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Sophonea defects to BAP

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MASERU – AFTER months of sitting on the fence, Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea last weekend finally packed his bags when he joined the opposition Basotho Action Party (BAP) led by Professor Nqosa Mahao.

Sophonea, who was a stalwart of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, made his move at a rally organised by the BAP in Thaba-Bosiu last weekend. Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, also defected from the ABC to the BAP at the same rally telling thepost that he had joined a party of his choice.

Sophonea will stand for the BAP in the Thaba-Bosiu constituency in the October 7 general election while Nthunya will represent his new party in the Matsieng constituency.

An elated Prof Mahao told the rally that Sophonea had always been their man even when he served in government as finance minister.

Mahao said the Thaba-Bosiu and Matsieng constituencies had democratically chosen the two to stand in the elections insisting the party had not imposed the candidates on the people.

“The people choose for themselves,” Mahao said, in what was likely a dig at the political turmoil that has engulfed the newly formed Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.

Despite conducting primary elections, the RFP leadership last week rejected the election results and imposed their own people to stand in the elections, triggering howls of protest from grassroots supporters. Mahao said Sophonea and Nthunya had always been in their midst.

“We had just deployed them where we had deployed them. (But) they were always here,” he said. “They were always doing their obligations in the party.”

“We always knew that this day would come,” he said.

He thanked the Matsieng and Thaba-Bosiu constituencies for choosing the two.

“They were not hand-picked but were chosen by the people through a democratic process,” he said.

“The BAP members have shown that they have confidence in them.”

He said the Thaba-Bosiu people are satisfied with Sophonea’s work and therefore picked him as their candidate. He asked the new members to go all out and convince Basotho to vote for the BAP as it is the only party that wants to enhance their livelihood through agriculture.

“If they want job creation they should look at the Basotho Action Party,” he said.

Mahao said their goal is to build roads, hospitals and schools when they form government after the elections. He urged his party members to carry on with the process of selecting their constituency representatives.

He said that process should be complete by the 15th of August. Sophonea said his people in Thaba-Bosiu had approached him asking him to join the BAP and represent them in parliament.

“I could not refuse to be sent,” he said.

“I like the way the party manifesto has been done – it talks life,” Sophonea said.

He also promised Mahao that he will win the constituency for their party. Sophonea was fiercely loyal to former party leader Thomas Thabane when the ABC was in its heyday.

After Nkaku Kabi was elected party leader, beating Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for the party’s leadership in February last year, Sophonea said he was no longer feeling comfortable in the party.

He said the ABC was attempting to block him from representing the party in the Thaba-Bosiu constituency. The ABC at that time then accused Sophonea of disloyalty.

The ABC spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, said they are not surprised by Sophonea and Nthunya’s defections.

“Ever since the BAP was formed we have always been aware that (Sophonea) was with them,” Masoetsa said.

Masoetsa said Nthunya’s defection had also not taken them by surprise, adding they were always aware that he was waiting for his contract as the district administrator to run down.

He said Sophonea and Social Development Minister ’Matebatso Doti, who resigned from the ABC executive committee because of ill-health, clung to the party merely because they wanted to retain their ministerial seats.

Doti, however, told thepost that “I will retire from politics when I am still a member of the ABC”. Doti said Masoetsa has always been badmouthing her because she had defeated him during primary elections for the 2017 general elections in her constituency.

Even after the elections, she said, Masoetsa never stopped badmouthing her even when he was aware that the party was experiencing destructive factionalism.

“After defeating him I told the ABC followers in the constituency that this was my last term in office and I am going to retire from active politics,” she said.

“I am not going anywhere.”

Doti is the MP for Lithabaneng constituency in Maseru.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Deadlock over reforms

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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.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn

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MASERUTHE 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.

Nkheli Liphoto

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ABC at war over Thetsane candidate

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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.

’Malimpho Majoro

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