Corruption is a threat to our democracy

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THE damning report by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released last Friday made really depressing reading.

The breath-taking levels of looting are a clear testimony that we are nowhere near taming the beast of corruption in Lesotho.

Unless something is done urgently we risk reversing the small gains this country has scored in the fight against corruption and the push for a squeaky clean government.

The PAC says it is concerned with the ongoing pilferage of state funds and the sheer disregard of the government’s financial regulations.

It says it has noticed a “declining trend in the observance and compliance with the Financial Order and Regulations by government ministries, departments and institutions”.

It says the biggest culprits are in community councils with the committee chillingly warning that all is not well within these councils.

This is by all accounts a shocking report.

As we have argued in previous editorials problems of this magnitude are a sign that our present monitoring systems are not working.

The government needs to tighten the monitoring mechanisms to ensure that no civil servant is given a blank cheque to steal.

Tight monitoring systems will dissuade rogue civil servants from stealing.

These corrupt civil servants also need to know that they will be caught if they breach the law.

The Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) and the police must spring into action and deal with those who flout the law.

Law enforcement agencies must crack down hard on the rogue civil servants to instill within them respect for the law.

We therefore agree in toto with the PAC when it says stern action must be “taken against officers who do not take notice of either the law or governing regulations protecting the maintenance of order and sound financial practice”.

Unless something is done the government’s anti-corruption call will continue to ring hollow.

Unfortunately events of the past few months have punctured a huge hole in our belief that the government is fully committed to tackling corruption in our midst.

The scandalous decision by the government to rehire Masupha Sole at the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority last August is a case in point.

When we write stories about the alleged looting of state coffers the government’s propaganda apparatchiks often spring into a defensive mode.

They often offer what are essentially lame excuses to justify the pilferage.

But the people are not stupid. They often see through the cobweb of lies and these PR stunts.

Instead of vociferously defending the indefensible, the government must admit that there is a serious problem of corruption in high places in Lesotho.

The solution does not lie in prosecuting the small fish while leaving the sharks to swim in their own filth.

An honest appraisal of the situation should be the first step in seeking an effective way of countering and fighting this national scourge.

We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that there is no problem.

Fighting corruption should be the government’s top-most priority among other critical issues like rolling back the frontiers of poverty and the HIV pandemic.

Failure to deal with corruption will render all other efforts to haul Lesotho into the 21st century virtually useless.

It is therefore critical for the government to demonstrate that it has the will and capacity to prosecute offenders.

The PAC has in the past complained about the snail’s pace of police investigations.

Investigations must be speeded up to ensure quick delivery of justice.

We unfortunately sense a lack of urgency in tackling cases of corruption. It is all business as usual. But for us this is a crisis.

Corruption poses the biggest threat to our constitutional democracy. It holds back economic development. It erodes institutions of democracy. It stinks.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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