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Lesotho Parly squanders reforms opportunity

Business

…waits till 11th hour to deliberate on Omnibus Bill

…now looking to constitutional Section 84 to revive ‘the dead’

Staff Reporters

Akin to a South African television reality show styled ‘I Blew It’ wherein squanderers regret how they wasted their gains, members of the 10th Parliament that was dissolved by law through a government gazette by His Majesty King Letsie III yesterday are now reminiscing on the time squandered at the expense of prioritising the national reforms agenda, Newsday can reveal.

The former legislators, particularly from the Lower House of Parliament – the National Assembly-  waited until literally the 11th hour to deliberate on the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill of 2022 better known as the Omnibus Bill.

Now they are frolicking the Constitution as they look for an escape route to get their hands onto the Bill which contains some 90 pieces of law to modify the National Constitution in line with the desires of the Basotho nation in their different formations, groupings and localities inside and outside the country per the Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue Plenary II Report of 2019 on reforms.

In a clandestine meeting that ensued after the very last sitting of the 10th Parliament at the National Assembly in the wee morning hours of Thursday July 14, 2022, just after midnight, the MPs sought out a way to control the system in order to afford them another go at amending the Constitution.

The MPs enraged by a number of amendments by the Upper House of Parliament onto the Bill, had already thrown out the window some seven amendments from Senate when the clock struck midnight forcing the presiding officer Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Lebohang Ramohlanka to adjourn the house sine die in preparation for a parliamentary dissolution which was implemented by His Majesty King Letsie III through the Dissolution of Parliament Number 61 of 2022.

The Bill which had been delivered by the now-defunct National Reforms Authority (NRA) which was the reforms implementing body in April when it wrapped-up its mandate, was deliberated by Senate on the last day of the life of the 10th Parliament on July 13, 2022.

The Senate sitting was preceded by an informal one by former NRA committees’ chairpersons, civil society organisations and legislators in a move to find a kind of common ground after it had seemed that the decisions by the National Assembly had been received with frowns by a number of sectors of society such as the media who had besought Senate to halt the legislation process to prevent that law from being enacted.

A member of the National Assembly who preferred to comment on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, told this publication that as soon as the house had been adjourned, the members who were present, converged the meeting which was also attended by “very senior members of government to discuss a way-out”.

“It was at this meeting where the Prime Minister was encouraged to evoke Section 84 of the Constitution to advise His Majesty to recall parliament after its dissolution to have it reconvene even if for just a day or two to finalise pending work”.

The cited constitutional section provides for conditions under which a National Assembly can be held even after dissolution of Parliament.

Subsection (2) of same says that “If, after a dissolution of Parliament and before holding of general elections of members of the National Assembly, the King is advised by the Council of State that, owing to a state of war or of a state of emergency in Lesotho, it is necessary to recall parliament, the King shall recall the parliament that has been dissolved and that Parliament shall be deemed to be the Parliament for the time being (and the members of the dissolved Parliament shall be deemed to be the members of the recalled Parliament), but general elections of members of the National Assembly shall proceed and the recalled Parliament shall, if not sooner dissolved, stand dissolved on the day immediately preceding the day fixed for such general election or , if more than one such day, the first of such days”.       

The reforms that failed to pass before the Parliament of Lesotho sparked a tension that erupted after the members of the National Assembly removed about 30 clauses in the Bill that contains over 90 amendments.

Most of the amendments to the bill by way of the said removals, seemed to step on the toes of a number of sectors of society inter alia; media sector which cried foul that a lion’s share of their submissions had been removed.

To abate the quagmire created, the informal meeting had been convened followed by the Senate sitting which had deliberated on same until the final hour when the Bill returned to the lower House.

Following the lapse of time and term of the 10th Parliament, the following day (yesterday July 14, 2022), Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro issued a legal instrument Declaration of National State of Disaster Notice Number 62 of 2022 dated 11 July 2022, which shall be deemed to have come into effect for the period spanning February 17 to August 16, 2022.

