THE war of words which erupted this week between Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his Labour Minister, Advocate Thulo Mahlakeng would have been comical had they not been tragic, given the seriousness of the issues of workers’ livelihoods that were involved.
As we report elsewhere in this edition, Dr Mosisili started the war of words on Tuesday after he used his address to factory workers in Ha Thetsane, Maseru to attack Advocate Mahlakeng for delaying the minimum wage adjustment. The new minimum has been increased by nine percent after negotiations that took place in April.
Dr Mosisili said the minister caused the delay by seeking to come up with his own figures instead of implementing the figures (of seven percent) that had already been agreed.
“The Minister ought to have long ago implemented the salary increment but instead of working hand in hand with the Wages Advisory Board (WAB) on the suggested increment he opted to bring his own figures and this is where the problem started,” Dr Mosisili said.
Not to be outdone, the peeved minister made his own trip the next day to the same venue where he addressed the same workers, telling them he had come to “straighten out the contorted information given by the Prime Minister”.
“No one can come and stand here to accuse anyone of failure to handle the wages’ issue as expected. The employees demanded a 10% increment while the employers wanted 7%. All these came in as a recommendation from your representatives and I had to come up with an average figure,” Advocate Mahlakeng said.
He said there had been no delay at all.
Thereafter, the visibly angry minister said something about “men and women who know that they have strong necks and can give orders from behind the bushes block your issues”.
We also report in this edition how some of the country’s finest comical talents have teamed up with their South African counterparts for the Pre-elections Comedy Night at Victory Hall in Moshoeshoe II.
Their aim is to crack jokes about the politicians and next week’s national elections with the aim of rallying people to vote.
We would suggest that this story in which the minister actually travelled down the same route as the Prime Minister and the former’s subsequent statements about men and women with strong necks could be excellent fodder for some rib cracking jokes.
Except of course that these are serious bread and butter issues concerning the welfare and livelihoods of thousands of the country’s workers who the Prime Minister rightly acknowledged as the country’s economic backbone although there is precious little in the way they have been treated by successive governments to suggest that our leaders actually believe that to be the case.
The whole episode is also tragic for the manner in which the Prime Minister revealed his glaring lack of knowledge about the goings on his own country and the plight of the very people he was courting to vote for him.
“I was very perturbed to recently learn over BBC radio that globally, Lesotho is one of three countries which still do not pay maternity leave to its factory workers. More so because I learnt that most of you are still at an age of child bearing,” Dr Mosisili told the workers.
He promised that upon re-election, he would ensure paid maternity leave became law which every employer would abide by for it could impact negatively on Lesotho at the International Labour Organisation.
And so it took a whole foreign media organisation from thousands of miles across the sea to inform our leadership of the conditions of workers who are just minutes away from the corridors of government in Maseru. These are issues we have also reported on and if this was not good enough, how about visits such as these by our leaders when there are no looming elections?
We do not hold any brief for any party and ours as the Fourth Estate is simply to offer fair and balanced and constructive criticism to our leaders.
And in that respect, we call upon our leaders not to trivialise critical bread and butter issues to such reciprocal populist mudslinging.