LESOTHO has until December this year to implement set governance benchmarks for eligibility in the multi-million dollar compact grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
The Mountain Kingdom’s progress in the implementation of Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry recommendations “will be an important factor” in the MCC board’s decision, according to the United States government.
For its part, the government has expressed optimism of fulfilling the requirements to ensure reselection after senior officials met MCC representatives on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York earlier this month.
MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, 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 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 opted against voting on the issue, citing governance concerns. Among their main concerns was the 25 June 2015 killing of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his erstwhile colleagues.
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 March this year, but was deferred to December to give the Americans time to assess progress in the addressing of rule of law and governance concerns.
Despite the collapse of the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven-party coalition government and installation of a four-party administration led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in June this year, the Americans have remained steadfast in their insistence on reforms.
Their benchmark is the implementation of reforms recommended by a SADC Commission of Inquiry established after the killing of Lt-Gen Mahao.
The former army commander was shot dead as he left his Mokema farm by soldiers who claimed to have come to arrest him for leading a plot to overthrow the LDF leadership. However, the Mahao family has accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
SADC established a commission of inquiry to probe the circumstances surrounding the killing, with the inquiry carrying out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015.
The Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led commission made a number of recommendations, including 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.
The commission also recommended the implementation of multi-sectoral reforms in Lesotho to nip in the bud the cycle of political instability.
While some of the recommendations, such as the removal of then LDF commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli and prosecution of soldier implicated in serious crimes have been implemented, the mooted reforms of the constitutional, security and public service sectors among others are yet to get off the ground.
US Embassy Maseru Public Affairs Officer, Melissa Schumi Jones, recently told the Lesotho Times that the Mountain Kingdom would need to fully implement the commission’s recommendations to be eligible for the compact.
“MCC’s board is expected to once again revisit Lesotho’s eligibility for a second compact in December 2017, when its board meets to make its annual country eligibility decisions,” she said.
“We urge Lesotho to continue moving in a positive direction to ensure accountability in the security sector and adherence to the rule of law.”
Ms Jones also acknowledged the 18 September 2017 meeting between government officials and MCC representatives at the offices of Lesotho’s Mission to the United Nations.
The Lesotho delegation included Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi, Moeketsi Majoro (Finance) and Deputy Health Minister Manthabiseng Phohleli.
The delegation to the UN, which was led by Dr Thabane, returned home yesterday.
Addressing a press conference soon after their return from New York, Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka said the government was optimistic of fulfilling the MCC’s eligibility requirements by December.
He said the government had informed the MCC representatives of their commitment and progress in the full implementation of the SADC recommendations.
Mr Mphaka said they cited their request for SADC military intervention as an example of their commitment to restoring normalcy in the country.
“They were happy with the responses we gave them since they previously did not have open discussions with the government,” Mr Mphaka said.
“Basically, we are very confident that when the MCC board meets in December, they will select Lesotho for the second compact. We are very optimistic.”