Storm over Reforms Bill

Storm over Reforms Bill

MASERU – OPPOSITION parties and civil society organisations are furious at the government for allegedly sidelining them during the drafting of the National Reforms Commission Bill 2018. Irate opposition MPs walked out of parliament yesterday, in protest, as Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Lebohang Hlaele tabled the Bill. Development for Peace Education (DPE), a rights lobby organisation, has since written to parliament to complain that the Bill was drafted without wide public consultation.

Yesterday afternoon Democratic Congress (DC) leader, former premier Pakalitha Mosisili, told a press conference that the opposition will not participate in the reforms unless the process is all-inclusive.  “The reforms are for the nation and everyone must take part in the reforms,” Mosisili said.

“The Bill should be the subject of concern to the nation and the NGOs as well. The government is taking this matter as their own because they are the majority in parliament.” “This is not how it works. We need the dialogue first. The only condition for us to work with them is the inclusion of the people,” said the former prime minister.

“So we will not be part of them until they do everything right. Now we let them do it the way they like, because they do cheap politics and they take this serious issue as simple as they want.” On Monday opposition parties said they would not participate in the reforms until their three exiled leaders return home. Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, former deputy prime minister Mothetjoa Metsing, skipped the country last year saying his life was in danger.

His deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi also left soon thereafter on similar claims after he was released on bail.
The former defence minister claimed the police tortured him to confess to the murder of Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng.
DC deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, also fled into exile amid claims he was marked for death.
The three have vowed to remain in exile until SADC guarantees their safety.

And in what is now looking like a political mind game, the opposition keeps adding to the list of issues they want resolved before they participate in the reforms. LCD spokesman Teboho Sekata told a press conference on Monday that they also want National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane fired before they can participate in the reforms.

He said their gripe with Ralenkoane is that “he is a politician who stood for election under the Basotho National Party (BNP) in Kolo constituency last year”. Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) secretary general, Bokang Ramatšella, said the opposition is unhappy with the NSS’s decision to fire 36 agents it said were improperly hired and trained.
“They even dismissed Basotho (NSS) agents who were correctly hired so we want them to withdraw that dismissal or else we are not going to take part,” he added.

In a statement the DC said for as long as SADC soldiers are deployed in Lesotho it will not take part in reforms.
The DPE’s qualm with the Bill is that it was tabled after the suspension of Parliament Standing Order 51(5).
This, the DPE argues, is tantamount to short-circuiting the system because the Bill will not be scrutinized by the people.

It says the result of that is that the “suspension of this Standing Order will set the Standing Order # 95 in limbo, the provision which would otherwise allow parliament to exercise its constitutional oversight function on the operations of different ministries of government”.
“In that scenario parliament would not be able through its portfolio committee to liaise with the responsible ministry particularly in relation to the queries, issues and views which citizens may raise,” DPE says in its petition to parliament.

“In these circumstances parliament may not call for evidence or submission of any form of inputs from outside.”
“Facilitation of public participation, a function cardinal to the ethos of democracy and a manifestation of the doctrine of separation of powers, would automatically be suspended by the suspension of Standing Order # 51(5).”

The DPE argues that civil society organisations, church, development partners, SADC and others “have always put their faith in the multi-stakeholder forum to be led by government to come up with consensus that would indicate direction including defining the necessary and enabling law”.
The DPE wants parliament to exercise its power to defer this Bill pending the multistakeholder conference whose discussions it says will help shape the law.

Tabling the Bill in parliament yesterday, Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Lebohang Hlaele said the main purpose is to establish a commission that will facilitate a national dialogue on constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, security and public service reforms.
The Bill proposes an independent commission “with a view to ensure transparency, rule of law and the involvement of the entire nation through its multi sectors,” Hlaele said.

What will happen if the opposition continues to play hardball is hard to predict.
Some observers say the absence of the opposition will force the government to abandon the reforms.
But others like political analyst Professor Mafa Sejenamane believe the opposition’s hardline stance will not stop the reforms. The opposition’s refusal to take part in the reforms will be unfortunate but not necessarily fatal.

“That won’t stop reforms from taking place but it will just show that not all Basotho participated,” Sejanamane said.
“They should participate so that they suggest their best”,’ he said.

Thooe Ramolibeli &

Nkheli Liphoto

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