….as Makgothi and Rakuoane trade barbs after stinging diplomats’ criticism

Stalled reforms ignite blame game

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU-The blame game over stalled reforms went a notch up this week when government and opposition parties traded barbs after Lesotho’s three key international partners – the SADC, the United States and the European Union - delivered stinging broadsides at Basotho politicians over the process.

One after the other, Lesotho’s major benefactors have within a week expressed disquiet over the pace at which crucial reforms geared towards revamping the constitution, a moribund judiciary, a comatose civil service and security sectors were being carried out. Public Eye can report this week that Foreign Affairs and International Relations minister Lesego Makgoti and opposition leader Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) supremo Lekhetho Rakuoane differed sharply on who was to blame for stalling the process.

Makgoti, evidently stung by withering criticism by SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) Chairperson Dr Matias Matondo, new United States Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales and European Union Ambassador Dr Christian Manahl, yesterday was desperate to pin the blame on the opposition. The foreign minister hinted the country’s development partners should also shoulder some of the blame for throwing spanners in the process by insisting on an “inclusive” initiative.

Speaking to Public Eye yesterday Makgothi admitted that “there is stagnancy” which he believed called for a reminder of who was to blame for the lethargic progress.He laid the blame on the doorstep of the opposition saying they were “holding the whole reforms process to ransom due to their baseless preconditions”.

But Rakuoane made it clear the reforms process was sluggish because of the incompetence of the government which he said was “on auto-pilot”. “It is a fallacy that we have held the reforms to ransom. We are just being used as scapegoats by this government which clearly does not have direction and is not ready to lead the reforms process. They do not have direction; they do not have an engine,” he said, acknowledging though now was not the time for political finger-pointing.

Speaking to Public Eye this week in her first exclusive press interview since replacing Ambassador Mathew Harrington, Gonzales emphasised that future US-Lesotho relations and the permanency of the US government-backed programmes in this country hinged on the anticipated multi-sectoral reforms.

Gonzales told Public Eye that her concern was that “up to now” the reforms process “has been slow”. Her concerns tie-up neatly with Dr Matondo’s, who last week in an interview with this paper called on Basotho politicians to set aside partisan differences and push through the SADC prescribed reforms. Matondo last week urged a softening of attitudes and the need for the feuding sides to meet in the halfway house to accelerate the reform process in line with fast approaching SADC deadlines.

Matondo expressed concern at the sluggish manner at which the reforms process was moving, attributing this to the “reluctance” by government and the opposition to accommodate each other adding “they need to get their acts together”. While outlining SAPMIL successes, such as the stabilisation of the security situation which was conducive for implementation of the reforms, Matondo was worried that with four months left for his mission to wrap up its Lesotho mission, politicians were not “exactly” rising to the occasion and grabbing the opportunity to turn around their country’s fortunes by “closing this bleak chapter of its history”.

“But to be frank, we ourselves also feel that the process is a bit sluggish and that there’s need to speed it up because we are really running the risk of not meeting our deadline. “SADC has decided that the process must be completed by May 2019. SAPMIL extension also runs until the end of November this year so we are really running out of time.

“But the responsibility lies with Basotho. We are already in July; we are left with four months into our extension. Whether there will be a second extension or not is a decision to be taken by our principals, their excellencies, the presidents, given the conditions on the ground, given the achievements and our challenges.”

SAPMIL arrived in Lesotho last November to pave way for SADC recommended reforms emanating from the Phumaphi Commission’s findings. Matondo admitted government and the opposition were engaged in a game of intrigue and brinkmanship with the opposition making incessant demands while refusing to recognise any initiative by government.

Government, on the other hand, was also not living up to some commitments it had made to the opposition. The same concerns have also been expressed by the EU Ambassador Dr Christian Manahl adding more pressure on a government that must be feeling under siege. Opposition parties are demanding that government stop the extradition process against the exiled former deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing before they can participate in the reforms.

But government appears to be reluctant to see Metsing – leader of the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) – come to Lesotho a free man. The opposition parties have also demanded the release from prison of former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who faces a litany of murder and attempted murder charges. A slew of conditions under which the opposition would be willing to participate in the reforms process has emerged as the biggest points of contention in talks between government and the opposition.

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