‘There is no democracy in our politics’

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Veteran Politician and Former Leader of the Basotho African Congress (BAC), Paanya Phoofolo (2)

Veteran Politician and Former Leader of the Basotho African Congress (BAC), Paanya Phoofolo

Former Basotho African Congress (BAC) leader, Paanya Phoofolo, is not happy with the way government is handling the issue of principal secretaries (PSs), ambassadors and government secretary (GS) whose dismissals have cost the taxpayer at least M15million to-date. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has since said the shakeup is meant to ensure the right people are in those posts, but according to Mr Phoofolo—who was also once Lesotho’s ambassador to the United Nations and GS—this move is only going to create problems for the Kingdom. Mr Phoofolo tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, why he believes this is a bad call by the seven-party coalition administration which came to power early this year.

LT: Could you please briefly give us your political background?

Phoofolo: Perhaps I should start by stating that I left the civil service when I resigned as government secretary in 1995. I left the post purely from a professional point of view after realising that my advice to government was mostly not being accepted. We had been taught that as senior civil servants and administrators, our duty was to implement government policies as well as give advice and be loyal to the government of the day. But where you feel strongly that the advice you are giving is not being accepted, you have two options—either you remain constant in implementing decisions as the government sees fit, or if your conscience and professionalism don’t allow you, then you will step aside. That is what I did. I left the civil service in January 1995, when the BCP was in government. Dr Ntsu Mokhehle was prime minister at the time.

LT: So basically, your departure was a matter of principle…

Phoofolo: That’s right, but in addition, I was also concerned about what was happening in Lesotho at the time. There was so much instability because of the armed forces, just like what is happening today. The army was destabilising government, and you will recall that in early 1994, the soldiers started fighting among themselves. That instability, regrettably, ended with the death of then Deputy Prime Minister Selometsi Baholo. He was killed by the army at his residence in Ha-Matala. It was then that I decided to be active in politics. I joined the BAC under the leadership of Ntate Molapo Qhobela. Ntate Qhobela then decided to leave the BAC and was replaced by Dr Khauhelo Raditapole.

LT: So when were you in the diplomatic service and why did you leave?

Phoofolo: I was the country’s ambassador to the UN and in 1993, government recalled and appointed me GS. That is what brought me home from New York. But I continued to be ambassador in addition to being GS. I know it did cause some consternation, but there were reasons behind this.

LT: So if the BCP trusted you so much to make you GS and ambassador at the same time, what went wrong that you had to resign?

Phoofolo: I was becoming disillusioned with BCP politics. And within the Basotho National Party (which was in power before the BCP), there were people who were not happy with what was going on. Some of them approached me knowing I was out of government, and our discussions resulted in the formation of the National Progressive Party. I became the party’s deputy leader but as time went by, we started to disagree on certain issues. I then went back to the BAC as an ordinary member, but I was later elected into the executive. And when Dr Raditapole became the leader, I became her deputy. When Dr Raditapole retired, I was elected to take over. But that was when we became concerned with the proliferation of political parties in Lesotho. There were just too many political parties mushrooming in our country. We then took a position and invited all the smaller parties to form one party. But out of the parties we had approached, only the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) and BAC agreed to our idea, resulting in the formation of the African Congress Party. LPC leader, Advocate Kelebone Maope, became the leader and Dr Raditapole his deputy. We went for the 1998 general elections together, but afterwards, there was a split once again. We then ended up with the African National Unity Movement, of which I was now the leader. We contested the 2007 elections, but as we went to the polls, I discovered there was something not quite right about the party.  I took a final decision to step out of active politics after the 2007 elections and I have been inactive ever since.

LT: From your experience in the civil service, how do you think it should be structured for it to be effective?

Phoofolo: We had a three-party government following the 2012 elections. That coalition was proof that Basotho were tired of Ntate Mosisili’s leadership after he had been prime minister for 15 years. Unfortunately, that coalition led by Ntate (Thomas) Thabane didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? It was the result of what I would call the biggest political enemy in Lesotho, and that is poverty. People are fighting to control government. People want to line their pockets to the detriment of national development. During Ntate Mosisili’s previous regime (29 May 1998 to 8 June 2012), something very unfortunate happened to the civil service; it became very politicised. This politicisation manifested itself in what the government of the day did by making principal secretaries contracted officers. That was bound to bring instability.

LT: But what was happening prior to this?

