MASERU – ACROSS the world, the outbreak of Covid-19 and attendant challenges massively disrupted access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services, particularly for young people. However, in Lesotho, the 2gether4SRH programme achieved some of its goals despite the outbreak of the pandemic.
According to the Minister of Health, Semano Sekatle, authorities and campaigners used outreach programme campaigns to reach adolescent girls and young women. Gender Based Violence (GBV) was successfully integrated into the health system while the capacity of frontline health workers was enhanced.
Sekatle revealed this at a gathering to amplify lessons learnt from the implementation of the joint programme to strengthen the integration of SRHR/HIV and GBV by 2021.
SRH Manager in the Ministry of Health, Motsoanku ‘Mefane, said the objectives of the meeting were to take stock of the progress made in SRHR/HIV/GBV services in Lesotho, review the contribution to SRHR/HIV/GBV integration of services and indicators between 2018 and 2021, advocate for the scaling up of promising interventions and to explore pathways for sustainability of SRHR/HIV/GBV in the country.
2gether4SRH is a three year programme that was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to accelerate actions on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3 and 5 (health and gender equality).
UNFPA SRHR coordinator, Blandinah Motaung, said the project’s goal was to scale up quality integrated SRHR/HIV and GBV services so that all people, particularly women, adolescent girls, young people and key populations could exercise their SRH rights.
The goal also included reducing the unmet need for family planning and improving access to integrated SRHR/HIV and SGBV services. The programme brought together the collective and combined strengths of the health ministry, through the Family Health Division and four United Nations agencies and entities (UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO).
These participating UN agencies have worked with the government and multiple stakeholders such as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), youth groups, existing community structures and the private sector to empower adolescents, young people and key populations through strategies that included communication for development (community and social mobilisation) and innovations to generate evidence for the government scale-up.
Sekatle said the advent of Covid-19 resulted in financial resources being diverted to fight the pandemic “ignoring our responsibilities towards other diseases such as HIV and many others. If it wasn’t for this project, one can imagine where we would have been.”
He said evidence showed that the project helped the country “achieve a lot”.
“Because of generosity and efforts, we have achieved many things,” said Sekatle.
He said a recent survey shows that Lesotho is in control of the HIV epidemic after the country achieved UN goals of 90-90-90 and is on course to achieving the 95-95-95 goals.
“Very soon we will be able to achieve them,” said Sekatle.
The 90-90-90 is a concept introduced by the United Nation’s programme on HIV/AIDS IN 2013. The concept said by 2020, 90 percent of people who were HIV infected would be diagnosed, 90 percent of people who were diagnosed would be on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of those who received antiretroviral would be virally suppressed.
The 95-95-95 concept is the country’s goal targeted of having 95 percent of HIV positive people knowing their status and to be on treatment and those on treatment should be virally suppressed by 2023.
Sekatle assured the nation that the funding has been put to good use.
“Everyone in the ministry is committed to ensuring that SRH and GBV among adolescent girls and young women have been taken on board to ensure that they are not left behind anymore,” he said.
Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr ’Nyane Letsie said the country has recorded some progress.
“We are very far from our destination (but) we will get there. It is just a matter of time,” said Dr Letsie.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, said while the progress is worth celebrating, people should bear in mind that Lesotho still has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.
The country also has the third highest sexual rape rate against girls and women per capita in the world while 44 percent of people in prison are sexual offenders, and in some districts that number rises to almost 70 percent. She said Lesotho ranks top in Africa in terms of homicides per capita.
“When all those statistics are put together, what is left is the context that shows the importance of this project. We have an incredible mountain to climb,” said Mukwashi.
“GBV robs our women, girls and indeed every single one of us of our dignity and our lives.”
She said a 2019/20 Commonwealth study shows that GBV in Lesotho is not just hindering development, but costing the government and Basotho about M1.9 billion annually in healthcare costs, production, education, food security and other issues.
