Fighting poverty

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PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili must go beyond the rhetoric of electioneering and demonstrate that he is committed to the fight against rampant poverty.

If his comments last Saturday are anything to go by then he has a big task ahead of him if he is to tame poverty that has stalked Basotho over the past 15 years of his rule.

Mosisili came face-to-face with abject poverty while on a door-to-door campaign for his Democratic Congress (DC) party last Saturday.

He expressed shock at the deepening levels of poverty among Basotho. He then donated some goodies and cash to five lucky women.

Mosisili said this was his gesture to demonstrate that his DC party cares about the plight of the elderly and the disadvantaged.

The novel idea was useful in so far as it brought Mosisili closer to the people on the ground. We hope he will be better able to appreciate and understand their daily challenges.

An effective leader must be as comfortable within the corridors of power as he is among the downtrodden masses.

Poverty remains the biggest challenge facing the 1.8 million Basotho. Any government worth its salt must make poverty alleviation its top priority.

Based on what he saw last Saturday we are certain that Mosisili will be the first to admit that more still needs to be done to fight poverty.

The current social safety nets, through programmes such as the Old Age Pension Scheme, have not been 100 percent effective. We still have thousands of people who are struggling to put food on the table.

We have noted the premier’s promise to give poverty alleviation top priority if his party wins the May 26 general election.

But beyond this election rhetoric Mosisili must demonstrate that he has the capacity and will to fight poverty.

It is with this in mind that we view the May 26 election as a referendum on Mosisili’s rule over the past 15 years.

Are voters willing to give him five more years to fulfil what he sees as unfinished business in the fight against poverty or will they decide he has had enough time to make a difference in their lives but squandered that opportunity?

The choice lies with the voter come May 26.

As we have argued in previous editorials the key in fighting poverty lies in boosting the agricultural sector.

We however sense a lack of urgency among those charged with ensuring Basotho are able to feed themselves.

Vast tracts of land remain idle.

What we continue to hear are lame excuses about the country’s extremely unfriendly climate.

There is a shocking lack of commitment to ensure that villagers have enough food. It is embarrassing that we still cannot feed ourselves and have to rely on food handouts from international relief agencies.

But this has not always been the case.

In the early 1980s Lesotho was growing enough to feed itself.

We must restore that golden period. This should start by ensuring the little land available for food production is used optimally. This requires political commitment.

The other key step in fighting poverty is by creating jobs.

The government must create a conducive environment for foreign investors.

The government must move fast to make Lesotho an attractive investment destination. Archaic regulations that impede investment must be repealed.

Sadly, this has not been happening over the years.

The result is that Lesotho continues to perform dismally in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index precisely because we have dithered to amend laws and regulations to make it easier for foreign investors. This must change.

Foreign firms that have been awarded licences to operate must comply with local laws by paying their workers a living wage.

The government must put a stop to the “starvation wages” that workers continue to earn in “sweat shops” in the textile sector.

Lesotho is endowed with high quality diamonds. That diamond wealth must also trickle down to the grassroots.

Mosisili’s visits to the five families should serve as a wake-up call on the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty.

He must go beyond mere election promises and demonstrate that he is committed to fighting poverty.

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