Selepe talks de­vel­op­ment and peace

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

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.

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