She said Lesotho was one of the five countries selected by SIDA to benefit from the project.
“I am hoping this is just the beginning to try and address these issues collaboratively. I believe the lessons learnt from this project will be used for guidance for the implementation of future programming.”
She commended the SRHR joint project for mainstreaming issues related to GBV, even though targets for integrating GBV into the health system were not achieved to the required level.
“More efforts (should) be directed towards this area as GBV is a challenge in this country. It needs a multi-sectoral approach. Let us jointly continue to address this issue and put an end to GBV,” she said, pledging the continued support of theUN agencies.
World Health Organization SRH Officer, Thato Seutloali, said Lesotho has made significant gains in the provision of SRHR/HIV/SGVBV services through the implementation of the programme.
She said an enabling environment has been created through the multi-sectoral development of strategic documents and guidelines; the new National HIV Policy (2019), the National HIV Operational Plan (2020-23), the District Aids Fast Track Plans (DAP), National Family Planning Guidelines (2021), GBV Training Manual (2021) for standardisation of GBV training programmes, Health Sector Performance Review Guidelines (2021) and the Accelerated Action Plan for Adolescent Health (AA-HA!) Lesotho (2021).
However, on policy framework and guidelines, she recommended “facilities should improve on the utilisation of guidelines and standards that are currently in place. There is also a need for MoH to continue reviewing standards, procedures and policies.”
Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, said SRHR, HIV and GBV are matters of public concern.
“I wish to thank the funders of this programme and if possible, I would request funding extension that will enhance the realisation of integrated SRHR/HIV/GBV services by all, including herd boys out there in the mountains.”
Deadlock over reforms
MASERU – THE government’s plan to use state of emergency powers to recall parliament to pass the reforms faces serious resistance from the opposition and legal experts.
A marathon meeting this week to build consensus on the use of state of emergency powers to recall parliament could not break the impasse.
The deadlock comes as Lesotho is reeling under pressure from the international and regional community to pass the reforms. SADC, which instigated and part-funded the reforms, has promised Lesotho hell if the reforms are not passed.
The United States might pull the plug on its recently approved M4 billion development aid to Lesotho. The African Union is said to have registered its disappointment with the government and insisted that the reforms be passed.
The EU, which contributed generously to the reforms process, is not playing the ‘carrot and stick’ game but gently pushing the government to find a way to complete the reforms.
Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told a meeting of political parties yesterday that the government will soon discuss how Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro can request the Council of State to advise the king to recall parliament to pass the reforms.
Rakuoane, a lawyer by profession, is still cautiously optimistic that it’s possible to use the state of emergency powers for the King to recall parliament.
That interpretation is however being rejected by some in the government and the opposition who believe the failure to pass the reforms is not an emergency.
The constitution defines a state of emergency as a war or a monumental threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty or life.
Monyane Moleleki, the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader, told the meeting that he doesn’t believe the reforms constitute an emergency that justifies recalling parliament.
“In general, it is unthinkable to recall a National Assembly which was dissolved constitutionally, officially or formally by His Majesty the King,” Moleleki said.
“The country finds itself in a difficult situation. Lesotho is constitutionally in a predicament and some urge us to consider the predicament an emergency.”
“Actually, there is no state of emergency in Lesotho today but just a predicament,” he said.
Even if the government goes ahead to use the state of emergency clause to reopen parliament there will still be disagreements over which Bill parliament should pass.
The majority of the officials who were in the now disbanded National Reforms Authority (NRA) accuse the parliament of dismembering the initial Bill they submitted.
They say the parliament sneaked in new amendments and removed others to create a Bill that doesn’t reflect the people’s views.
The Senate has reservations about the parliament’s changes and appears sympathetic to the NRA’s view that the Bill should not be outrageously different to what the people suggested.
The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), which facilitated this week’s dialogue, is reportedly not hostile to recalling parliament but wants parliament to pass the initial Bill from the NRA without changes.
