Covid-19’s Sacrificial Lambs in Lesotho: Orwellian and Strategic Game Theoretic Reliefs in Favour of the Government

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Introduction

Just as the world economy, communities and families across the world were coming to terms experiencing the aftershocks of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and threatened the world with the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1928. The verdict from the IMF on what they call the Great Lockdown summarised by Linda Van Tilburg in an article titled IMF outlook on World economy: the worst recession since the Great Depression is that it is the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis. 

Apart from the ‘c-induced’ health crisis, the pandemic has rapidly ignited a colossal economic crisis. It is against the background of this economic crisis that governments, including that of Lesotho, have had to formulate fiscal, monetary and macro-financial relief measures aimed at mitigating the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 and to provide support to individuals, households, firms and the financial markets crucial for a recovery.

The Government of Lesotho under its duty of guarantee in line with the Constitution, human rights treaties and conventions has an obligation to protect its citizens from the economic impact of this crisis additional to the Ministry of Health’s Preparedness and Response Plan. Ultimately, the fiscal and macro-economic relief policy measures guarantee citizens’ right to life, well-being and health. Under this, the government has a positive duty to ensure the existence of policy measures engineered for effective softening of the economic impact of Covid-19.

This economic obligation, as regards the economic crisis emanating from this global health crisis encompasses the duty to ensure availability of fiscal, monetary and macro-financial reliefs to protect citizens’ sources of income and livelihood in such a precarious socio-economic situation which exists without any fault on their part. Among others, the informal sector and SMEs are experiencing outbreak’s repercussions especially hard, and individuals dependent on them are bearing the brunt of the distress. This does not necessarily mean the government will succeed or save every income, employee, firm but government’s earnest efforts are often appreciated.

However, the question which remains is whether the government personnel, as in individual leaders’ intent making sacrifices in order to play active roles in solidarity with people to assist the populace struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Selected Fiscal, Monetary and Macro-financial reliefs

While still awaiting the development of National Covid-19 Response Integrated Plan 2020 in collaboration with development partners, the government of Lesotho on the 13th day of April 2020 rolled out fiscal, monetary and macro-financial reliefs to bail out the economy with stimulus packages.

Among a host, the government promised wage subsidies to the factories and textile workers for a 3(three) months period. The tax relief proposed is primarily a 3(three) months deferment of PAYE, VAT and CIT to ease the burden on those vulnerable firms and individuals. However, this is only deferred for a period of 3 months. Other measures include credit facilities and 3(three) months deferment period on payment of existing facilities from banks. Due to the local currency’s peg to South Africa’s Rand, no exchange rate and balance of payments measures were proposed.

A one sided zero-sum game by the government

Strategic Nash’s Equilibrium: Stability and Efficiency Benefiting Government

Apart from the increasing precarity of work, Covid-19 has exposed fundamental flaws in the capitalist economic structure in which the Lesotho constitution exists to assure that all human beings are equal under it. The existence of a social contract in a form of a constitution coordinates human behaviour on equilibrium in the game of life holding together like a drystone wall or a masonry arch in David Hume’s metaphorical formulations.

As explored by the game theorist, Ken Binmore in his seminal work, “Natural Justice,” “the consequences of David Hume’s insight is that a social contract can be seen as a largely unrecognized consensus to coordinate on a particular equilibrium of the game of life that we play together.” In a constitutional setting, the consensus to coordinate on a particular equilibrium is maintained by the supreme law which guarantees non-discrimination and equality of all regardless of social status, race, religion, or gender.

However, the government’s relief strategies elicit a game theory twist in which the executive played a zero-sum game which ensured maximisation of its outcomes. These deployed strategies only aimed at the citizens without any sacrifice on those in government. The government utilised Nash’s Equilibrium achieving ultimate stability by placing almost all the burden on any other individuals other those in government in the same way Richard Dawkin’s selfish gene does.

The Executive’s next priority was efficiency, which means that nothing gets wasted on the part of individuals in government such that when the Covid-19 dust settles, those in executive, legislature and judiciary are better off while ordinary citizens come out worse off.

All Animals are Equal but some Animals are more Equal than Others

Animal Farm can be read as Orwell’s critique of the Russian Revolution which overthrew Czar Nicholas II in 1918 through its various phases onto Stalin’s assumption of power after Lenin’s death in 1924 to the collectivisation to the purges down to Russia’s struggles with Hitler’s Third Reich.

However, the book could also be viewed as an allegory on the overthrow or destruction of the capitalist superstructure enforced by the state and its laws that reinforce and sustain class divisions to produce a classless state. The end is not on the overthrow of a government that perpetuates divisions, it is a despotic government corrupted to the core by power.

