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Reform the public sector first



Allow me put this interesting fact to your attention. But before I do, please fasten your seatbelts because this is going to blow you away. Those of you that suffer from hypertension, please take your pills right away.

Here we go! Did you know that an agricultural company named OVK (Oos Vrystaad Kaap) that is headquartered in Ladybrand had an annual revenue (in the year 2021) that is larger than three of the biggest companies in Lesotho combined (Letšeng Diamond, Standard Lesotho Bank and Vodacom Lesotho). Combined! U li matahantse.

Now, this really made me wonder a lot of things here. Firstly, do we have an economy to start with? Two: have you ever seen people going for a workshop in Ladybrand? Three: What are we really doing with our time?

Have you ever seen people in Ladybrand running up and down like headless chickens, between the PS’s office and the office of the Minister? (Ntate PS o re bitselitse lekaleng) Of course not!

Farmers respect time. They know how to maximise their time. They don’t have time to waste on stupid things like workshops or strategic planning sessions.

But this then proves a point I made last week that there’s money in agriculture. Now, had OVK been headquartered in Maseru, it could have easily been the biggest and most profitable company in Lesotho. Wow! I need to refill my glass of wine. These facts are mind blowing. I’ll be back just now.

In any case, I wonder where a character named Motlatsi Malope is? It’s been a while since I last saw him. He once told me a funny story that got stuck in my head for the last twenty-two years.

Around the year 2000, I met this interesting character Motlatsi Malope. A very cheerful fellow. He told me a story about his days in school at ‘Mabathoana High School. Sometime in the 80’s.

So, in the morning before class started, the class converged for the Lord’s Prayer, then followed by a hymn and the National Anthem. Wish the same could be imposed on our unpatriotic public servants.

As the story goes, the teacher that started off with the morning class, first period, would then kick-off the Lord’s prayer by saying, “Our Father”, then the students would respond in a chorus and say, “Who art in heaven”.

So, one day a new Indian teacher was appointed to teach book-keeping (accounting). The young Indian male teacher was of Hindu religion and knew nothing about Christianity. So you can imagine how it must have been starting off a new job at a Catholic school.

Before the new teacher started off, for the first period, he was briefed on how to conduct the morning-prayer. As I said, he was of Hindu religion. So the other teachers told him, “Just say, Our Father, then the kids will respond”. He said, “What? Our Father?” The other teachers said yes, “Our Father. Just remember, Our Father. Family, Family!”

The young teacher walked to class memorising the family member but by the time he got to class he had mixed up all the family members. When he entered the classroom, the students abruptly rose-up and it was time for him to do his honours and kick-start the Lord’s prayer.

He then said, “Our Mother” and the class froze and kept quiet. There was no response. He then said, “Zorry”. Then proceeded to say, “Our aunty”. No response. He then said, “Zorry”. Next family member. “Our broder (brother)”. No response. “Zorry”

One of the girls in the front seat had to whisper to him and say, “Sir, Our Father”. He was now dripping in sweat and gave it a last shot and said, Our Father”. Wow! The class responded in a loud chorus and said, “who art in heaven”.

I’m pretty sure that some of them didn’t even know what to say and went on to say, “ho u’a neng Durban”(when are we going to durban). Those are Catholics for you. They’ll respond to anything. No questions asked.

Now, what is so important this story that I have just narrated to you? Yes, it is full of stereotypes and assumptions. You see, the problem with stereotypes is that they are very unfair because they generalise.

They generalise on a dominating behaviour or habits of a minority group. It’s like generalising and saying all Nigerians are drug dealers. Or all Basotho women are domestic workers. Or all Basotho men are Zama-Zama’s. Or all politicians are liars and corrupt.

Or all Zimbabwean’s are…, no, no, forget about it, let’s carry on with the topic at hand. I had to narrate this story because I am going to talk and discuss a topic on Lesotho civil servants/public servants.

