End of an era

. . . as MPs sit for the last time in the 8th Par­lia­ment to­mor­row

Lesotho Times - - News - Bongiwe Zih­langu

LE­SOTHO’S 8th Par­lia­ment is set to be dis­solved to­mor­row, paving the way for Prime Min­is­ter (PM) Thomas Tha­bane’s care­taker gov­ern­ment un­til an elec­tion is held in Fe­bru­ary next year.

The dis­so­lu­tion is in line with the Maseru Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Dec­la­ra­tion (MFD) po­lit­i­cal party lead­ers signed on 2 Oc­to­ber 2014 to en­sure the coun­try re­turns to nor­malcy. Le­sotho has been po­lit­i­cally un­sta­ble since Dr Tha­bane and his coali­tion gov­ern­ment part­ner, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­th­etjoa Mets­ing, fell­out early this year over the premier’s al­leged fail­ure to con­sult his fel­low prin­ci­pals when mak­ing de­ci­sions with a bear­ing on good gov­er­nance.

The squab­bling prompted the sign­ing of the MFD that was bro­kered by the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC).

Un­der the Dec­la­ra­tion, Par­lia­ment was to open on 17 Oc­to­ber and dis­solved early De­cem­ber and a snap elec­tion held in Fe­bru­ary 2015. Ini­tially, Le­sotho was sup­posed to hold its gen­eral elec­tion in 2017 but after the break­down of re­la­tions be­tween Dr Tha­bane and Mr Mets­ing, SADC bro­kered the MFD through South African Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, in an ef­fort to defuse the in­creas­ingly volatile sit­u­a­tion.

To­mor­row’s dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment marks the penul­ti­mate stage of the MFD, with the poll ex­pected to con­clude the process and what has been a pro­tracted strug­gle for power be­tween All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) leader Dr Tha­bane and his Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy (LCD) coun­ter­part, Mr Mets­ing.

The other coali­tion part­ner, Th­e­sele ‘ Maserib­ane of the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (BNP), has stood by Dr Tha­bane through­out the feud­ing, which reached cri­sis point in June this year when Mr Mets­ing pub­licly em­braced the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Congress (DC) led by Pakalitha Mo­sisili, while also hint­ing at form­ing a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with the for­mer prime min­is­ter.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Le­gal No­tice 101 of 2014 is­sued by the PM’s of­fice and ap­proved by King Letsie III on 26 Novem­ber 2014, Par­lia­ment would be dis­solved to­mor­row, ef­fec­tively end­ing its five-year ten­ure half­way through.

The Le­gal No­tice reads: “I, King Letsie III, pur­suant to Sec­tion 83 (1), (2) and (4) of the con­sti­tu­tion of Le­sotho, and act­ing in ac­cor­dance with the ad­vice of the Prime Min­is­ter, pro­claim that the Eight Par­lia­ment of Le­sotho, shall stand dis­solved on the 5th De­cem­ber, 2014”.

But be­cause Le­sotho’s con­sti­tu­tion does not make pro­vi­sion for a care­taker gov­ern­ment or im­pose any lim­i­ta­tions on what its main func­tions should be, the trend has been that the premier makes con­tro­ver­sial yet le­gal de­ci­sions dur­ing this in­terim pe­riod.

A Pri­vate Mem­bers’ Bill brought to the Na­tional Assem­bly two weeks ago by the LCD’s Tha­bang Pheko and Retšelisit­soe Masenyetse of the DC, propos­ing that pro­vi­sions for a care­taker gov­ern­ment be in­cluded in the con­sti­tu­tion, could not be dis­cussed due to time-con­straints.

Speak­ing to the Le­sotho Times yes­ter­day, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Tsikoane Peshoane, said be­cause of lack of con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal in­stru­ments to man­age provisional gov­ern­ments, the premier “con­tin­ues to run gov­ern­ment just as a ca­sual agree­ment and/or un- der­stand­ing”.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Peshoane, who is Pro­grammes Di­rec­tor at rights or­gan­i­sa­tion Trans­for­ma­tion Re­source Cen­tre (TRC), a care­taker gov­ern­ment could broadly be de­scribed as an in­terim ad­min­is­tra­tion which rules pend­ing the out­come of a de­ter­min­ing event.

