Local Government Minister Pontšo Sekatle may well have been within her rights when she allocated residential stands to nine government ministers, judges and senior civil servants as we reported last week.
The minister has vociferously defended the allocation saying the decision to award the stands was above board.
The local government principal secretary ’Mapitso Panyane argues the recipients were entitled to benefit from the stands like any other Mosotho.
“After all they are Basotho and are entitled to possess land,” Panyane said last week.
We have serious problems with this explanation.
Judging by the responses generated by the story it is clear that the average Mosotho believes the new stand owners benefited because they are closely connected to the government in one way or the other.
Their major gripe is why all beneficiaries, are linked to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, are judges or senior civil servants.
Why are there no ordinary Basotho on the list of beneficiaries?
This is a pertinent question that Sekatle must convincingly respond to.
It is this perception that has fed suspicions in the ordinary Mosotho that the whole deal smacks of gross impropriety.
Rightly or wrongly the ordinary Mosotho thinks the land allocation is part of a system of patronage that allows the government to dish out stands to the powerful to buy favours.
The allocation may have been legally correct but it raises serious moral questions.
Ordinarily the government must not be seen as one big machine that dispenses patronage to its subjects.
Minister Sekatle, an affable technocrat in government, must regain the political initiative by offering a lucid explanation about the whole deal.
As Mosisili said last weekend Sekatle must simply revisit the matter. She must offer a clear, convincing explanation on the criteria used to allocate the stands to the nine beneficiaries.
The minister must deal with the public’s concerns.
She must also admit that these suspicions are genuine.
Any attempt to downplay the public’s concerns could be politically fatal.
This is important if the government of Lesotho is to allay allegations that it is too soft when it comes to tackling cronyism.
The minister must act if she is to protect and defend the government’s claims that it is running a squeaky clean administration that is sensitive to the people’s concerns.
The issue here is about the public perception to land allocations.
The minister might have done everything right according to the law but the caliber of the beneficiaries still leaves the impression that they benefited because of their positions.
It is that perception, whether correct or not, that has created this storm over the allocation of stands.
The government cannot just wish away that perception.
We are also worried that among the beneficiaries of the scheme are two serving High Court judges.
It is our humble submission that judges must not be seen to be benefiting in any way from government “favours” if they are to be seen as neutral arbiters in cases involving the state.
As we have argued in previous editorials our High Court judges must be rewarded appropriately to safeguard their independence and integrity. They must not be seen to be depending on “handouts” from the rich and powerful in society.
We are not casting aspersions on the integrity of the judges.
Nor are we oblivious to the fact that they will still have to pay land premiums on that land.
But this is all about perceptions. As things stand the minister has much to explain if she is to allay the public’s fears and lay to rest fears that the government is dishing out stands to senior officials to buy favours.
We are not insinuating that there was corruption or cronyism.
We are merely saying there is a dangerous perception that the minister ought to deal with. Minister Sekatle must not view the questions raised as a personal attack.
We have no reason to doubt her integrity as a person and government official.
We are merely saying she must provide a clear explanation to assure the public that there was nothing untoward about the allocations.
Until she does that her ministry will continue to parry allegations that might otherwise be unfounded and malicious.