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Govt and opposition clash in high-stakes meeting

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Staff Reporter

The government and leaders of opposition parties clashed in a high-stakes meeting behind closed doors yesterday, debating the contentious passage of constitutional reforms, Newsday can report.

In May this year, Richard Ramoeletsi, the Minister of Justice and Law, tabled the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments to the Constitution Bills, 2024, in the National Assembly.

The purpose of the Bills is to amend the Constitution of Lesotho, 1993, to give effect to the resolutions of the Multi-stakeholder National Dialogue on comprehensive national reforms as outlined in the Plenary II Report.

These Bills are the culmination of extensive consultations and debates among members of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) and a wide range of stakeholders.

Last week, the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Law and Public Safety Cluster invited stakeholders to submit inputs on the Bills. Parliament is expected to re-open towards the end of this month, with the passage of these Bills as a top priority.

However, opposition leaders who spoke to this publication last night expressed strong opposition to what they described as a piecemeal approach to constitutional reform.

They have called for the current constitution to be completely overhauled and replaced with a new one.

“We are not compromising on that stance,” the opposition leaders told Newsday. “The government responded by saying that they are taking our submissions seriously and will revert later with comprehensive responses to each of the demands we made.”

The opposition leaders said they also demanded the removal of key security officials, including the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, and the Director General of the National Security Service (NSS), Pheello Ralenkoane.

These demands follow a controversial declaration made on October 16 last year by Letsoela, Ralenkoane, and the then Commissioner of Police (COMPOL), Holomo Molibeli.

On the very day a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane was tabled, the trio unequivocally declared that there would not be a change of government within the parliamentary chambers.

“The voice of the people resonates with a government that is truly ‘by the people, for the people’, not one tailored for the interests of MPs,” Molibeli asserted at the time, flanked by his counterparts. “This is why they have advocated for constitutional amendments to safeguard the integrity of full-term governance.”

Their statement sparked nationwide reactions and criticism from various quarters, including the Law Society of Lesotho, Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN), and the Advocates for the Supremacy of the Constitution (SECTION 2).

At the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held in Tanzania in October last year, the local advocacy group Transformation Resource Center (TRC) condemned the heads of security agencies.

“TRC holds that the heads of the security institutions cannot decree what politicians should or should not do in exercising their constitutional powers in parliament,” TRC expressed.

Opposition leaders yesterday reiterated their stance to Newsday, stating that with Molibeli gone, they also want Letsoela and Ralenkoane removed.

Additionally, they demanded an end to alleged government interference with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane.

Motinyane has filed a constitutional lawsuit against Matekane and Ramoeletsi, seeking to nullify Matekane’s alleged instruction to withdraw charges against Mothejoa Metsing and the Minister of Health, Selibe Mochoboroane.

She alleges that when she refused to withdraw the charges, Matekane created a new advisory position at the Office of the Attorney General intending to deploy her there. When she declined the offer, Matekane allegedly planned to advise the King to impeach her.

Matekane counters that Motinyane mishandled the prosecution of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife over the 2017 murder of Lipolelo Thabane, citing this as one of many reasons for wanting her removed.

Opposition leaders also claimed that the government seemed to suggest that charges against Metsing and Mochoboroane were politically motivated. Efforts to get a comment from the government were unsuccessful yesterday.

A press conference that was supposed to follow the meeting was abruptly canceled. Opposition leaders said they learned about the planned press conference through social media while in the meeting. When they inquired, the government’s side indicated that they were not aware who had instructed the press conference, leading to its cancellation.

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