OP-EDs

OP-ED: DOWNSIZE CABINET TO 14 MINISTERS

By Tsikoane Peshoane

In light of the troubling issues of governance in the state, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) wishes to express worrying concern with the incoming government post the Thabane-Led administration.

Warranting this concern in particular, are issues comprising of cabinet size in relation to its upkeep, criteria for ministerial selection, the calibre of politically appointed technocrats, current use of funds and procedures of appropriation bill withdrawal.

With regards to determining cabinet size in relation to its upkeep, the formation of the intended two (2) party coalition government with eight (8) political parties pledging their additional support poses a serious threat on determining the number of ministerial portfolios this government is likely to have.

This is an issue of concern because it translates to unnecessary, extravagant spending. In a country with a GDP of approximately US$ 2.7 billion and a population of 1.8 million people, it is unacceptable that a ministerial package and a deputy ministerial package (minister/ deputy minister, 11/10 support staff) cost the country no less than M220 000 per package, per month.

A truly staggering figure particularly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the souring poverty rate for the multitudes of Basotho out there. The upkeep of (27) ministerial portfolios and their eight (8) deputy ministers for a cabinet total of thirty-five (35) costs the state approximately seven million, seven hundred thousand maloti of public funds on a monthly basis.

It is therefore not a request but a necessity that the incoming government downsizes from the outgoing 2017 cabinet structure that cannot be reiterated enough.

Due to the worryingly patronage- centric system of politics in Lesotho however, the Centre has enough reason to suspect that cabinet may be increased instead as an attempt to reward political loyalty and allegiances.

A cabinet structured solely to reward parties pledging their support for the formation of new government rather than on any clearly defined criteria whatsoever casts doubt on that cabinet`s ability to address Basotho’s dire needs and combat the pandemic.

TRC condemns this practice as such and warns of the incoming premier to be more vigilant.

In addition, establish a clear criterion for the selection of ministers and deputy minsters through a hybrid system that prioritizes unfamiliarity, creativity, professional and academic credentials over experience.

The result will most likely be individuals devoted to the acquisition of legitimacy from Basotho in a relatively relentless manner while simultaneously ensuring the improvement service dispensation.

A cabinet structured with familiar faces who have failed the nation before does not inspire confidence for improved service delivery and a cabinet established on the basis of patronage will definitely fail the nation again, as it has done numerous times before.

Members of Parliament appointed into ministerial portfolios they are absolutely clueless about enhances dearth services as has been witnessed before in this outgoing regime with examples including, but not limited to the Ministry of Local Government failing to decentralize for six years despite the presence of a clear decentralization policy and two administrations along with the Ministry of Small Business failing the thousands of Basotho farmers regarding the notorious wool and mohair debacle.

In relation to the calibre of politically appointed technocrats moreover, it is dire that these positions prioritize expertise over patronage as well. Principal Secretaries and Basotho that comprise diplomatic missions should be professionals appointed on the basis of a merit-based system only.

Other criteria risk appointment of incompetent people into strategically prominent positions and in turn, become liabilities instead of assets. The culture of Patronage should definitely come to an end if the nation is to be efficiently and effectively served as it so desperately needs.

Cognizant of the current use of funds, the outgoing government regime fails dismally to explain how state funds are accessed and ultimately utilised. That section 113, Constitution of Lesotho, (Authorisation of expenditure in advance of appropriation) was not publicly invoked; and public funds accordingly utilised as result; is a clear indication of disregard of the state`s supreme law by government. Such acts should be avoided by government as they are at the very least unconstitutional.

Though the centre notes the temporary withdrawal of the budget by Finance Minister on May 6th, 2020 citing revenue collections by the LRA, it is intrinsic that these budget estimates be expeditiously articulated and legitimised by the legislature lest it risks being overtaken by events.

Though procedurally flawed, this withdrawal is reminiscent of TRC’s earlier recommendation to refrain from allocating state funds before stabilizing government. The appropriate manner for withdrawing that bill ought to have been through the use of a motion.

The result is perpetuated government instability and more worryingly, the lack of “satisfactory” preparation to combat COVID-19 particularly after Lesotho confirmed its first case.

Au courant with these prevailing circumstances, the centre therefore recommends the incoming government to:

  • Shift fiscal Policy for there is a pressing need to realign fiscal policy with the COVID-19 threat. In an attempt to respond to this pandemic, this policy should only be directed towards initiatives that deal with containing the virus and social programmes aimed at supporting the Basotho whose means of livelihood have been negatively affected by the scourge. The intended coalition government should demonstrably commit to these objectives exclusively given that the country is in the middle of a 5-year elective term.
  • Effectively and efficiently apply Austerity Measures for this is not the time for extravagant spending. The state is faced with an eminent economic threat post COVID 19 which desperately warrants these types of measures. Moreover, these have, for a long time been the rhetoric of the Minister of Finance, soon to be the Prime Minister. These measure have been proposed to curb government spending and promote service delivery but have never been utilized. In the spirit of these measures, the Centre wishes to particularly single out areas that are likely to be the biggest in terms of spending which are;
  • Merging of Ministries
  • Operational needs of the cabinet in the execution of their mandate

With regards to Cabinet Size, the Centre wishes the intended coalition:

  • Merges ministries to ultimately result to a cabinet size of not more than fourteen (14) in the following manner;
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security merged to Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation
  • Ministry of Defence and National Security merged to Ministry of Police and Public Safety and to Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Correctional Services and to Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs with a Deputy Minister Portfolio.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations merged to Ministry of Small Business Development, Co-operatives and Marketing merged to Ministry of Trade and Industry with a Deputy Minister Portfolio.
  • Ministry of Finance merged to Ministry of Development Planning.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs merged to Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture merged to Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs with a Deputy Minister Portfolio.
  • Ministry of Social Development merged to Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation
  • Ministry of Water Affairs merged to Ministry of Mining
  • Ministry of Public Works merged to Ministry of Transport
  • Ministry of Public Service merged to Ministry of Labour and Employment
  • Ministry of Communication, Science & Technology merged to Ministry of Education and Training
  • Ministry of Health
  • Operational needs of the cabinet in the execution of their mandate

The Centre further advices against the worrying prevailing trend that of coalition governments in Lesotho of establishing deputy minister portfolios without providing a clear criterion of allocation. That one ministerial office had two deputy ministers, particularly the Ministry of Education and at the Prime Minister’s Office echoes this concern.

The Centre wishes to further remind the nation that the COVID 19 pandemic finds the state unprepared because the legislature overwhelmingly disregarded the centre`s advice to stabilize government before presenting the budget estimates.

The centre wishes the Members of Parliament exercise more careful consideration in similar circumstances. More prominently however the centre wishes better services for the Basotho nation which have been the hallmark of the outgoing regime. May that wish be honoured! If you want Peace, Work for Justice!!!!!!!!!!!! NW

Tsiakoane Peshoane is the Director of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) –  an ecumenical resource Centre that advocates for justice, peace and participatory development.

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