Communities expect every politician they vote into power to improve the provision of basic services in their areas in the shortest possible time.
Failure to deliver on the public’s basic needs such as good road infrastructure and clinics has cost many politicians dearly as voters opt for different candidates in the next election.
In this wide-ranging interview, the Deputy Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, Rethabile Marumo Mokaeane (RM), who also studied Urban and Regional Planning at the National University Lesotho, tells the Lesotho Times (LT) why politicians can only ignore these basic needs at their own peril.
LT: You were elected Member of Parliament for Mohobollo constituency, which is now Leribe No. 12, in 2007 but lost the following election in 2012. Why do you think people decided not to vote for you for the second time?
RM: There are a number of reasons why people vote for particular candidates during elections but top among the list is that they need someone who can deliver; someone who can speak on their behalf; someone they trust to articulate their concerns in parliament and convince the government that there is need to develop the constituency. If people do not see much development or no change in their lives, they are disappointed and in most cases, they will not vote for that candidate again. That was the challenge I encountered in 2012 election under the Democratic Congress (DC) party. I could not make it back to parliament because people accused me of not meeting their expectations and argued there was no reason why I should be voted for again.
LT: But was it true that you did not deliver and if so why?
RM: I had advocated for resources for the implementation of development programmes such as water, sanitation and electricity in some of the villages but could not cover all areas. As a result, people from those villages which had not benefitted felt I did not deserve a second chance. I did explain, even during the implementation of the programmes, that we did not have enough resources to develop the whole constituency, but still in the end, the people decided to give another candidate a chance.
To some extent, I think the people were right because with more support from the government, I could have done better or the government could have done more had they managed the resources more efficiently. Many voters may not understand this but in the then politics, it was very difficult to work with some ministers. During that time, it was hard to convince ministers to direct resources towards development programmes in my constituency. I did my best, including applying some innovations and even begging some ministers for resources as if it was not their mandate to service all the constituencies. In those old days of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) under Prime Minister Mosisili, a good number of ministers used to focus on servicing mainly their own constituencies. Strange as it may sound, some could not even mix with people and I don’t know why that was the case. A member of parliament would be lucky to have a minister who listened and actioned on a development proposal. I believe that must change because we are a government that represents everybody.
LT: The recent Local Government elections were marked by voter-apathy so do you think as the nerve-centre for service-delivery, this was a protest demanding improved service- output?
RM: I think people are tired of electing candidates without seeing any benefit to their investment. Statistics from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) show that people are no longer interested in voting in elections. Like you rightly say, we are from Local Government elections and the voter turn-out was poor. The same applies with the June snap election; the numbers were low. Apathy is also a sign that people have somewhat changed and are not happy and have lost confidence in some people they have previously elected that they would rather not vote.
We need to reflect on this. As a nation, we should be serious and stop playing games with politics because it is hard on our economy. Like the issue of this vote-of-no-confidence motion, it is not necessary because the opposition has no numbers in parliament. All it is doing is scare investors. If they have issues, let’s discuss and resolve them in parliament. The economy is deteriorating and so is service-delivery because we keep having a situation where the focus shifts from development to political issues that do not improve people’s lives.
As government we also need to deal with other factors that fuel a situation of instability such as regulating the media. Honestly, I don’t think Basotho are getting the kind of information they deserve: what happened to developmental reporting? I believe this is time for us to get down to work and the media should also play a role in promoting development. I believe that is what all Basotho want, not to be drawn into political fights that do not bring food on their tables or pay school fees for their children.
I can tell you that as young politicians, we are sick and tired of disruptive behaviour. We would want to work with everyone who is for peace, to grow our economy and not spend another five years talking about the same political issues. It’s becoming monotonous. This government is thinking and talking more about development than anything else. Basotho are sick and tired of poor service-delivery, everybody must deliver.
LT: Let’s go back to your role in parliament. You were elected back through the Proportional Representation (PR) system under the Democratic Congress (DC) in 2015 – 2017. Did you find the situation conducive for you to make a difference in your constituency?
RM: When I joined the DC, I thought the situation would enable me to make a difference. It did not. What I saw pointed to corruption, and most ministers walking this way and members of parliament taking the opposite direction. Together with other politicians who were not happy about the situation, we joined Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s new Alliance for Democrats (AD). You see, under the DC, I had really hoped the new coalition government led by Ntate Mosisili would listen to the masses. People wanted to see their communities developed. They wanted to see the government partnering with them. I became a Member of Parliament at a young age of 25 in 2007, and I have learnt the importance of these conversations and partnerships. I know that the masses are good listeners and they understand if resources are not enough, as long as they would see some change after a reasonable time.
LT: What were the major concerns that led to a significant number of young people leaving the DC to join the AD? Was it impossible to have these issues resolved internally to avoid a split?
RM: You know, when some people are in government, they totally don’t get it. The people give us a mandate, they want to see the government perform and do its job of providing them with basic services. They know that the government has a responsibility to make life better. It’s about creating opportunities for people and delivering the services that they need. It’s development that people need and we, as government, should ensure our actions are focused on delivering the services the people need.
Young members of parliament were concerned that community development was not being prioritised, and we were certain that people would never vote for us as long as the DC was on a wrong path. We were in a coalition of seven parties. And we all got money from a consolidated budget though we were from different parties. State funds were not managed well; we could have done better if only some people were not thinking of enriching themselves. All this was happening at the expense of Basotho, and service-delivery was deteriorating drastically. I was a chairperson on a Portfolio Committee in parliament and when some of these government ministries were accounting for public funds, it was a disaster. So together with others, we said, this way we will not help Lesotho. The economy was going down badly and we had to do something to try and remedy the situation quickly.
LT: So how can public funds be managed better and services delivered more efficiently?
RM: I think it is crucial for us in this government to respect state money. It’s not our money but for the development of the country and Basotho. If you are a civil servant, you must work to provide services to the people not to service your pockets and enrich yourself. I don’t know why one would stretch their hands into the state coffers when they have salaries. We are paid for the work we do. I think there is a lot of work we need to do to ensure that state funds are not abused. In some cases, we see companies providing services to the government and charging a whooping M30 for a mere can of soft drink. Yes, we are expecting people to make reasonable profits but not 300 percent profit. When dealing with the government, we need to be regularised otherwise we will not win this corruption battle. We need to ensure our systems reject corrupt tendencies and work efficiently and cost-effectively.
LT: Do you have any suggestions about how this could be achieved?
RM: There are a number of actions we can implement and I am happy that as senior government officers, we now have to declare our assets. That way, we do not have to fool ourselves, thinking we can exploit the systems and enrich ourselves with state resources. I think by declaring our assets, we are moving in the right direction. It was not the case in the past and I used to wonder why, if really the senior government officers are servants of the people. Twenty years down the line, we see equally small nations such as Botswana and Namibia developed so much and Lesotho, with all the diamonds and plenty of water for hydro power generation, many of our people are still suffering.
LT: Following your experience before you became Deputy Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, what should people expect from you?
RM: I would like to work with everyone who wants to see us defeat poverty, I am not just for my political party. I would like to support the development of my country and of every Mosotho through various initiatives and innovations. The Ministry of Gender welcomes people with new ideas to come and work with us. I would like to quickly move away from talking and workshops and ensure that those resources are channelled towards supporting projects that improve people’s lives, women, men and young people. More than anything, I would like to lead by example and for me it’s not about eating nice hotel-food without giving the hungry communities anything. I see that as hypocrisy at its highest level. The people should always come first. Through my portfolio, I would like to support the creation of equal opportunities for both women and men and help to build the skills of young people so that they can be productive and contribute to growing the economy.