EUROPEAN Union Ambassador Michael Doyle has underscored the need for Lesotho to ensure early implementation of reforms after next month’s elections for the country to retain international funding for its development programmes.
Ambassador Doyle made the remarks during Europe Day commemorations in Maseru on Tuesday.
Lesotho launched the national reform programme in 2016 as part of efforts to implement recommendations by the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry which called for constitutional, security and public service reforms to ensure peace, stability and development.
The commission, which was set up after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asked SADC to probe the fatal shooting of former Lesotho Defence Force commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015, carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015.
The commission also recommended among other things, the dismissal of former army commander Tlali Kamoli, the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceeded in line with international best practice.
After the report was issued, some of Lesotho international funders including the United States government withheld funding and called on government to speedily implement the SADC recommendations.
And on Tuesday, Dr Doyle reiterated the call for the implementation of the reforms which have apparently been shelved until after elections on 3 June.
“While there may be breathing space at present for election campaigns, it will be imperative that, after elections, there will be early and steady progress with implementation of the reforms agenda,” Dr Doyle said.
He said that evidence of such concrete progress should allow government and other stakeholders to in turn focus on the critical economic agenda, not least the creation of sustainable jobs for Basotho.
He said he was happy that the EU and Lesotho had held frank and constructive political dialogue in March which offered both parties the opportunity to discuss an important range of topics in the midst of Lesotho’s challenging political period.
He also welcomed the signing of the Reform Pledge by various political parties where they committed themselves to an inclusive, participatory and comprehensive reform process.
The Reform Pledge, titled Commitment by Lesotho’s Political Parties to an inclusive, participatory and comprehensive reform process, states that all parties shall publicly speak out in favour of an inclusive, participatory, democratic and transparent process for these forms.
The leaders of the parties pledged to give priority to the implementation of reforms irrespective of whether their parties would be in government, opposition or outside parliament.
“As the 3 June elections approach, the EU welcomes the important signing of the Reform Pledge by the leaders of most of the registered political parties in Lesotho, witnessed by various national and international stakeholders and partners,” Dr Doyle said.
“The EU wholeheartedly encourages Lesotho’s political parties, whether they are in or out of government, and other stakeholders to follow through with implementing commitments in the reform pledge and indeed with implementing all the remaining recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry,” Dr Doyle said.
Turning to the EU-Lesotho development cooperation on the water, energy and governance sectors envisioned to run until 2020, Dr Doyle said they were currently engaged in the mid-term review which takes into account past performance by Lesotho.
He however, said it was too soon to know the final outcome of the review process.
“I wish Basotho well as they head to the polls to exercise their democratic right to vote. It is our sincere hope that Lesotho will have peaceful, free and fair elections, with uncontested results, as we witnessed in the 2015 elections,” Dr Doyle said.
The EU’s call for the implementation of reforms follows a similar call last month by the US through its embassy spokesperson, Julie McKay.
The US resolved to defer voting on the country’s eligibility for the multi-million dollar compact grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) last month.
The MCC is a bilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with countries expected to meet certain conditions on good governance practices and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, the MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362.6 million (over M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
The five-year compact among others, helped fund the construction of Metolong Dam, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
Lesotho was supposed to receive its second compact last year, but on 16 December 2015, the MCC Board decided not to vote on the issue citing governance concerns, particularly after the killing of former army chief Mahao.
In December 2016, the MCC Board again deferred a vote on the reselection of Lesotho for a second compact “until governance concerns have been addressed”. A determination on Lesotho’s eligibility for a second MCC compact was scheduled for last month.
Ms McKay, last month told the Lesotho Times that the vote was deferred by the MCC Board to a later date to assess progress in the addressing of rule of law and governance concerns.
She acknowledged the efforts the government has made in addressing some of their benchmarks including removing Lieutenant-General Kamoli from the helm of the LDF last December.
“The United States welcomes the change in the leadership of the army and the decision to release on open arrest the 23 military detainees accused of mutiny,” Ms Mackay said at the time, adding, “Further work is needed, however, to ensure there is a culture of accountability and rule of law in Lesotho.”
The US also warned Lesotho to implement reforms or risk losing support through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
AGOA provides for duty-free entry of goods into the US from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho, and applies to both textile and non-textile goods. The legislation, which was approved by the US Congress in May 2000 is meant to incentivise African countries to open their economies and build free markets.
Lesotho’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors.