MASERU – Born in Tsikoane, Leribe on November 3, 1961, the current finance minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro, Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was recently unanimously chosen by All Basotho Convention (ABC) MPs to succeed Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, in many ways represents hope for a possible new paradigm in Lesotho’s politics. The Thetsane Constituency No. 33 MP initially had a stint in cabinet as minister of planning in 2013, a portfolio which is closely related to his current finance post which means he had sufficient preparation for the more hands-on finance minister’s post.
Besides being youthful on a continent led by octogenarians, he is a technocrat. Dr Majoro holds a PhD in Natural Resource Economics and a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Economics both from Washington State University, in addition to a BA in Economics from the National University of Lesotho. Dr Majoro served the Africa Group 1 Constituency at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as Executive Director and Alternate Executive Director from 2008 until 2012.
Prior to his appointment at IMF, he served as the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Finance from 2004 to 2008. He was also a fiscal analyst from 2000 to 2004, an economics lecturer and researcher at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) from 1991 to 2000. Dr Majoro has also served in many other capacities such as oversight (non-executive directorships) and leaderships (chairing international institutions). The benefits of having a head of government with experience of running business are immense.
Next door in South Africa, the takeover of President Cyril Ramaphosa, a respected business leader, has done a lot to steady the sinking ship that had veered off course under the leadership of “state-capture” tainted President Jacob Zuma. Dr Majoro says his involvement in politics is driven by the desire to transform the lives of Basotho and the realisation that such transformation can only happen if one has political influence. “You need political power to make transformational decisions for the betterment of people’s lives,” Dr Majoro simply says to explain his passion for politics. The humble and soft-spoken Majoro however has no illusions there is a long way to go before he can become the next prime minister.
“My election by the ABC’s members of the national assembly in the presence of our senate colleagues and the ABC’s national executive committee simply meant that in the event of our leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane leaving office, I will succeed him in the office of the prime minister,” he adds. He knows securing endorsement by the ruling ABC alone is not enough since this is a coalition administration. “It is therefore premature to start talking as if I am already the prime minister-designate. Much still has to happen before that point,” he notes.
Majoro, who sees himself as a loyal ABC cadre, won the mandate to succeed Thabane should the opportunity arise in an election blessed by the presence of party leader Thabane, his estranged deputy and party secretary general Lebohang Hlaele. Dr Majoro says he is acutely aware of the need to address pressing social and political challenges first before any meaningful economic transformation can be achieved. For this reason, as part of his political agenda, Dr Majoro wants to see the multi-sectoral National Reforms succeed in order to provide the fertile seedbed for prosperity to take root and flourish in Lesotho.
It is for this reason he also recognises the corona virus as an existential threat to Lesotho and wants to tackle it immediately and as effectively as possible, while also safeguarding much of the economy. “Lesotho’s future success lies in containing the impact of the Coronavirus. It also lies in the full implementation of the multi-sector reforms . . . Once these have been achieved, we can ensure economic stability.” While Basotho and the entire world have been basking in the comfort of the fact that the country is yet to record positive cases of the corona virus, Dr Majoro is cautious.
He remains unconvinced that the current is COVID-19 free. “I’m not confident at all and I am not convinced that there are no COVID-19 cases in Lesotho,” he said. He believes widespread testing would provide the evidence for anyone to firmly believe that there is no COVID-19 in Lesotho. The country is presently relying on testing only those people that present definite symptoms and the use of a WHO-certified laboratory in South Africa. This has so far limited that scale of testing Lesotho has been able to do.
The finance minister also urges Lesotho citizens in South Africa and China not to return home as he fears that if the coronavirus breaks out in the kingdom, hospitals would not be able to treat many patients at the same time. Dr Majoro says implementing the current lockdown was one of the best decisions Lesotho had to take under the current circumstances to minimise the impact of the deadly pandemic. Ahead of even South Africa, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thabane implemented a raft of measures to mitigate the impact of the virus on the economy.
Prime Minister Tom Thabane declared a state of emergency as a precaution and Dr Majoro announced a raft of measures to keep the economy afloat. Up to US$54 million (about M1 billion) has been allocated and a little more than half of that will go into a contributory fund that the government has started and is now requesting donors to assist with. The country is prioritising food security and US$10.7 million will be spent on agriculture for food production, while vulnerable groups, including the elderly and informal traders, will receive grants.
One of the measures which stands out was the decision to dole out M800 a month for three months to about 45 000 factory workers who will not be able to work under the social distancing regulations. Given the “no work, no pay” policy these tens of thousands of workers would not have any income until the virus scourge ends. Under Majoro’s watch, and in tandem with other line ministries such as that of small business development and that of trade, Lesotho has made some strides towards maximising benefits for the economy from wool and mohair trade. The industry has for decades been a largely subsistence economic activity with middlemen from South Africa getting the lion’s share after sending the products to Port Elizabeth, in South Africa.
In addition, the current government has also advocated the “Buy Lesotho” initiative which is meant to maximise opportunities for small scale Basotho farmers by encouraging local retailers to buy some agricultural products locally instead of importing. In 2019, Lesotho spent up to M700 million on imports of poultry products alone, which money could have been spent on local farmers thereby growing the economy considerably. Leaders are born in difficult times and no finance minister, in recent years, has had to deal with such a tight fiscal budget as Dr Majoro.
Since 2017, his office has had to contend with ever-diminishing revenue streams due to a myriad of factors including dwindling SACU revenues and general poor economic performance due to sluggish global economic performance. But the biggest headache has been the increasing numbers of unemployed but well educated youths. Unlike most leaders who generalise on the need to absorb these youths into the informal sector, Majoro is more pragmatic and reckons these can still make a meaningful contribution in the formal economy.
“Most of our youths can be absorbed into formal employment if we focus on local production. The agricultural sector needs to move from subsistence to intensive commercial production taking advantage of Lesotho’s abundant water resources. With climate-adapted agriculture we can reduce our food imports by half and achieve food security. The transformation to producing more fruit and vegetables has already begun but we need more investment.” Dr Majoro faces uncommon challenges, during uncommon times and these call for an uncanny approach to leadership. He is married and blessed with two children. He enjoys hiking and an un-handicapped game of golf, apart from writing papers. This would be hotly disputed. Let me not take credit for it.