The new theatre of struggle

The new theatre of struggle

MASERU – DEPUTY Speaker of Parliament, Paul Teboho Lehloenya, 59, is a man on a mission – to help parliament claim back its independence.
Lehloenya says the much touted SADC-driven reforms can help chart a new path leading to peace and stability for Lesotho.
But for that to happen, parliament must get back its bite by ensuring that MPs are “fully empowered to play their oversight role”.
“Many of the corrupt practices we have to grapple with happen because of a weak oversight function we should be doing as parliament,” he says.
He cited the appointment of key personnel for institutions such as the Independent Electoral Commission, the Auditor-General, the Commissioner of Police and the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force.

Lehloenya says Parliament must play an active role in the appointment of individuals to such key positions to ensure that such positions are not politicised. Such individuals must report directly to Parliament, he argues. “Parliament must claim back its independence; and that is going to happen,” he says.

“The calibre of our MPs need to be improved. They have to be trained thoroughly if they are to exercise this oversight function.”
Lehloenya, a charismatic and articulate MP in the last Parliament, shot to national prominence in February after he spearheaded a contentious no-confidence vote against former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.

The no-confidence vote came after a faction of the then ruling Democratic Congress (DC) party failed to seize control of the party in its bid to nudge Mosisili out of power. Lehloenya was the DC MP for Kolo constituency in Mafeteng.
Mosisili lost the no-confidence vote in Parliament but still refused to throw in the towel. Instead he called a snap general election on June 3 which he lost heavily to Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party.

Thabane then went on to cobble a new coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader Monyane Moleleki coming in as Deputy Prime Minister. “I was in the forefront in passing the motion of no-confidence,” Lehloenya says. “It was a necessary thing to do for the benefit of the country.”

He says under Mosisili’s watch, corruption levels had shot to astronomical levels to the extent that “no one in his right senses would have allowed it to continue”. Lehloenya says Mosisili, as party leader and Prime Minister, should have done something to stop the rot but he elected not to do so, to the detriment of the country.

“He should have fired them (corrupt elements within the government),” he says.
“We were adamant that the country could not be subjected to the kind of corruption that was going on. We did not see eye to eye with Ntate Mosisili on the matter.”

He says during the DC infighting a lot of options were thrown on the table for Mosisili to “negotiate an exit strategy of some sort” but he refused.
“He decided that the people should make the final judgment and they did.”
Lehloenya says Moleleki even suggested to the DC leadership a Government of National Unity (GNU) with the then opposition to foster peace and stability, a proposal he says was flatly rejected.

“Now that they have lost power, they see some merits with the proposal. If they had been returned to power they would not have looked at the proposal.” But since the majority of the AD members were in senior positions in the DC-led government, were they not aware of what was happening behind the scenes and were therefore complicit?

Lehloenya rejects the charge arguing that as backbencher MPs they did not sit in cabinet and were therefore not aware of the extent of the rot.
Yet in spite of what might be perceived as Mosisili’s sins of commission and omission, Lehloenya admits there are still pockets within the country where the former premier is still considered the “poster boy” of Lesotho’s politics.

Lehloenya attributes Mosisili’s popularity to social programmes that were introduced by his administration such as old age pensions and free primary school education, programmes that endeared him with the masses. It came as no surprise that voters in Lehloenya’s Kolo constituency ditched their former MP and instead chose the DC’s Putsoane Leeto in the June 3 election, a factor Lehloenya reluctantly admits.

He believes the fact that he publicly pushed for Mosisili’s ouster might have also played a part in his electoral downfall.
“I was in the forefront in pushing the no-confidence motion and many within the DC who liked Ntate Mosisili didn’t like it. They felt that had it not been me, Ntate Mosisili would still be the Prime Minister.”

But he has no regrets for the role he played in Mosisili’s downfall. He says the “death squads” that had a free reign under Mosisili had brought the nation under severe stress and “something had to be done” to stop the rot. Lehloenya was elected Deputy Speaker of Parliament after the June 3 election.

He says he is immensely proud to be of service to his country at a momentous time in the history of Lesotho.
“I feel privileged to serve at a time when we are overhauling the entire system of governance. That doesn’t come too often.”
Lehloenya says he is confident that the security sector reforms will help stabilise Lesotho politically.

“While the majority in the command of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are professional soldiers, the problem is that they have not been accounting to anybody,” he says. He says the LDF Act that regulates the army “is silent on who is the commander-in-chief”, an issue he says must be clearly spelt out during the reform process to ensure the army comes under civilian control.

“In my opinion the commander-in-chief should be His Majesty King Letsie III. Once we have that organised, we sort out the mess within the army.”
He says he does not believe the army, which has been fingered as the major cause of political instability in Lesotho for decades, is beyond redemption.
“They have been trained well but the problem is that politicians meddle with the army and the army allows the politicians to meddle.”

Yet Lehloenya believes the military will be one of the easiest sectors to deal with during the reform process “because they work under orders”.
He however believes the biggest problem will come in trying to depoliticise the civil service “because it is highly politicised even to the level of cleaners”.
“They are working hard to destabilise any sitting government.” He says for too long Basotho “have not been talking to each other”, a situation that has bred a lot of animosity and tension. “There is a lot of intolerance; people do not speak to each other about common issues that affect society.”
“We do not read from the same page and this is the biggest problem for us as a people. We do not give ourselves time to distil the real issues at stake.”
He argues that the end result is that trade and investment climate has become toxic to the extent that foreign direct investment is stifled.

Under such an environment no businessmen would want to invest in a country where there is instability and his money is not safe.
Lehloenya believes the solution lies in going “back to make sure people respect one another and operate on the basis of acceptance of the rule of law”.
Lehloenya, who is a pilot and electronics engineer among other things, says he wants to see Lesotho back on track as it chases the goals and aspirations crafted in the Vision 2020, an ambitious policy document crafted at the turn of the century.

“The policy says by 2020 Lesotho shall be a prosperous country at peace with itself. But lo and behold, we are nowhere close to that goal, instead we seem to be moving in the opposite direction; the AIDS pandemic, the lawlessness, we are drifting away from that vision,” he says.
Lehloenya believes the SADC-led reforms will provide an opportunity to “put people back on the straight and narrow” in pursuit of those lofty goals.
He says after the reform process is done, he will be happy to “retire to my rural home in Mafeteng and do a little bit of farming”.

Abel Chapatarongo

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