Lessons from the UK

Lessons from the UK

Lesotho models itself on the Westminster type of governance. The country’s government is a constitutional monarchy with multiparty democracy. The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after that of the United Kingdom (UK) system.

On September 24, 2019 the UK Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgement. This judgement came about when it’s clear that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is also intentionally preventing Parliament from performing its constitutional mandate. MPs are unable to discharge their duties because the Prime Minister has political interests.

Thabane, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki (Leader of the House) and the Speaker Sephiri Motanyane decided to run away from the motion of no-confidence against the government by closing Parliament sine die.
The notices of no-confidence motion moved by the opposition against the government could not be taken up in the House. In fact it has been shelved in the Speaker’s office for some time now.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) feudal factions have rendered Parliament into a useless House controlled by the Executive. This is so wrong because the House is a sacred platform for members to raise issues of public interest but the ABC-led government has resolved to ignore the larger interests of the country.

But unlike sine die and prorogation, a recess must be agreed by a vote, and I am sure a number of MPs would have voted against closing parliament sine die.
The decision to prorogue Parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson prompted an uproar from the from UK MPs who had planned to take control of Parliament and force through a law to block a no-deal Brexit after declaring that the UK would leave the European Union with or without a deal on the 31st of October.

The UK Supreme Court bench of Judges in a case Miller v The Prime Minister stated that “let us remind ourselves of the foundations of our constitution. We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies). The Government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons.

It has no democratic legitimacy other than that. This means that it is accountable to the House of Commons – and indeed to the House of Lords – for its actions, remembering always that the actual task of governing is for the executive and not for Parliament or the courts. The first question, therefore, is whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account.”

The UK Supreme Court bench makes a lot of sense. It is the representatives of the people who determine who becomes government. But in Lesotho, the Executive has captured state institutions, including Parliament. Thabane has forgotten that his government exists because it enjoys the confidence of Parliament.

The UK Supreme Court bench of Judges concluded that “the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”
This is the most dramatic example yet of independent judges, through the appeal mechanism, stopping the government in its tracks because what it has done was unlawful.

Unprecedented, extraordinary, ground breaking – it is difficult to overestimate the constitutional and political significance of this ruling.
We must learn a lesson or two from this important judgement given that we seem to be facing similar problems that the UK is facing today.

Both Prime Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Thabane have improperly suspended the legislature to silence Parliament because they see Parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of their political aims.
The exceptional length of the prorogation and sine die is strong evidence that the motive of the two Prime Ministers is to paralyse Parliament and render it dysfunctional.

In June 2014, after divisions appeared in the ruling coalition and a motion of no confidence had been called against Prime Minister Thabane, he prorogued Parliament. He was heavily critised by his peers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In June 2019, Prime Minister Thabane suspended Parliament sine die to avoid a no-confidence vote brought by his own party. This time around, they have suspended Parliament sine die. That means Parliament was adjourned without appointing a day on which to assemble again. It’s even worse now because the government has suspended Parliament for an indefinite period.
The decision to prorogue the UK Parliament and adjourn the Lesotho Parliament sine die have been a disaster. At least it is worth just taking a breath considering that a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been found by the highest court in the land to have acted unlawfully in shutting down Parliament.
For us in Lesotho, I must admit that we have a long way to go. Our leaders are the most unethical and unscrupulous creatures I have ever seen.

In March 2017, Monyane Moleleki and other MPs forced Parliament to suspend the budget speech and discuss the proposed motion of no-confidence against the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
The MPs voted in favour of replacing Mosisili with Moleleki who is the current Deputy Prime Minister and whose Alliance of Democrats party had split from the Democratic Congress the previous year.

Deputy Prime Minister Moleleki (who is now the Leader of the House) is presently playing double standards and delaying tactics when his government has to face a no-confidence motion.
This must be a warning to Thabane that one can be so mighty and powerful but the law is above him – even if you are the Prime Minister.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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