MPs however insist they will not take instructions from any other institution because only parliament has the power to make laws.
But even if they agree to reopen parliament and find each other on which Bill to pass, there is likely to be another problem.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane believes there is no legal loophole that the government can use to recall parliament.
“There is absolutely no loophole to use for that. There is no state of emergency to justify such,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The law is the law. You cannot violate it because you have created your own crisis by failing to do things on time.”
He said even if the government insists on violating the constitution by recalling parliament, the MPs will quickly find themselves in another legal jam.
He said several of the amendments that were before parliament require a referendum before they get royal assent. These include the changes to the Bill of Rights and changes to the structure of the judiciary.
“These are what we call double entrenched clauses and they are part of the Bill that some are saying parliament should be recalled to pass,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The trouble is that a referendum can only be held no less than two months and not more than six months after it has been passed by parliament.”
This, Advocate Maqakachane said, means there is no way the amendments can be legally passed before the October 7 election even if parliament is recalled.
His strong legal view is shared by several other lawyers who spoke to thepost.
That could indicate that there is a real possibility that a decision to recall parliament could be legally challenged. If that happens, the matter would no longer be in the government’s hands but would play out in the courts.
An epic legal battle might be looming.
Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn
MASERU – THE government has withdrawn security guards and a vehicle allocated to the official leader of parliament Monyane Moleleki.
The vehicle was taken away last Friday.
Moleleki could not be reached for comment but his Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesman, Thuso Litjobo, confirmed the development.
The position of official leader of opposition in parliament is equivalent to that of a deputy minister and is entitled to the use of a government vehicle and security guards.
Even when the King dissolves parliament and calls for fresh elections, ministers and their deputies do not lose their entitlements such as cars or security.
The same goes for the official leader of opposition in parliament, the Speaker and his deputy.
Litjobo said the withdrawal of the vehicle and security was meant to ensure that Moleleki did not have resources to campaign for the October 7 general elections.
He said this was unfair since all ministers and their deputies still have access to state resources to campaign.
“Our leader is still entitled to those benefits,” Litjobo said.
“We do not have the power to do anything about this.”
Litjobo said they were shocked when they learnt that Moleleki’s security, staff, salary and everything had been taken away.
“For now the only thing we can do as a party is to complain,” he said.
Moleleki has been the official leader of opposition in parliament since the establishment of the Moeketsi Majoro-led government in 2019.
The Thomas Thabane-led government which began its tenure in 2017, in which Moleleki was the deputy prime minister, collapsed and Moleleki’s party was the largest in the opposition, making him leader of opposition.
As the official leader of the opposition, the Constitution grants Moleleki some benefits.
Among these, he has an office, staff, salary, a vehicle, and free fuel.
Moleleki had qualified to be the leader of opposition with his 11 MPs although most of them have since joined other political parties.
The army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost that he was not aware of the removal of Moleleki’s security.
“Such things can be asked to the government,” Captain Lekola said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Buta Moseme, said the premier’s office is not responsible for the installation or removal of entitlements of the leader of opposition.
The government spokesman, Communications Minister Sam Rapapa, said the questions should be directed at the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.
Maema’s phone was ringing unanswered last night.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is the leader of parliament, could not be reached for comment last night.
ABC at war over Thetsane candidate
MASERU – A fight over who should represent the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the Thetsane constituency in Maseru spilled into court this week.
Two separate constituency committees which were elected on June 11 and July 2 respectively are now fighting over who has the right to preside over the selection of a candidate this Sunday.
The June 11 committee is made up of Silase Mokhitli, Semonko Lesenyeho, Mako Chobokoane, Khoale Thene, Thabo Nkesi and ‘Mathabo Makalanyane.
The July 2 committee is made up of Motinyane Motinyane, ‘Matsekiso Motinyane, ‘Matokelo Morie, Mphonyane Kekana, Nondabesithe Babeli and Lelimo Monese.