Phoofolo: Civil servants are supposed to be professionals. The Public Service Commission, which is the recruiting agency of government, was responsible for the recruitment of all classes of civil servants but stopped at deputy PS level; it did not recruit PSs and deputy PSs. Because we were using the British system of governance, these were being appointed by cabinet but on a permanent basis. The PSs were loyal to the government of the day, not political parties as is the case now. I once worked under the BNP government, while I was not a supporter of the party. But I was clear on one thing: mine was to be honest to the government of the day although I had always supported the BCP. Government comes with programmes which are worked out by civil servants who are the experts. Ministers should not be involved in the day-to-day administration of government departments. That is the responsibility of senior civil servants. The New Zealand report (written last year after a group of local politicians, civil society members and senior government officials had visited New Zealand to study the country’s governance under a coalition administration) strongly recommends that because our civil service is now very politicised, only political will can depoliticise it. The report requires government to ensure the service is neutralised. I want to reiterate that when PSs started to be appointed on a contract basis, that was when government effectively politicised the civil service.

Some senior civil servants would contest elections and when they lost, still come back to the public service. What is happening in Lesotho is very unique, hence I am shocked by Ntate Mosisili’s recent announcement that his government will get rid of senior civil servants who don’t support the seven parties in government. He is again politicising the civil service by adding that those political appointees will automatically leave when the government’s term ends. It was not correct for him to suggest this is the practice all over the world. Our government claims to be following the Westminster model, but this is only true to a certain extent. In some instances, we don’t follow that model of governance. We just pay lip-service to some of the ethics and principles of British democracy because there is no democracy in our politics. We have politics of poverty in Lesotho; of aligning to a certain political party at the expense of development.

LT: Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi—the chairperson of the SADC Commission of Inquiry probing Lesotho’s prevailing security and political challenges —has described the country as fertile ground for instability due to many parties. Do you agree with this observation?

Phoofolo: He is definitely right. The formation of all these political parties is not a question of principle; it is a question of saying ‘I also want to have a share in government.’ They all want to be in parliament. Last year when parliament reconvened after prorogation by Ntate Thabane, His Majesty appealed that ‘good people, put the interests of the country first’. But the first thing that Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said in parliament, which was echoed by most of the MPs, was ‘what is going to happen to our gratuities?’ That became an issue in parliament, instead of addressing the King’s statement. They were just concerned about their money. The very same people who had said they were patriots serving this country, gave themselves M500,000 loans, tax-free, when ordinary citizens continued to suffer. They are burdening the country’s finances with such excesses.

LT: Government says it is committed to constitutional reforms that would make Lesotho a better place. Do you believe this is possible?

Phoofolo: When you look at the delegation that went to New Zealand, there are people in the current government who were part of that tour. Those people include the Minister of Local Government, Pontšo Sekatle, and Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane. The government cannot be telling us that they are reformist when they cannot even comply with a report that some of them were party to. I remember Ntate Metsing saying every Mosotho is entitled to employment, yet government is firing people on political grounds.

LT: What would be your advice to government?

Phoofolo: Our leaders should be honest about the civil service. They should not tamper with it, but leave it to be professional. They should not politicise it. A strong civil service can sustain the country. Way back in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Italy was very unstable. You know what sustained that country? Its civil service. Prime ministers were coming and going, but the government of Italy survived because they had a very strong civil service.

LT: Are there any other challenges you foresee for Lesotho?

Phoofolo: Our army; it is being manipulated by politicians. The problem is not only those people in the army; even the politicians are to blame. The BCP government was destabilised by the army, leading to the death of Nate Baholo. When you look back, you will find that politicians have been using army elements to achieve their own goals for a long time. So basically, what is happening with our army today is not new. The Council of State (which advises His Majesty) also needs to be looked into. Its composition is unfortunately dominated by civil servants who owe their allegiance not necessarily to the King, but prime minister.

LT: So what do you suggest should happen concerning the army?

Phoofolo: Surely for a country like Lesotho, what does it need an army for? Take that annual budget of over M500 million that is used to buy armoured vehicles and rifles for use against Basotho and channel it to developing the country. Small countries like Lesotho, some of them don’t have armies, they have guards. This can be learnt from Costa Rica which demobilised its army. The Seychelles also don’t have an army.

LT: Lastly, what do you think of the on-going SADC Commission of Inquiry?

Phoofolo: I am quite happy with the way the commission is going. At least it is revealing what has been happening in our country. One can only hope its recommendations, once endorsed by SADC, will be implemented by government. There should be no favours. If the commission  recommends that certain people must be charged, so be it. That, I think, will be a good starting point in rebuilding this country.

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