The state of disaster is described in the legal document as in respect of torrential rains that plagued the country earlier this year, although the declaration is being made in winter when there is barely any precipitation of any kind let alone rain.

The move is interestingly one favoured by some of the members of the House even if from different sides of the government divide.

Opposition Alliance for Democrats (AD), Thuso Litjobo, said in a legal fix such as that one, it was the Prime Minister who could save the day after seeking due legal counsel.

“They have to consult people like the Attorney General for advices on what to do because we have to go to elections having completed the Bill since it entails reforms,” he said.

On the other hand, Leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP) Machesetsa Mofomobe who is also Minister of Small Business Development Cooperatives and Marketing, echoed similar sentiments adding that the fact that the Bill failed to pass before Parliament is a disaster and crisis that has befallen the country since the reforms were made to stabilise the nation by amending some of the sections of the Constitution like floor-crossing, formulation of coalition government and the security sector.

“A lot of money was invested for the reforms to be completed. I am part of the parliament but I don’t think it is right that as parliament members we should be pointing fingers at each other, but where I have to I will.

“They (Senate) brought the Omnibus Bill at 11:30 pm, we tried to do the least we could within that time but time caught-up with us before we could go any further. It would be a disaster if we go to the elections with a situation like this.

“The solution would be that the government should consider declaring a state of emergency in order to recall the parliament and give it at least two to three days,” he said. 

Last week the International community with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) at the helm is worried about the future, if any, of the National Reforms programme given the remaining time before Parliamentary dissolution ahead of the October date set for the general elections.

This emerged during a workshop held to sensitise members of the Senate in relation to the 11th Constitutional Amendment Omnibus Bill which imbues the National Reforms.

Head of the EU Delegation to Lesotho Paola Amadei expressed her concern towards the future of the reforms, whether the reforms will pass in parliament.  

Amadei stated that the UN and EU had injected M15million towards facilitation of the National Reforms process over the past two years.

“Time is of the essence and we should not leave any stone unturned to complete the process. The passing of the Omnibus Bill is a crucial step in advancing the National Reform process, allowing its implementation after the processes that strive over many years and so the involvement of the whole nation. 

“Extensive and inclusive consultations allowed Basotho in the Diaspora to have their voices and opinions heard to shape the future of the nation and to avoid the repeat of past crises,” she said.

She said that the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the EU have been in continued and steady partnership of the Basotho nation on the National Reform process providing political and financial support.

“Support provided was to facilitate public meetings during the multi-stakeholder dialogue process and to fund the National Reforms Authority whose work was drafting and outreach.

 â€œThe EU has reserved M16million to support Basotho in the implementation of the new constitutional changes. As I speak before you, I am however deeply concerned by the perspective that the parliament might fail to adopt the reforms before its dissolution.

Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator Amanda Mukwashi said it was imperative that Parliament regards passing the Constitutional amendment 2022 before its dissolution

“Peace is an essential ingredient in maintaining economic development, political and social order. Basotho came together in a resounding equivocal single voice, pronounced the specific reforms that the country needed to go through in the seven thematic sectors,” she said.

“The people sworn that these reforms would transform the country into the Lesotho that we want. Their voices were captured in the Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue Plenary II Report and delivered to NRA to kick start implementation in the immediate term.

“With this commitment, they demonstrated desire to see peace, prosperity and wellbeing for every single Mosotho. With this commitment, Basotho gained confidence and support of the international community,” she said.

The initial phase of the National Reforms was dialogue amongst different sectors of Basotho in their different localities in the 10 districts as well as through Diaspora consultations for Basotho living abroad especially those in the neighbouring South Africa where most them are based. These are the views which make-up the Plenary II Report.

This phase was spear-headed by a 15-member multi-sector National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) whose mandate ended at the fall of 2020, hot on the heels of the NRA whose role was to implement the public view and so legalise the practicality of the protracted reforms agenda.

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