Selepe talks development and peace
THE government is seeking to amend the Local Government Elections Act of 1998 ahead of polls expected to be held later this year. The Local Government Elections Act Amendment Bill of 2016 seeks to transfer the powers of determining the election period from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to the Prime Minister, through the advice of the Local Government Minister. But this, according to rights group Development for Peace Education (DPE), could be a problem as explained by the organisation’s Peace Education Researcher: Public Participation and Policy Dialogue, ’Mankhatho Selepe, in this interview with Lesotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane.
LT: The Local Government Elections Act Amendment Bill of 2016…what is it all about, in a nutshell?
Selepe: The Local Government Elections Act Amendment Bill of 2016 seeks to amend certain sections of the Local Government Elections Act of 1998. The intention of the Amendment Bill, as stated on the document, is to address administrative issues, which is to close the gap on issues of separation of powers. The Local Government Elections Act of 1998 stipulates that the date or election period for Local Government Councils shall be determined by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). But the Amendment Bill seeks to remove those powers from the Commission. The Bill says the Commission should conduct the elections only, and not determine the poll period. It amends Sections 23, 24 and 25 of the Act which relate to the writ that calls for elections and states the poll timetable. Other than the Bill seeking to remove powers from the Commission to determine the election period, it also affects the tenure of Councils, which is currently five years.
LT: You say it seeks to transfer power but to who? And also, you speak of the tenure of Councils. Could you please elaborate further?
Selepe: The Bill transfers powers from the Commission to the Prime Minister, through the advice of the Local Government Minister. The Bill further provides for the Prime Minister to determine the election period within 12 months beyond the five-year Council term stipulated by the Act. This automatically means Councils’ tenure will be extended until the time the premier calls for the elections after five years.
LT: At what stage is this Amendment Bill?
Selepe: The Bill is currently before the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on the Prime Minister’s Ministries and Departments Cluster. The committee is working together with stakeholders to include the public’s opinion. It will eventually present a report before parliament, which is the next stage after consulting with all stakeholders.
LT: Where do you come in as the DPE?
Selepe: We come in one of the stakeholders which the committee also needs to consult. At the moment, I cannot say we have actually submitted any contribution before the committee as we are yet to consult with the public at grassroots level over this proposed change. We agreed with the committee that the DPE shall first have to consult with communities in eight constituencies where we operate. We even invited members of the committee to be part of one of our meetings with these communities so that they can observe and attest to what we are doing. One of the DPE programmes is Public Participation and Policy Dialogue where we advocate for public participation in decision-making.
LT: But what exactly is your problem with this Bill? Selepe: There is an issue or some debate over the Bill. Actually, since the Bill, there have been two conflicting sides as far as public opinion is concerned. One side supports the Bill. It agrees that the Bill rightly provides for separation of powers and closes administrative gaps. But the other side counter-argues the Bill is politically motivated. They say if the Prime Minister is now the one to determine and call for elections at the advice of the Local Government Minister that would somehow give them political mileage. They argue it is obvious the Prime Minister and Minister are politicians. They are saying this is like a political game where a player also wants to be a referee at the same time. So we, as the DPE, would want to weigh these two sides through a much more consultative approach with communities and see which side best works for the nation.
LT: So when are you consulting the communities about this issue?
Selepe: We started preparations this week. We are working with the Councils to call for public gatherings. But like I said, the DPE only operates in eight constituencies in the country. Fortunately, there other civil organisations operating in other constituencies. We have already invited the Committee to Thupa-kubu Constituency Number 26, in Berea, for our consultative meeting scheduled for Wednesday (yesterday). We are hoping the committee members are going to attend.
LT: Apart from Thupa-kubu, which are the other constituencies you are working with?
Selepe: We have Maligoaneng in Mokhotlong, ’Maliepetsane in Mafeteng, Mekaling and Hloahloeng in Mohale’s Hoek. We have divided Hloahloeng into two operational areas due to its geographical setup. We further operate in Qhoali and Lebakeng in Quthing and Qacha’s Nek districts, respectively.
LT: DPE has always conducted public consultations and submitted its findings to parliament. But the question is have you achieved anything through this?
Selepe: There are different scenarios through which we conduct public consultations. For instance, in this case, we are referring to an amendment of the law whereby the Bill is currently being looked at by the relevant committee. So we are going to share the public’s opinion with that committee so that as it makes its presentation in parliament, it has a better picture of the public’s views. We know Members of Parliament (MPS) represent the public, but it’s not all the time that they do that very well. If you take the issue of the New Zealand report, for instance, we went out to gather public opinion whether the recommendations of reforms suggested in that report should be implemented in Lesotho.
Among those we discussed the report with were political parties, both in government and the opposition. This was during the tenure of the Eighth Parliament. But because of some problems that cut the tenure of government that time, one could say we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve. But if you look carefully, you will realise that we still scored because today the government is talking about reforms, which could include what we discussed with political parties and the rest of the public in relation to the New Zealand recommendations. To answer your question, we find our effort to influence decisions through public participation worthwhile. For example, the current government has enshrined in its Coalition Agreement that it will promote public participation and consultation.
LT: As DPE, and many other civil organisations in the country, you have been accused by the current government of being biased. It is alleged you are aligned to opposition parties…
Selepe: Firstly, I have to indicate that it happens all the time that when people are in government and they being criticised for whatever shortfall they have, they associate you with the opposition. Even in the past regimes, we have been accused of being aligned to the opposition. This is not the first government to allege we are inclined to the opposition. I remember in the previous coalition government our members in the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN) were accused of being aligned to the then opposition when they attended a regional summit in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. People who were then in government accused our members of attending that meeting behind their back. They even passed unfounded rumours that our members were even arrested in Zimbabwe just to embarrass them. It’s not surprising that today we are again accused of being aligned to the opposition.
LT: Other than the issue of public participation in decision-making, what else does DPE advocate for?
Selepe: All in all, we have five programmes that guide DPE operations. The first one is Peace Education and Community Development. This is where we encourage communities to form societies, including support groups, funeral schemes, farming etcetera, for development. When people form societies, it is for us or any other developmental partner to approach them. Secondly, we have Democracy, Human Rights and Political Education.
We are saying Lesotho is a democracy that observes human rights. It is a country of many political parties but that should not mean we are divided. Basotho have to understand how democracy is undertaken. They should not hate each other along political lines or colours. Thirdly, we have Economic Justice Literacy because Lesotho is signatory to some economic partnership agreements which Basotho should know about and understand them. Fourth is Public Participation and Dialogue. The last one is most significant because it cuts across all programmes I have mentioned, and that is HIV/AIDS which has badly affected Lesotho.