The June 11 committee filed an urgent application in the High Court yesterday seeking to interdict the July 2 committee from holding themselves out as the members of the constituency committee pending determination of their application.
The June 11 committee also asks the court to order the party’s spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, and the National Executive Committee to file a record of proceedings of the elective conference of July 2 for the constituency.
They say the court should declare the July 2 committee election null and void.
A lawyer representing the June 11 committee, Advocate Letuka Molati, in his certificate of urgency, said the July 2 committee prejudiced his clients.
Advocate Molati said the July 2 committee is unlawfully preparing the nomination of the candidate for the Thetsane constituency on Sunday.
“Applicants have no alternative remedy as the National Executive Committee of the All Basotho Convention is ignoring to pronounce itself on the matter such that the illegal body will prepare for the nominations of the candidates for the up-coming national elections,” Advocate Molati said.
The June 11’s representative, Silase Mokhitli, told the court in an affidavit that Masoetsa and Senator Mphonyane Lebesa conducted the July 2 elections fraudulently.
“On the 11th June 2022, my co-applicants and I were elected as members of the constituency committee of the All Basotho Convention for the Thetsane constituency no. 34,” Mokhitli said.
Mokhitli said there was a peaceful handover of power from the old constituency committee and he was elected as the chairperson of the new Constituency committee.
The newly elected constituency committee submitted reports to the NEC on June 13 that there was only one branch of Thetsane West that had abstained from the constituency committee elective conference.
“We worked very well as the new constituency committee with the NEC of ABC for a period of about two weeks without any complaint,” he said.
He said on June 24, he was surprised to get a call from the secretary general of ABC, Lebohang Hlaele, ordering him and the new committee to report at the party’s headquarters.
Hlaele also invited the old committee, Mokhitli said.
However, Hlaele was not in the office when they arrived on June 27.
Instead they found one ’Maseeng Maputsoe who was accompanied by Masoetsa.
Maputsoe asked why there were two committees in the Thetsane constituency.
Mokhitli said there was only one committee for which he was the chairperson.
He said there were no disputes as all went on smoothly.
Mokhitli said after the deliberations, Maputsoe left with Masoetsa.
“They said they were going to deliberate alone and when they came back they said they made the decision that there should be a repeat of elections in Thetsane constituency,” he said.
Mokhitli said they were not satisfied and they wrote the executive committee seeking intervention but they have not received any response to date.
Instead, Maputsoe and Masoetsa went to Thetsane constituency on July 2 to oversee the repeat of elections.
“They did not have any official document that shows delegation to them from the NEC of ABC,” he said.
“They conducted everything through dictatorship.”
He said during the elections Masoetsa announced that he had expelled two branches and dissolved the four remaining branch committees out of six.
“They then proceeded to conduct elections without verifying the cards of those who qualify to elect and he took 12 people from three branch areas,” Mokhitli said.
“He took 13 people from Thetsane West branch which had abstained when I was elected on the 11th June 2022,” he said.
When people objected, Mokhitli said, Masoetsa strangled one ’Mako Chobokoane with his clothing and one Semonko Lesenyeho came to his rescue.
“Masoetsa, when faced with another objection, assaulted ’Mako Chobokoane, and Lesenyeho intervened again,” he said.
He said Senator Lebesa “was electing on behalf of the electors”.
He said when Maputsoe was asked whether it was proper that Lebesa was writing ballot papers on behalf of voters, she said Lesenyeho could do what he wished.
“Masoetsa and Maputsoe scolded everyone who objected,” he said.
He said the results of the elections were not announced publicly.
Many people left in disgust, Mokhitli said.
“When there were about less than 20 remaining from the original number of more than 150 people Maputsoe announced (the results).”
Mokhitli argued that it would be wrong for people who were not rightly elected to prepare and hold an elective conference for the constituency candidate.
“The fairness and democracy shall not reign. It is clear that democracy is already under threat,” he said.
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