It could also mean an overthrow of an oppressor which in our context could represent a lot of things including the past oppressive regimes to the installation of a regime which vowed to undertake sustainable transformation of the economy of Lesotho through a deliberate focus on the private sector; to work for lasting peace and stability of the nation; deepen democracy by strengthening democratic institutions including citizen participation, espouse good governance and reintroducing the culture of respect for human rights and civil liberties (Coalition Agreement, 2017). All these objectives have a connotation of equality before the law regardless of any one’s status.

At the start, the populace were convinced that all animals are equal. However, just like in the Animal Farm the elite pigs which occupy the highest offices in government change and run with the last hypocritical self-serving expression of the 7th commandment that evinces betrayal that “All Animals are Equal but some Animals are more equal than others.”

At this time a short summary is necessary to put the whole analogy into perspective. In the beginning, political power is concentrated in the farmer, Mr. Jones, who indulges himself while the animals starve. This basically represents the oppression of the populace by a dictatorial figure.

Just as the ultimate authority rests with the populace; in unity and against the same enemy, the animals easily overthrew Mr Jones. This could be analogous to the current regime which came in due to the colossal failure of the previous government whose actions perpetuated the economic inequality, social exclusion and poverty.

After the elections of 2017, it was clear that the people won against an oppressive vindictive regime which was mostly self-serving. With those whom the electorate placed into political offices, the electorate assumed that they overcame the political power itself and awarded heroes for overthrowing the despot with prestigious positions in government.  Apparently, the animals as the citizens thought they had achieved the elusive desire for freedom and equality.

Worse still, the government in the character of Napoleon, makes no contributions, either through policy or work but instead becomes tyrannical. It came to their realisation of the pigs as much as the electorate that they only overcame one of the forms that political power can take.

By the end of Chapter 2, Napoleon stealing the cows’ milk and the political power becoming bestowed in the pigs is reminiscent of the few in government who assume absolute control and power at the expense of everybody betraying the tenets of the revolution which installed the same in the first on the promise of equality, change and good governance.

Eventually, the awareness dawns on animals that the unity, freedom and equality they thought they achieved were never achieved after all. Then, it came to the realisation of the animals that the pigs through the central figure, Napoleon, assumed absolute political power by claiming all the resources, corruption, kleptocracy and the coercive powers.

Eventually, the Animalism commandments are changed to reflect the desire of those in control and the animals gradually realise that the oppression simply changed hands and the new rulers do not care as much about the life, wellbeing and the existence of the rest as long as they, the few, have their bellies full.

Due to the common interest, clearly the populace think they are in the same boat with those they bestow political power in with the belief that they will engender a society based on freedom and equality only to learn later that they are on their own and the few they placed in front have assumed absolute and it is corrupting them to the core. Instead of carrying the cross on behalf of the people, they force the cross on the people.

Application

The Prime Minister came up with a bait and as usual, the fishes fell for it. It is blindingly obvious that the populace alone is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. The proposals on Fiscal, Monetary and Macro-financial are so onerous and they come to bear on the populace.

Inversely, the Cabinet, Parliament and Judiciary are not sacrificing anything in solidarity with the populace which will be much hurt by both the health and economic crises. There are no salary cuts, no reduction on benefits or any sacrifice whatsoever in any manner. This essay wishes the day Covid-19 decides to visit, it will adopt the same selective approach sparing the populace which has already suffered so much in the hands of politicians in the calibre of Napoleon from Animal Farm.

The Prime Minister and the government are not even compromising on tax payments but rather adopted a deferring approach. It requires no English expert to understand that deferring CIT, PAYE and VAT for 3(three) months until September 2020 does not amount to a tax cut or deduction of any sort but rather creates a debt which will be paid to government when the dust settles.

Indeed, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition deferring means to put off to a later time; postpone. Why would the government wish to recover from citizens’ value which they had no time to create? Is it because eventually the money lands in their pockets and finances their luxurious lives?

While the lockdown will prove to be a burden to the ordinary citizens who are going to face retrenchments and immeasurable losses of income and time, it will pass with privileges and salaries of those in government unscathed. This pretty much reflects the hypocritical self-serving expression of the ever changing 7th Commandment of Animalism that “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

The commandment keeps changing to suit those in power the same way a politician occupying the highest political seat would attempt to use the same constitution which guarantees equality and non-discrimination to argue immunity from indictment of murder that does not exist and which an ordinary citizen relying on the same constitution would not even conceive.

