‘See you in September’

‘See you in September’

MASERU SPEAKER of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, has come under a barrage of attacks from MPs who accuse him of sabotaging their motion to topple Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
MPs say his decision to adjourn parliament sine die (indefinitely) before the confidence motion is tabled indicates that he is trying to protect Thabane.
Motanyane however says there was no malice in his decision because the motion was defective and it’s “just coincidental” that it came when parliament was about to adjourn for the winter recess. In the following interview, Motanyane explains the reasoning behind his decision to block the motion and adjourn parliament.

We started by asking him what the adjournment means.

It was adjourned sine die, meaning that there is no definite date for its reopening. This was not a result of the initial motion which was suggesting an adjournment until September. Our Standing Orders say that you can adjourn parliament to the next working day, a later date or sine die. This adjournment is sine die.

Why sine die?

It’s normally used for longer adjournments like the ones for summer and winter. For winter, we adjourn from beginning of June to the beginning of September.

Are you saying the parliament will not reopen until September?

Yes, but it can be called before that. There is always a chance that it might be opened earlier or a little later than planned. If there are pressing issues that need the parliament’s attention, it will be opened. You always leave room for the unexpected.

What circumstances would force the parliament to open earlier?

There are a lot of issues. For instance, now we are dealing with reforms. So there could be legislation to be passed soonest regarding the reforms.

Who decides when the parliament will reopen?

Parliament is opened by the government in consultation with the Speaker.

Let’s turn to the drama that played out in parliament this week. What were the issues?

There was no drama. The issue was the so-called no confidence motion filed on June 5. Some MPs wanted to know the whereabouts of that motion. The reality is that the motion was not on the table because it was out of order. So it was not debated.
The person who filed the motion was warned days before that it will not be tabled because it was out of order. He was told the reasons for that.

What were those reasons?

The first reason is that he could not move a motion of no confidence because he is a member of the ruling government. The second reason is that the person suggested to become the prime minister (Sam Rapapa) if the incumbent loses the vote is still a member of the ruling party (ABC).
According to parliamentary practice a motion of no confidence is a convention that is supposed to be used by a leader of an opposition or coalition of opposition parties.

Why is there such a restriction?

It’s because the leader of the opposition or a coalition opposition parties represents a government-in-waiting. If he feels that the present government is failing Basotho he can move that motion because he is the alternative.

Where is that written in the Standing Orders or the constitution?

It’s according to parliament authorities. The procedural aspect appears in the authorities of parliament. The authority in this case is Erskine May. (Erskine May is a parliamentary authority originally written by British constitutional theorist and Clerk of the House of Commons, Thomas Erskine May).
But the motion was not only flawed in terms of procedure. It also failed the constitutional test, especially section 83.2 which states that the person appointed by the King to form a government should be a leader of a political party or a coalition of parties that commands the support of the majority of MPs.
The man suggested as the prime minister in the motion is still a member of the ABC which is ruling and is in the majority. He is not the leader of that party or any coalition.

So what was supposed to happen?

Well, he should have moved from the ABC to form an opposition party or joined an opposition party or formed a coalition of opposition parties that he can lead.
If he was leading any of those three and had the majority of MPs then he could be the right person to be suggested. In this case the person who makes the suggestion and the person suggested as the alternative are wrong.

You are said to have demanded a list of the MPs who support the motion. Why?

The numbers should be established. How can you go to the Council of State and say this person has the numbers to form the next government when you don’t have the numbers? How does the Council of State know that he has the numbers if there is no list of the MPs? When this government was formed numbers were known. You cannot assume. The numbers have to be known.

But the list is tantamount to a vote before the vote.

The list indicates the likely vote but is not the actual vote. It gives an indication of the numbers. In parliament the MPs sit according to their parties. The numbers are known. There is no guessing on how any vote will go. Members who cross the floor have to inform the Speaker.
And when they cross, the Speaker will make the announcement in parliament.

Are you therefore saying there is no way the motion will be tabled before September?

There is no way. We should remember that the motion was not time bound. So they have to wait until parliament opens. If they still want it tabled, then they will have to follow the correct procedure.

Some MPs have accused you of sabotaging the motion. They say you are in league with the government and therefore biased.

Yesterday (Monday) I proved them wrong because of what I said about the motion. They then asked that the constitutional issue be referred to the Attorney General for a legal opinion. We have done that. But the matter of procedure is closed.
If a motion is procedurally flawed it means it cannot be tabled. They can have the legal opinion on the constitutional issue but that doesn’t change the decision on procedure because I have ruled on that.
And no court can come in on that because the issue of parliamentary procedure is ours to decide.

How then do you explain that the parliament was adjourned at a time when there is such a crucial motion?

It’s purely just coincidental. It was moved during the normal course of business. Even without that motion, we were still going to adjourn for winter. That is the tradition. The truth is that those who moved the motion should have done it properly. They should have known what is required. The person who moved the motion was warned that the motion is defective.
There was time to rectify that mistake but that did not happen. I have been in the opposition before as an MP and we have moved such a motion. It’s nothing new. I have nothing against it. In fact, it’s a good tool to test the government but it should be done properly.

It would seem that the no confidence motion is now a potent weapon for the opposition. Would you say the opposition have other options to remove a government through parliament?

The trouble is that MPs have come to view the motion as a game changer. But procedurally you can use the motion without necessarily aiming to remove the government. This is because it allows the opposition parties in parliament to test the government’s strength.
It allows the opposition to criticise the government on many fronts. It is one motion in which you can include almost everything that you think the government is doing wrong.

Staff Reporter

 

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