same periods. In a 2014 article published by the Journal of African Elections, co-written by Professor Motlamelle Kapa and Dr Victor Shale the major challenge for Lesotho’s political leaders is the management of the coalition arrangements for the good of the country.

The two researchers strongly feel political leaders must properly manage coalition agreements, since it seems coalition governments are very likely to be a permanent feature of the country’s politics. This article examines political party alliances and coalitions in Lesotho, focusing on their causes and their consequences for party systems, democratic consolidation, national cohesion and state governance.

Following the 2012 general elections and a subsequent hung parliament, a highly volatile, unpredictable and dangerous coalition government was cobbled up by the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP), in a coalition whose agreement was criticised by an official Commonwealth expert Dr Rajen Prasad.

Prasad’s services were solicited by the new coalition to advise on ways of strengthening the merger, while political leaders, unfortunately, focused on the allocation of cabinet portfolios and other senior positions in government rather than on the policies and programmes of the coalition partners aimed at providing services to citizens. “In the absence of a focus on a policy programme and on clearly communicating the direction of the coalition to the public, an impression has been created that the coalition government is ‘territorialised.’

“It is developing in silos based on the allocation of ministries to coalition parties, and is taking too long to get started on the programme to prosperity, inclusivity and transparency the electors voted for,” warned Prasad in 2013.

The above sentiments by this Commonwealth expert are instructive in explaining the situation on the ground in Lesotho since the 2012 elections to date, and the implications of the coalition arrangement for state governability, the party system, democratic consolidation and national cohesion.

The silo-based allocation of ministries to coalition parties brought with it competition between respective parties’ appointees, as service delivery became more of a campaign tool than a service to the electorate.

And with this was borne mud-slinging and the explicit sabotage of efforts by ministries deemed to belong to ‘the other party’ – the notion sabotage comes from the French word saboter, which literally means “walk noisily.” An ironic meaning for, the last thing a perpetrator would want to do when committing an act of sabotage is to tread heavily around, attracting suspicion and getting caught. But not within Lesotho’s coalition governments. This is done in broad daylight.

It’s believed that the word sabotage came into use in 1910 as a noun, and then later in 1918 as a verb – apparently suggesting people only became so cruel in the last century or so. And when in 2019 National Assembly Speaker, Sephiri Motanyane, announced his acceptance of an agreement between former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane’s ABC and the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) to form a new coalition government local politicians perfected the word sabotage.

Then Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats had also submitted its interest to be part of the new coalition but his efforts were torpedoed from the drawing board and the DCs master plan to reinvent itself, riding on the ABC internal fights that toppled Thabane, was set in motion.

Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, was the agreed candidate to succeed Thabane. During his tumultuous stay in office six components of behaviour construed as sabotage in his cabinet can be identified in the current coalition government: intentional anti-collegial conduct, professional dishonesty, abuse of power, negativity, non-compliance, and underperformance. The causes of this sabotage include leadership and government structures, intrinsic self-interest, and personality traits.

To unpack the Kapa/Shale submissions Public Eye editor TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI (PE) sought the views and understanding of the country’s political systems in relation to its coalition government from political science teacher and former government spokesperson NTHAKENG PHEELLO SELINYANE (NPS), below are excerpts from the interview,

PE: Would you subscribe to the thinking that state governability in Lesotho has been marked by a generally very slow pace of policy implementation?

NPS: Governability is ability to be governed, or controlled, like of a country or a situation or a people…not state. Governability and policy don’t have anything that brings them together. When we talk of a people that are ungovernable, or rendering the situation or country ungovernable, it is usually a reference to a stirring of an uprising or precipitous civil disobedience.

This might have to do with policy or not, but it’s usually a political refusal to accept national administrative authority as legitimate regardless of its policies, though it’ll be argued that humans are rational and cannot act baselessly, meaning without reference to policy. But we saw that in the stirring of the country through outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili refusing to acknowledge the incoming first coalition in 2012, branding it a natural impossibility of mixing two incompatible elements of water and oil.

Mosisili ironically kept contending that it was his (Congress) government, stolen by his former minister and incoming deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing, and given to the undeserving new Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane.

He went on to mobilise the army to defy civil authority and stage an aborted coup, for which both he and the selfsame later turncoat deputy prime minister later thanked the soldiers for accelerating the fall of that regime. So when we talk of governability we don’t necessarily have to juxtapose it with policy implementation, or vice versa.

In that regime a lot of euphoria reigned in the country and positive policies that were rolled out were embraced – like the agricultural interventions and buying of local produce for schools feeding, so much so that the civil servants could happily take a non-adjustment of their salaries in the annual budget estimates.

Yet what you might call state governability in the sense of ability of the prime minister to have control over the entire cabinet and of cabinet as a collective of the national executive to have control over the entire civil service and the security forces, has always been challenged by disagreements over protection of corruption and sharing the spoils of corruption in all the governments over the past 10 years from 2007, which was the last regime to run its full term and the last one-party regime.

PE: And what would you attribute that to if it’s a correct perception?

