Speaker digs in over Mokhothu

Speaker digs in over Mokhothu

MASERU – THE Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane and the Clerk of Parliament, Fine Maema, say while Mathibeli Mokhothu is the Leader of Opposition in Parliament he does not qualify for any benefits. In their heads of arguments on Tuesday they told the Constitutional Court that Mokhothu, who is the deputy leader of the Democratic Congress, “continues to hold title and office of the Leader of Opposition”.
They however say in terms of the Members of Parliament Salaries Act of 1998 he does not qualify for the benefits associated with the position of Leader of Opposition.

“Section 3 of the Salaries Act requires that the member must be the leader of a party or coalition that has at least 25 percent of the total membership of the National Assembly,” they argued in court papers. “Section 3 requires that any such coalition must be formed prior to the members taking their salaries,” they said.

Their argument is that after September 30 last year Mokhothu was no longer the leader of a party or coalition holding 25 percent of MPs.
“He accordingly no longer qualifies for the statutory benefits in the Salaries Act,” they said.

Mokhothu became Leader of Opposition in July last year after his DC party, the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) and National Independent Party (NIP) wrote to Motanyane telling him that they had formed a coalition. The law provides that a coalition of parties may combine its seats in order to meet the requirements to nominate a leader to receive benefits and salary of the Leader of Opposition.

The Leader of Opposition is paid the same amount as a minister with other entitlements such as bodyguards, chauffeur, two domestic workers and a befitting government house. However, Motanyane and Maema argue that the coalition of three parties “must be formed prior to members taking their seats”.

They said the opposition coalition’s “attempt to form a coalition during the parliamentary term sought to avoid the requirement”.
“The purported coalition was invalid and could not be recognised when considering whether Hon. Mokhothu met the criteria in section 3 and qualified for the benefits in the Salaries Act,” they argued.

They only agree that Mokhothu is the Leader of Opposition for purposes of parliamentary business in accordance with parliament’s conventions, practices and precedents derived from the Westminster system of parliamentary government.
They also contend that he remains a member of the Council of State.
Mokhothu, together with opposition coalition parties, say it defies logic that one can be called Leader of Opposition and at the same time be denied benefits that go with the title.

They argue that Motanyane erred in November last year when he ruled in parliament that Mokhothu could not hold the position because his DC party does not have 25 percent of the seats. Their argument is that the coalition of DC, PFD and NIP has enough seats and under the constitution they qualify to nominate Mokhothu as the Leader of Opposition and become a member of the Council of State.

Their argument draws strength from section 95 (2) (h) of the constitution where it provides that the Council of State includes “two members of the National Assembly appointed by the Speaker from among the members of the opposition party or parties”.
“In making this appointment the Speaker shall appoint the leader of the opposition and the leader of the opposition party or coalition of parties having the next greatest numerical strength,” they argue.

They say Motanyane’s ruling that the coalition must be formed before members take their seats is novel. In their view, if Mokhothu qualifies to be a member of the Council of State by virtue of him being Leader of Opposition, then he is entitled to all benefits associated with the title.

Staff Reporter

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