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A looming crisis: The stakes of the constitutional dispute

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Editorial Comment

As the government finds itself entangled in a constitutional dispute over the reinstatement of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill of 2022, the nation stands at a crossroads with potentially dire consequences.

The legal battle, spearheaded by Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho, and its chairperson Kananelo Boloetse, has far-reaching implications that could jeopardise critical legislation and international partnerships, potentially resulting in a staggering loss of over M6 billion for the government.

At the heart of this contentious issue lies the fate of pending bills, including the highly debated Omnibus Bill, left unresolved when the previous Parliament dissolved.

The applicants in this case passionately argue that such bills were rendered null and void by the dissolution and, as a fundamental constitutional principle, should not be carried over to the next Parliament.

This echoes the time-honored convention that no Parliament can bind its successor, underscoring the gravity of the matter.

The legal tussle bears significant ramifications for laws already reinstated by Parliament, raising concerns about their legitimacy and enforceability.

Acts crucial to Lesotho’s involvement in the United States Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact Program hang in the balance.

Programs such as the Health Systems Strengthening (HSS) Project, Market Driven Irrigated Horticulture (MDIH) Project, and Business Environment and Technical Assistance (BETA) Project, aimed at stimulating economic growth and reducing poverty, now face an uncertain fate due to this constitutional clash.

While the High Court set a precedent last year in the case of Boloetse and Tuke v. His Majesty The King and others, affirming that the dissolution of Parliament invalidates pending bills, the government has chosen a different path.

Despite the legal pronouncement, the government obstinately revived pending bills, igniting the current standoff.

The impending legal decision by the High Court holds the key to Lesotho’s legislative future and its standing on the international stage. The ruling will determine whether the country respects the rule of law and adheres to its constitutional principles or allows political expediency to override established legal norms.

As the legal proceedings unfold, it is critical to consider the potential consequences of either outcome. Upholding the legal precedent may bring certainty to the legislative process and strengthen Lesotho’s commitment to constitutional order.

Conversely, a different ruling might exacerbate political tensions, strain international relations, and hinder the nation’s path to comprehensive national reforms.

As a panel of High Court judges prepare to convene to hear the case on Tuesday morning, the eyes of the nation and the international community will be fixed on Lesotho.

The court’s decision will not only shape the fate of the disputed bills but will also determine whether Lesotho remains a beacon of constitutional democracy and upholds the rule of law for the betterment of its citizens and its future.

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