By ‘Majirata Latela
Take a lot of money, a plague, gluttonous politicians and incompetent and ignorant civil servants. Stir well. What do you get? A gang of voracious red-bellied piranhas raiding a carcass in a tiny cesspool.
Indeed, millions of Maloti in taxpayers’ money have gone down the drain as the now defunct National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) failed dismally to deliver on its mandate to save Basotho from the Covid-19 pandemic Corona Virus.
The M40million allocated to the NECC to prepare for the pandemic between March and June cannot be accounted for; there is no paper trail. In the meantime, Covid-19 continues to cut swathes through the country; 23 of the 8771 people diagnosed with the deadly virus have died to date, and every finger is pointing in the direction of the inept questionably assembled NECC.
Its successor, the National Covid19 Secretariat (Nacosec) also claims to have a backlog of swabs waiting to be tested because there was only one testing machine since May. Getting contact tracing right is still a challenge in the country thus far while mass testing still seems not to be on the cards, at least not in the foreseeable future.
As if that is not bad enough, some quarantine facilities are still not in good condition and the two hospitals initially earmarked to provide professional care to Covid-19 patients still lack ventilators and enough beds.
The minister of health Motlatsi Maqelepo admits that the rate at which people are dying from Covid-19 could have been avoided if NECC had done its job. Coordination, or lack of it, he says, has proved to be NECC’s major downfall.
“Bureaucracy when it comes to financial decisions seems to have been the biggest challenge that affected negatively the running of the Centre leading to its failure to deliver what was required of it.
“We were supposed to have prepared on time, especially because unlike other countries we had plenty of time to prepare which, if we had used well, we could have avoided many infections.
“God gave us the chance to get ready because we do not have many travellers, which delayed us getting infections.”
Maqelepo continues to show that things like personal protective equipment (PPE) and quarantine facilities are the first things that NECC should have procured and made sure they arrived on time. However, he said they are still waiting for a report of how the funds were used, and they will take that up with the Accountant General.
As for Nacosec, its Chief of Administration and Staff, Thabo Ntoi has indicated the fact that those who were entrusted with preparing for the pandemic did not do the job has resulted in the country not getting PPEs and proper medication to help those in hospitals recover.
“It is a fact that Covid-19 is there and Lesotho has failed its people in that it failed to prepare. Yes, people are dying and we could have at least secured all that is needed so that if people die we could say we did our part and we left the rest to God.
“Making sure we have independence on testing was one of the things that we could have done but instead Nacosec is only doing that now as we speak, and there is a huge backlog on testing that needs to be done.
“Currently, we do not have accurate numbers such that we could say people a certain number of people died from Covid19 because some people still die without having tested or having received their test results, and that means the numbers that we have may not be a true reflection of the reality on the ground,” Ntoi pointed out.
He further said inability to test all people and have them quarantined, means in a short space of time everyone will be infected without knowing because contact tracing is still a challenge. Nevertheless, Nacosec is working around the clock to correct NECC’s wrongs.
Meanwhile, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisation’s programme director, Sekonyela Mapetja has on the other hand said he is not sure if what happened at NECC was actually corruption, but indicated it was just a microcosm of how government institutions work on a daily basis.
“Government itself is ineffective by design and they would fail at one point or the other; the way government is structured and the way they operate is meant to waste public funds and fail to account for them.
“Before corruption in government, there is always extravagant use of money; this was shown removing public officers from their offices and feeding them when they perform their work. That was not necessary at all,” Mapetja said.
He further indicated that Nacosec should work to deliver performance because it is not government, they should not use government rates to procure because it is a fact that procuring at that rate is rather expensive and people should avoid using Covid-19 to create wealth for themselves.
He advised Nacosec to also use a limited number of people to do the work, work within small time frames, work effectively and efficiently, consult extensively because as it is they are meant to lead in the fight while professionals do the work.
He added that they should also make sure to coordinate all the stakeholders so that in the end the regulations that they set should not surprise or cripple the already struggling economy. Accountability, he said, is one of the of the basics that Nacosec should strive to have so as to steer clear of corrupt systems of procuring.
“Above all, in the human development index, Lesotho ranks between 158 and 165 among 180 countries, and health is one of the parameters that are used to measure its human development. Covid19 has come at a time when Lesotho’s mortality rate is already bad and by nature our country is reactive in the sense that it only works on curing rather than educating people on ways to take care of themselves.
“The most effective way to fight Covid-19 is through education; if many people are educated on the virus and are made to understand the pandemic, Lesotho would not be where it is with the fatality and positive cases,” Mapetja argued.