In Le­sotho’s case, Mr Peshoane adds, the de­ter­min­ing event is next Fe­bru­ary’s gen­eral elec­tion.

“But in Le­sotho’s case, the con­cept of a care­taker gov­ern­ment may as well be deemed non-ex­is­tent, be­cause there are no le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions stip­u­lat­ing what its func­tions and lim­i­ta­tions are,” Peshoane says.

“But in coun­tries where there are laws en­trenched in the con­sti­tu­tion, it is specif­i­cally pro­vided what func­tions can­not be un­der­taken dur­ing this tran­si­tional pe­riod.”

But, he adds, the common prac­tice in Le- sotho is that once the elec­toral pe­riod starts “gov­ern­ment does not al­ways start big projects”.

“Nor­mally, gov­ern­ment, through its min­is­ters, will sus­pend the launch of big projects but only strive to fin­ish al­ready ex­ist­ing ones,” Mr Peshoane says.

“Here, min­is­ters sim­ply choose not to launch projects to avoid con­tro­versy dur­ing this sen­si­tive pe­riod.”

How­ever, Mr Peshoane is quick to add the common prac­tice is to make key de­ci­sions that would nor­mally be made by a le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment.

“Dur­ing this pe­riod, con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions or ap­point­ments to key gov­ern­ment po­si­tions can be made and that doesn’t mean any­one is break­ing the law,” Mr Peshoane says.

“Re­mem­ber, this is a not a care­taker gov­ern­ment in the true sense of the word, be­cause it is not de­fined by the con­sti­tu­tion but just a ca­sual agree­ment/un­der­stand­ing.”

Mr Peshoane then cites, as an ex­am­ple, the ap­point­ment of Le­sotho De­fence Com­man­der ( LDF) Com­man­der Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tlali Kamoli, who was el­e­vated to the post by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili in 2012 after the dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment, which paved the way for that year’s 26 May poll.

“Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Kamoli’s ap­point­ment, for ex­am­ple, was con­tro­ver­sial but not nec­es­sar­ily il­le­gal,” Mr Peshoane says.

On the other hand, Mr Peshoane says the re­cent con­fir­ma­tion of Gov­ern­ment Sec­re­tary Moahloli Mphaka, on the eve of the dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment “is a decision that could have been deemed con­tro­ver­sial if he was con­firmed fol­low­ing par­lia­ment’s dis­so­lu­tion”.

“It was just a strate­gic move to con­firm him be­fore the dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment, as do­ing it later would have def­i­nitely at­tracted a great deal of con­tro­versy,” Mr Peshoane says.

On his part, Chief ‘ Maserib­ane yes­ter­day told the Le­sotho Times that as far as he was con­cerned and based on the pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion, “Tha­bane is the PM and the sole au­thor­ity to run the care­taker gov­ern­ment un­til after the elec­tion”.

“As far as the con­sti­tu­tion is con­cerned, ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one is an­swer­able to the PM dur­ing the tran­si­tional pe­riod.

“I am told there are some peo­ple who want a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity to be formed be­fore the dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment to usher Le­sotho into the 2015 elec­tions.

“It is quite funny be­cause th­ese are the same peo­ple who want the re­main­der of their M500, 000 loans to be set­tled by gov­ern­ment, but I tell you they will not see it hap­pen.”

Mean­while, the Coun­cil of State, a body that ad­vices the King on key is­sues and decision-mak­ing, is ex­pected to sit to­day to de­cide on a date for the elec­tion. The King is then ex­pected to make a pub­lic an­nounce­ment on the poll.

Par­lia­ment’s dis­solv­ing paves the way for a snap elec­tion to be held in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

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