NPS: Some say coalition governments have accelerated state corruption, but I would say the rapid collapse of all these regimes under the weight of disagreements over mutilation of our Treasury says the coalition era has killed consensus over the attraction of corruption.

But that is not inherent or natural; it takes continuous self-renewal of individual conscience through interaction with all spheres of positive influence, amenable to media and civil society campaigns which have tools to assist to fortify oneself against challenges and hostile forces.

On that front I think as media and civil society we’re making modest but concrete progress. Here government communications systems are vitally important, and the media and civil society should insist on their establishment, openness and accessibility at all times for public accountability.

PE: Would you say our politicians properly manage coalition agreements?

NPS: The parties don’t have coalition agreements but window dressing texts that are simply given that tag. They aim at maximising the number of ministries they control, and to choose the fertile ones in terms of big job tenders and mass jobs for dispensing patronage to their faithful, not necessarily with social upliftment as the primary goal.

After the ridiculing of the first coalition government for not having an agreement, the second drew up a glowing one promising partnership with media and civil society in upholding rule of law, clean governance and human rights. It even christened itself as a reformist government, then went on to do everything thinkable against the reforms, eminently earning itself the SADC Phumaphi Commission for the callous murder of the army commander which it hired lawyers to defend, until it collapsed over corruption recriminations and unresolved succession issues.

The third one was a shameful cut-and-paste job that said nothing of key issues like corporate governance and public accountability, and you’ve seen how that played out nastily in the governance issues of the Lesotho Electricity Company and the Lesotho National Development Corporation, not to mention making courts and the security forces errand runners and instruments in validating devious machinations of the dominant clique in cabinet. In the process this earned the Chief Justice a tongue lashing by an international panel of the appeal court, and some coalition partners writing to the King to rein in the prime minister for his onslaught on the Constitution.

Yet, all these notwithstanding, the current coalition agreement is tailored on the first three despite their various pretensions of difference of complexion and content, and the usual problems have already begun to emerge – in the blame trading on containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the areas of cross-border movements and observance of health protocols, for example.

They should make these agreements take longer to draft, on the basis of exchange of manifestos and policy proposals, and agreements on explicit points of convergence and divergence, and stop the lunacy of saying ministers answer to their leaders and not to the state through head of government (preferably through a published Cabinet Code of Conduct) – for naming the ministries after the parties, which name their party minister and principal secretary, is to say exactly that.

PE: And how have been the consequences for party systems, democratic consolidation, national cohesion and state governability?

NPS: I don’t know anything about their party systems, and legend shows they don’t have any systems to speak of, but routinised practices of pyramids or silos where individual power players and brokers have their handlers and hangers-on betting if their horses “get in.” They’ll also be in the pipeline like following a tunnel borer, and they keep swapping allegiances and loyalties according to how they guess their fortunes will turn out.

Some analyses hold that these have become intensified as each party’s cake shrinks in the state due to alliances and coalitions, killing the prospect of systemic approach to party and state affairs.

This might well explain the year-long stand-off where the State House faction of the ABC rejected the new executive elected with a clear mandate to create systems of transparent, collective naming of ministers, top government and parastatal executives, while of course the challenge of observance of global good corporate governance including recruitment of, and oversight over, the executives would still remain.

Hence the emergence of the multi-faction ABC leadership of government often at loggerheads with the party leadership under the retired prime minister who won’t retire as party leader. This is because he has affection for, and is harnessed by, the same intractable forces that rode on him to reject party elections and now apparently harness him in a fight with their own premiership as witnessed in the NEC announcements of August and December 2020.

In respect of social cohesion, it is clear that if the government is supposed to lead unity of the nation around supreme national compacts like the Constitution and National Vision, that cannot proceed under these conditions. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible because the February 2019 leadership elections of the ABC showed a new reawakening, and similar efforts are continually ongoing in other parties, and media and civil society are always at hand to publish, monitor, criticise and inspire such endeavours. So the future can only be bright for the nation.

PE: There is a perception that coalition governments are territorialized, with programmes intended for public good developing in silos and creating competition between coalition partners who are supposed to work together. Your take on this?

NPS: I don’t know of particular programmes developed in silos, and my knowledge of the system says it cannot happen but there can be non-cooperation in implementation. Every programme is developed in each ministry according to government protocols, and where it has to include participation of another or others to be approved as a national project, they’re called in and they all get approved through an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Ministry of Planning.

So there’s no chance of a silo evolution or development of a project. Complications can arise at implementation, including the exclusion of certain geographical areas or a biased recruitment including according to political identity, interference of ministers with technical officers to cause politically motivated diversions, and exclusions of certain councillors or Members of Parliament, according to whether they belong to a party that controls the ministry.

These deviations clearly affect social cohesion which is disrupted by marginalisation from the means of maintaining livelihoods.

PE: Can this lead to outright sabotage of ministerial programmes and efforts for a particular coalition partner to gain political mileage?

NPS: Not really. Professionals might withdraw participation in certain projects, call it professionals politics, but they usually jealously guard their territories from political interference, even by their own parties. Mind you, here we’re talking of middle management who are here for and on career basis, who never lose sight of the ball, and who know how it feels to be frustrated or sabotaged.

 

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