Yes, of course, there are excellent, hard-working and dedicated public servants in the Government of Lesotho. Good and disciplined men and women.
However, their hard work is always undermined by a few rotten apples in the bag. Lazy, ill-disciplined and corrupt men and women that undermine His Majesty and the taxpayers at large.

Talking about taxpayers, don’t you find it funny that our public servants never thought of consulting the taxpayers when they demanded a 20 percent salary increase/increment?

No, public servants thought the right person to bark at is the Minister of Finance and forgot that their salaries come straight from the taxpayers. The irony of it all! Maybe it’s time to establish an NGO or lobby-group and name it ‘The Tax Payers Forum’ that will protect interest of the taxpayer.

Look, the taxpayers are often taken for granted in Lesotho. In fact they are so disrespected. For example, taxpayers are obliged to pay for vehicle registration by renewing their licence discs, but the roads are full of pot-holes. Isn’t it time for the Traffic Department and Roads Directorate to account for all the money that is being paid for to renew the discs?

At this point, we are exactly on 1000 words on the word count and it’s time to get to the point and here is the gist of today’s topic. I really got concerned when Ntate Matekane recently appeared on Lesotho Television and said turning Lesotho’s economy around will be very simple (ke bosesane ba khoele). Well, when he becomes PM after winning the general elections.

My response was, “Hmmmm! If only he knew how Lesotho civil servants are”. Hoja o ne a tseba bahlanka. Ntate Matekane has a mountain to climb and it won’t be an easy ride should he be the next Prime Minister of Lesotho.

The first thing he needs to focus on is to reform the public service. This is at the core of all our problems and the MCC Compact-Two grant should’ve focused on this. Rather focused on that.

Why do I say so and where do I even start? It is a well-known fact that our public servants are catalysts of corruption in Lesotho. Yes, politicians are corrupt but the enablers of corruption are the public servants.

Two; the public service has lost its work ethic. You know, I was once told of a story about how Ntate Tom used to perform as a young public servant.

I am told that Ntate Leabua would tell him, “Monna, ke batla report ena Labone”. Meaning, I want this report by Thursday. However, on Tuesday morning, Ntate Tom would knock on the PM’s door and say, “Se ke qetile Ntate”. Meaning, “I’m here to submit the report”. He worked like a Rolls Royce engine and Ntate Leabuoa loved him because he was dependable, disciplined and hardworking.

All those attributes don’t exist in our public service today. You have people that have a deep sense of entitlement. Yes, they think the public service is their mother’s place. You might as well translate it into Sesotho for a perfect meaning.

I’m telling you, unless the public sector reforms are conducted, we are simply going nowhere as a country. Public servants have held this country hostage and they know how to sabotage the system. Why did IFMIS fail in Lesotho?

Na le tseba Bahanka tjee! They will laugh with you and be nice and peaceful people, whilst they are planning your downfall. Ke bo maloma ba folisa. They’ll always act innocent and blame politicians yet they are termites that will eat the core of a tree and leave it to collapse.

Have you ever wondered why the construction of the Royal Palace will never be completed? Do you realise that the costs are now way above M600 million? Do you realise that it is going to embarrass His Majesty and his family? Who are at the core of this mess? Hmmm!

Yes, of course, this generalisation is unfair towards good and hardworking public-servants. However, the rotten potatoes have gone on to contaminate the entire potato bag.

My advice to Ntate Sam Matekane is: should you win the elections, prioritise on public sector reforms. Trim the tree and get highly qualified, competent and capable PS’s.

Trim it and get rid of all the useless branches. For an apple or apricot tree to bear big and healthy fruits, the useless branches need to be trimmed off and the tree has to be kept as lean as possible.

This is the only way to achieve a capable state. Unfortunately, if the public service sector is bloated and full of unqualified, incompetent and corrupt people, it will undermine any good and noble intentions.

In closing, my take is that, the public-service sector reforms are imperative and should be the point of departure post the 2022 general elections.

‘Mako Bohloa

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