Out­rage over parly clo­sure

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Billy Ntaote

NA­TIONAL Assem­bly Speaker Ntl­hoi Mot­samai’s in­def­i­nite ad­journ­ment of par­lia­men­tary sit­tings on Tues­day has ig­nited the ire of op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors who say the move was a strat­egy to dodge a pro­posed no-con­fi­dence mo­tion against the coali­tion gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili.

The leg­is­la­tors have also ac­cused Ms Mot­samai of “dic­ta­to­rial ten­den­cies” vow­ing to chal­lenge her de­ci­sion in the courts.

The ad­journ­ment, which capped two days of drama in the au­gust house, was made af­ter the op­po­si­tion last week sub­mit­ted a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion on Deputy Speaker Mon­tšuoe Lethoba.

The mo­tion was meant to test the op­po­si­tion al­liance’s strength ahead of an­other no-con­fi­dence mo­tion on the seven-party gov­ern­ing coali­tion.

How­ever, the mo­tion never saw the light of day af­ter the speaker and her deputy did not raise it up for de­bate much to the cha­grin of the op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers.

On Mon­day, ag­i­tated op­po­si­tion MPS blocked the Na­tional Assem­bly sergean­tat-arms from tak­ing the cer­e­mo­nial mace to sig­nify the ad­journ­ment of the house af­ter Mr Lethoba had called off the day’s busi­ness.

Armed po­lice of­fi­cers ul­ti­mately re­trieved the mace, which is the sym­bol of the au­thor­ity of the House and the speaker.

In Tues­day’s sit­ting, Ms Mot­samai, who is also the Hloahlo­eng con­stituency leg­is­la­tor, an­nounced the in­def­i­nite ad­journ­ment at 6.30pm say­ing the House had “run out of time” fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion and tabling of var­i­ous re­ports and bills.

Or­di­nar­ily, the mo­tion to ad­journ the House in­def­i­nitely is pre­sented by the Leader of the House, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mo­thetjoa Mets­ing, with MPS af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to de­bate the mo­tion.

Tues­day’s par­lia­men­tary pro­gramme in­cluded pre­sen­ta­tions by gov­ern­ment min­is­ters on ser­vice pro­vi­sion as well as a ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion there­after.

Upon re­al­is­ing that pos­ing ques­tions to the min­is­ters would deny them a chance to de­bate the mo­tion to ad­journ the house in­def­i­nitely, the op­po­si­tion MPS with­drew their ques­tions to save time.

Their ef­forts to save time were ill-fated as MPS from the gov­ern­ment’s side asked nu­mer­ous ques­tions and fol­low-up en­quiries, seem­ingly as a strat­egy to de­lay the process.

When all the ques­tions had been ad­dressed, Ms Mot­samai an­nounced that the min­is­ters had re­quested to make state­ments be­fore the House.

The first to make their pre­sen­ta­tions were Min­ing Min­is­ter Le­bo­hang Thotanyane and his Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity coun­ter­part ‘Ma­palesa Mothokho who took their time to the ex­as­per­a­tion of the op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers.

The or­der pa­per de­tail­ing the agenda of the House had also been amended to in­clude the pre­sen­ta­tion of var­i­ous bills which were in­tro­duced by var­i­ous min­is­ters.

Fol­low­ing the var­i­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, Ms Mot­samai an­nounced that time had lapsed and the House would ad­journ in­def­i­nitely.

“Hon­ourable mem­bers, we have run out of time. There­fore pur­suant to Stand­ing Or­der Num­ber 18 Sub­sec­tion 4, this au­gust house is ad­journed sine die (for an in­def­i­nite pe­riod),” the speaker said be­fore lead­ing out a pro­ces­sion con­sist­ing of Na­tional Assem­bly Clerk Fine Maema, his deputies and the sergeant-at-arms.

The move did not go down well with the op­po­si­tion, with some MPS shout­ing “point of or­der” in a bid to stop Ms Mot­samai.

Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (BNP) deputy leader Joang Mo­lapo was among the first to ques­tion the ad­journ­ment, yelling: “Madam Speaker, Madam Speaker, Madam Speaker, you are sub­vert­ing the law of this coun­try.”

Chief Mo­lapo told the Le­sotho Times on the side-lines of the sit­ting, Ms Mot­samai’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the ad­journ­ment was her “per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion that suited her in­ten­tion to evade dis­cus­sions in the House”.

“The stand­ing or­der she used to ad­journ the house sit­tings in­def­i­nitely does not tally with what she just did. She de­lib­er­ately mis­di­rected her­self. In any case, the mo­tion was never sub­mit­ted to the Na­tional As- sem­bly’s busi­ness com­mit­tee as is the proper pro­ce­dure,” said Chief Mo­lapo, adding par­lia­ment should only be closed when the ma­jor­ity in the House want it closed “and not when a mi­nor­ity want it closed”.

“It doesn’t mat­ter whether we have ur­gent busi­ness to trans­act or not. It is un­for­tu­nate that these mi­nor­ity mem­bers are us­ing un­der­hand tac­tics to shut the House against the wishes of the ma­jor­ity who have as­pi­ra­tions to see the house opened.”

He said the op­po­si­tion in­tended to chal­lenge the in­def­i­nite ad­journ­ment be­fore the courts.

“The speaker should know that we are go­ing to court and this par­lia­ment shall be re­opened with a court or­der. The Con­sti­tu­tional Court will rule that Madam Speaker what you used to ad­journ the House in­def­i­nitely is wrong,” Chief Mo­lapo said.

“She can­not usurp the col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity of par­lia­ment. In fact, she acted be­yond her le­gal pow­ers. We could have stayed in the House un­til 9pm yet she ad­journed at 6:30pm. This is ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able.”

For his part, All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion Chair­man Mot­lohi Maliehe said it was “shock­ing” for the speaker to ad­journ the Na­tional Assem­bly in­def­i­nitely with­out any dis­cus­sion of the pos­si­ble ex­pul­sion of 13 op­po­si­tion MPS.

Ms Mot­samai last week wrote let­ters to 13 op­po­si­tion MPS re­quest­ing them to “show cause” why they should not be ex­pelled from the au­gust house for al­leged ab­sen­teeism with­out her per­mis­sion. The case is now be­fore the courts af­ter the op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors lodged an ur­gent High Court ap­pli­ca­tion chal­leng­ing the let­ters.

The speaker states in the let­ters that by 9 De­cem­ber 2015, the leg­is­la­tors had reached the “thresh­old of the pro­hib­ited ab­sen­teeism”.

“She had no valid no rea­sons to write such let­ters and the laws she cited don’t em­power her to ex­pel us as MPS,” said Mr Maliehe, who is the leg­is­la­tor for Butha-buthe con­stituency. “Her move to ad­journ the House in­def­i­nitely de­nies us a right to be heard at a time when our fate hangs in the bal­ance. We should have been al­lowed to dis­cuss these let­ters. Our loom­ing ex­pul­sion is a mat­ter of na­tional im­por­tance.”

BNP deputy Leader Joang mo­lapo.

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