MASERU — Youth Minister ’Mathabiso Lepono on Monday said the recently introduced national youth volunteer programme is above board rejecting opposition charges that the project was being run along partisan lines.
Lepono said it was virtually impossible for the government to tamper with the selection process to allow members of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party alone to benefit.
“This project is co-led by the UN Volunteer Corps (UNVC) and the government and as you may know it will not be that easy to penetrate its administration,” Lepono said.
“The youth who have been selected and assigned to various jobs were interviewed by a panel made up of, among others, the UNVC representatives, our sports director and the project co-ordinator.”
The minister denied that she influenced the selection of candidates for the programme.
“I was not there and I did not even know who were selected and who were not selected.
“I only saw them when I officiated at an event where they were assigned to their new voluntary jobs. There was no government influence in selecting them,” Lepono said.
Three weeks ago, opposition MPs demanded to know the criteria the government was using to select youths for the volunteer programme amid concerns that the programme was being run along partisan lines.
The MPs charged that only youths from the LCD had benefited from the programme.
They also expressed fears that the youth project could be a reincarnation of the infamous Lesotho Youth Services run by the Basotho National Party in the 1970s and 1980s which terrorised citizens.
Lepono however rejected these charges at a press conference on Monday.
She said the government programme was meant to attract youths for voluntary service in various state departments, parastatals and private enterprises.
The idea, Lepono said, was to empower youths to gain experience on the job.
Youths who undergo the programme will receive first preference for scholarships and when there are vacancies in government departments.
Lepono said some volunteer youths were already working in the Ministry of Local Government while others are in South Africa helping in Fifa World Cup-related duties.
Lepono said the African Union is planning to establish its own youth volunteer corps project and youths who are already volunteering in their countries will get the first preference to be invited to help where there is a need outside the country.
The minister also denied a report by the Lesotho Times in its April 28 issue suggesting that MPs had almost reduced her to tears as they grilled her on the national volunteer corps programme.
“I was not grilled by anybody and I didn’t cry,” Lepono said.
“Well, I understand that due to a shaking voice because of old age one may think I was crying but I was not,” she said.
Lepono is 68.
The LCD youth league secretary, Selibe Mochoboroane, told the Lesotho Times in an interview on Monday that the youth league did not believe the government had any ulterior motive in launching the project.
“Giving our youth the chance to voluntarily do developmental work for their people while waiting for employment is a good move,” Mochoboroane said.
Mochoboroane said he did not believe the LCD government had a plan to hijack the project and use it for political goals.