Refiloe Masemene is the minister of justice, human rights, law and constitutional affairs in Lesotho. A blind man, he has a wonderful grasp of international and African affairs. Baffour Ankomah and Khalid Bazid interviewed him in late March in Maseru, about the extraordinary case in which the Lesotho government has taken some powerful Western multinational companies to court for corrupting some officials of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (see NA, Dec 2002). Here are excerpts.
New African: This corruption case at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) and your government's determination to pursue it in court with all vigour, is very unAfrican. Tell us more, and why you are not giving any quarter to the Western multinationals?
Masemene: You see, there was this high profile case of bribery involving the chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, and the high court sentenced him to 18 years in prison. He has lodged an appeal, which is going to be heard in April.
NA: What about the companies? A Canadian company was found guilty by the high court; is it appealing as well?
Masemene: Yes, it is appealing as well. Initially the company was fined two million maloti (equivalent to two million South African rand) by the high court. The company appealed, and the appeal is also going to be heard in April. There are also a number of other foreign companies lined up for court--British companies, French companies and many more. As you are aware, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is a multi-million dollar project and there are a number of donors involved, and as such that bribery case was a big, big issue.
NA: Was it that important, so much that you should stake Lesotho's reputation on it?
Masemene: Of course, yes! What is really important is the fact that Lesotbo, being a small democratic kingdom, abhors corruption. We live in a world where people preach to us about transparency, democratisation, good governance, and all that. By that, I think, they mean that both big and small countries, founders of the United Nations, are equal before the law.
You are aware that Lesotho is subsumed into, or is an enclave within, the Republic of South Africa, and the living conditions are similar except that our share of the cake is small. It is simply because in the pre-colonial era, Lesotho became a subsistence economy in which the population was expected to feed itself But because of the migratory labour system involving the big multinational companies, most...