Should it be only the poor and small scale business owners who should bear the burden? At the end of each month the citizens suffer, the Prime Minister and his cabinet will have their full salaries, full benefits, free electricity and free water among a host of privileges to those elites around the quintessential Napoleon in Animal Farm. What about those who are really suffering from lockdown? Why should only the less advantaged, the marginalised and the vulnerable feel the pinch and those they call “leaders” do not in solidarity share in their suffering?

On Friday, 8 May 2020, the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs made an announcement that the government is negotiating for ease of restrictions for those with diplomatic passports to access medical and health service in a better equipped foreign jurisdiction, Republic of South Africa. Initially, when the borders were closed as a measure to mitigate the risk of spread of Covid-19 in between countries, the populace was overjoyed that at least the politicians will be subjected to the same dilapidated health and medical facilities they neglected.

The Honourable Minister’s announcement proved that the populace’s perception was based on the wrong assumptions that “all animals will be equal” during Covid-19’s reign of terror. As a matter of fact, the Honourable Minister’s pronouncement was an unambiguous declaration that while the rest of the populace will have to face the terror of death in incapacitated health facilities, the politicians in positions of power with diplomatic passports were not similarly circumstanced.

With people flooding in from high risk areas in South Africa and with restrictions lifted, the whole population is compromised but the politicians and all those who enjoy benefits of diplomatic passports are better placed. This move is quintessential that indeed “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Also, as at this moment, for example, the petroleum companies will most definitely record lower revenues due to the diminished demand for crude oil and its products and fate forbids, they may need to cut down their staff. Who will the government bailout in due time? The retrenchments in the private sector are already brewing and it will only get worse while those in government will retain their employment as MPs and cabinet members as long as their divisive politics of mudslinging, anger and vindictiveness would not result in them overthrowing each other or even driving the country to next election.

Other than make the ultimate sacrifices in solidarity with the suffering population, the Prime Minister and his cabinet would rather enslave even future generations through an emergency loan deal from the World Bank. The willingness of the Prime Minister to lead the country into a known debt trap shows that the government is short of alternatives and it will even lead us into debt bondage to enslave even the future generations. However, because “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” the effects of national debts are not felt by the Napoleons with guaranteed salaries, benefits and privileges but the poor who are in need of socio-economic support.

Comparative Analysis

There are those leaders who have shown considerable compassion and empathy towards the citizens they serve. The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced along with her fellow government ministers that they would take a 20 per cent pay cut in solidarity with people struggling financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Paul Kagame, all cabinet members, Permanent secretaries, Heads of Public institutions and other senior officials in Rwandan government agreed to donate their April salaries to help in the fight against Coronavirus over and above on-going social protection initiatives.

Like the Rwandans, the Singaporean government officials including the president, cabinet ministers, and political office holders will take a one-month pay cut to “show solidarity with fellow Singaporeans.”

The Republic of South African President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa announced that the members of the executive will all take a 33% pay cut over the next three months. The president said that this money will be donated to the established Solidarity Fund. Saint Lucia’s Cabinet of Ministers has also reportedly agreed to a 75% salary reduction to help tackle the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Conclusion

President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan government’s solemn promise and undertaking to donate their April salaries is a worthy reminder that “leaders are the first to sacrifice and the last to be rewarded” as Chris Myers said in The Hard Truth About Good Leadership. This does not necessarily mean that such measure as salary reductions are sufficient or insufficient but this is a solemn reminder to politicians in government that the citizens need their support the most in these trying times.

Given how much politicians in cabinet, legislatures and the judicial officers earn, would it not be fair for them to sacrifice instead of evincing Orwellian characteristics and playing strategic game theoretic games with the people? It is not hard to discern that the cabinet which promised equality and fairness has now adopted the expression “keep the public rich, but the citizens poor” in the face of worst recession since the Great Depression of 1928.

John P, McComick in Economic and Political Inequality in Constitutions, Ancient and Modern Economic and Political Inequality in Constitutions, Ancient and Modern” astutely notes that “economic inequality is perhaps the greatest threat to the civic liberty that republics, ancient and modern, promise to citizens and liberty depends first and foremost on political equality: even citizens ought to influence law and policy making in a relative way otherwise, at the very least, government ought to be responsive and accountable to all citizens a fairly equal basis.”

However, in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, when the citizens mostly compassionate leaders, politicians turn their backs to sacrifice the very citizens who surrendered their civil liberties. This really proves that Orwell’s strong and pure prose that “All animals are equal … but some are more equal than others” is in fact a working reality.


Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Selibeng.com.

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