LESOTHO’S quest for a second multi-million dollar second compact grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has received a major boost after the arrival in the country of a high-powered MCC delegation to begin consultations for the release of the sizeable aid package.
The MCC delegation led by, Kyeh Kim, the MCC’s Principal Deputy Vice President, Africa Region, this week told the Lesotho Times that although discussions for the release of the funds were still in the early stages, the second compact would be focused on the removal of constraints to economic growth and poverty reduction.
The delegation nevertheless emphasised that Lesotho’s eligibility for the compact funding was premised on satisfactory progress by the government in restoring the rule of law and implementing multi-sector reforms. The project could be suspended if the government reneges on its commitment to implementing the reforms.
The 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 (more than M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the compact programme over rampant human rights abuses perpetrated under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s ruthless regime.
Lesotho’s eligibility for the second compact was however confirmed by the MCC Board in December 2017 after the ouster of the Mosisili regime in the June elections and the return to power of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane whose coalition set out to dismantle the edifice of rights violations erected during the Mosisili era. The MCC delegation jetted into Maseru this week for discussions that will most probably culminate in a concrete funding agreement.
Ms Kim told the Lesotho Times that their visit came in the aftermath of concrete measures taken thus far by the new Thabane government to hold those responsible for past abuses accountable and foster the rule of law.
She however, warned that the eligibility that Lesotho had been granted was “not just a onetime stamp of approval” and the government had to stay the course to continue to be eligible.
“The purpose of our visit is to re-welcome Lesotho back into the MCC compact family,” Ms Kim said in an exclusive interview with this publication at the US embassy in Maseru.
“We will discuss our expectations of moving forward in terms of the continued progress on the governance reforms as well as the process of developing a second compact for the country.”
“The MCC Board of Directors determined that there was sufficient progress toward the implementation of the reforms but this is a journey that the government must stay on to make sure that they maintain eligibility.”
The US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, echoed Ms Kim on the need to stay the course on reforms, saying, the US remained “committed to supporting Lesotho as it undertakes an inclusive, transparent, and comprehensive national reform process, which is essential in achieving sustainable economic growth and long term stability”.
Ms Kim also said that dialogue with both the government and the opposition leaders was “absolutely necessary to ensuring that meaningful reforms take place”.
She further said that in addition to meeting the governance and reforms criteria, Lesotho still had to meet other criteria which included effectively dealing with the scourge of corruption.
“We have what we call the ‘hard hurdle’ which is on the government’s performance on the control of corruption. It is very important to our board of directors that we invest in countries that are very serious about the control of corruption and transparency.”
For his part, Mr Guyslain Ngeleza, the MCC’s country representative to Lesotho, said while the negotiations process that culminated in a concrete funding agreement typically lasted three years, the MCC and the government would “proceed very fast” so that the second compact agreement could be signed as early as June 2019.
“Our hope is that after this mission, we will be able to come to some sort of agreement with the country on what are the major constraints to economic growth by the beginning of April next year. Overall, we want to ensure that between June and December next year we will have the compact signed but all that depends on the government’s commitment,” Mr Ngeleza said.
The MCC delegation also hailed the success of the first US$362.6 million compact, saying it had improved the quality of life notably in the health sector where 138 health clinics were either built or rehabilitated across the country.
The first compact also provided for the construction of the Metolong Dam which provides water to Maseru and its environs.
“There were also notable accomplishments in terms of the married persons’ laws which now allow females to have ownership of land in the country,” Ms Kim said.
She said the government nevertheless had a huge responsibility to maintain the infrastructure and investments that were funded by the first compact.
The government’s ability to maintain the first compact’s investments would play a factor in deciding the value of the second compact.
“We are investing a great amount of money and it is really up to the government to maintain the investments we make.
“We can build a health clinic but it is really up to the government to hire the nurses and personnel as well as provide the actual infrastructure and maintain it. As we look at the second compact, our board of directors will look very closely at whether the government has been effective in sustaining the investment in the first programme,” Ms Kim said.
The reforms now being driven by the Thabane coalition were recommended by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) after it established a commission of inquiry into perennial instability in Lesotho in the wake of the shooting of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao.
The previous coalition of Dr Mosisili had largely dragged its feet on implementing the reforms with the former Prime Minister at one stage boasting that the reforms would never see the light of day. But after the ouster of Dr Mosisili his successor, Dr Thabane, has aggressively sought to implement the reforms and restore the rule of law. Several soldiers who were used by the previous government to commit various atrocities, including the attempted murder of the editor of this newspaper Lloyd Mutungamiri, are now in police custody. The Lesotho Times suffered heavily under the previous regime as the newspaper steadfastly condemned all its human rights abuses.
Even though the MCC says dialogue between the government and the opposition is essential for the success of the reforms, it remains to be seen whether this is achievable as the opposition appears hell bent on sabotaging the reforms process, stacking what critics say are incredible pre-conditions for participating. For instance, Dr Mosisili has demanded that all SADC troops deployed in Lesotho to maintain peace and stability, during the implementation of the reforms, should leave as one of the opposition’s pre-conditions for participating in the reforms process. The government has nonetheless dismissed the demand as untenable.