LESOTHO has been handed another chance to put its house in order after the United States of America resolved to defer voting on the country’s eligibility for the multi-million dollar compact grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
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.
US Embassy spokesperson, Julie McKay, yesterday told the Lesotho Times 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 Tlali Kamoli from the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (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.
“Further work is needed, however, to ensure there is a culture of accountability and rule of law in Lesotho.”
The 23 soldiers were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command. The soldiers were subsequently released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison and placed under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military.
And while welcoming progress made thus far, Ms McKay said further progress was required on the implementation of all of the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations, “including those related to the killing of General Mahao and the need for security sector reform”.
The former army commander was shot dead as he left his Mokema farm on 25 June 2015 by soldiers who said they had 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.
After the killing, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asked SADC to probe the incident, 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 the dismissal of Lt-Gen Kamoli, 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.
She said the SADC recommendations had to be fully implemented “regardless of the outcome of Lesotho’s upcoming election” scheduled for 3 June.
“At its March 2017 meeting, the MCC Board reviewed the recent developments in Lesotho, but did not vote on the eligibility of Lesotho for a second MCC Compact.
“As in December 2015 and again in December 2016, the MCC Board deferred to a later date a vote on whether to reselect Lesotho as eligible pending further progress on rule of law and governance concerns. Therefore, no decision has been made at this time about Lesotho’s eligibility for a second MCC Compact,” Ms McKay said.
Regarding the country’s AGOA status, Ms McKay said: “On December 16, former President (Barack) Obama approved the list of countries eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2017. Lesotho was included on that list and therefore remains AGOA eligible”.
She however cautioned that the current AGOA legislation provided the US administration greater flexibility in reviewing countries on an ongoing basis, including by initiating “out-of-cycle” reviews at any point during the calendar year.