The Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesperson Thuso Litjobo yesterday launched a scathing attack on the Independent Electoral Commission IEC accusing it of being incompetent at the expense of the country.
Litjobo warned that an incompetent IEC was a risk factor for electoral violence.
â€œIEC will burn this country,â€ he said.
He was reacting to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returnsâ€™ decision to give IEC the go-ahead to correct the mistake it did when allocating Proportional Representation (PR) seats following the national assembly elections which were on October 7, last year.
The IEC had allocated three PR seats to the AD and 11 to the Democratic Congress (DC) but later found that it had done a mistake.
It said it was supposed to have allocated only two PR seats to AD and eight to DC.
On October 22, it filed an urgent application in the High Court in its constitutional jurisdiction for an order to review, correct, and set aside as irregular the allocation of PR seats in so far as that allocation gave AD three PR seats and DC 11 seats.
It wanted the High Court to grant it leave to amend the allocation of PR seats allocated to DC from 11 to eight seats and those allocated to AD from three to two.
It wanted the four seats expropriated from DC and AD to be allocated to four political parties namely the Basotho National Party (BNP), Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP), Lesotho Peopleâ€™s Congress (LPC), and the United for Change (UFC).
The High Court ruled that in its constitutional capacity, it did not have the authority to decide the case and struck it off the roll.
The matter was then brought before the Court of Disputed Returns which yesterday granted IEC leave to amend the allocation.
â€œWe are studying the judgment and will consult our lawyers before making a comprehensive statement on the matter,â€ Litjobo said yesterday.
However, he emphasised that IECâ€™s mistake had the potential to plunge the country into electoral violence.
â€œImagine if the parties that were wrongfully allocated the PR seats were those in government and their number of seats in parliament was going to go below 61 and therefore, a change of the government, following this court judgment, what was going? IEC will burn this country if we fold our arms and not do anything about,â€ he said.
The deputy leader of DC, Motlalentoa Letsosa, also said the party was studying the judgment and would only make a comprehensive statement after consulting its lawyers.
IEC director of elections, Mpaiphele Maqutuâ€™s phone rang answered yesterday when this paper tried to contact him for a comment.
The representative of the four parties BNP, BPP, LPC, and UFC, Reverend Paul Masiu, told Newsday that they wanted to know how IEC announced incorrectly calculated results for PR seats in the first place.
â€œThis issue does not end here. We need to get to the bottom of it. We want to know how we arrived here. IEC should account, we will not sweep the matter under the carpet now that we are going to get our PR seats. We will still demand to know what happened,â€ Masiu said.
The Court of Disputed Returnsâ€™ judgement means Morapeli Motoboli, â€˜Maletsema Letsoepa, and Katleho Mosotho of DC and Lebohang Mochaba of AD will have to vacate their seats in the national assembly.
They were sworn in as members in October last year.
In January, three activists, Kananelo Boloetse, Motsamai Mokotjo, and Resetselemang Jane petitioned the council of state to advise His Majesty King Letsie III to establish a tribunal to investigate the three IEC commissionersâ€™ fitness to hold office.
The three IEC commissioners are Mphasa Mokhochane, who is the chairperson, TÅ¡oeu Petlane, and Dr Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoana.
â€œIn October last year, IEC admitted that it had announced incorrectly calculated results for four Proportional Representation (PR) seats,â€ Boloetse, Mokotjo, and Jane said in their letter.
The trio emphasised that the biggest casualties of announcing incorrectly calculated results for four PR seats were the taxpayers who were robbed of thousands of Maloti every month that Motoboli, Letsoepa, Mosotho, and Mochaba were in parliament.
They said a member of the national assembly earns about M474,348.00 per annum or about M39,529 per month.
MPs, according to the three activists, are also entitled to a tax-free housing allowance of M3,000 per month, a tax-free petrol allowance of M5,000 per month, a tax-free utilities allowance of M2,000 per month, and a tax-free expense allowance of M1,000 per month, among others.
â€œThese add up to about M50,529,â€ they said.
â€œThe taxpayers are forking out over M200,000 each month to pay the salaries and benefits of four people who were not supposed to be in the National Assembly in the first place. In five months, the taxpayers would have coughed up over M1 million for the four MPsâ€™ salaries and benefits
â€œIt is against this background that we humbly request that the Council of State should represent to His Majesty King III that the question of removing the three Commissioners of IEC has to be investigated,â€ they added.
The Kingâ€™s acting senior private secretary, Nyolosi Mphale, responded to Boloetse, Mokotjo, and Janeâ€™s letter on January 17, this year.
â€œWe wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 3rd January 2023 addressed to the Senior Private Secretary to His Majesty. In your letter you request that the Council of State should advise His Majesty to authorize the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the fitness of the current Commissioners of the IEC to hold office,â€ Mphale said.
â€œPlease be advised that your letter has been communicated to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration. That is the Office you could have addressed your concern to as it is the office mandated to deal with such matters,â€ she added.
The Basotho Action Party (BAP), led by Professor Nqosa Mahao, also wrote to the council of state last month asking it to advise the King to set up a tribunal to investigate the commissionersâ€™ fitness to hold office.
â€œWe have observed over time the commissionersâ€™ inability to handle their responsibilities with due diligence and sensitivity required from incumbents of such a high office,â€ read the BAP letter signed by the partyâ€™s secretary general, Lebohang Thotanyane.
Thotanyane explained that the inability of the IEC to organise by-elections as is required by the constitution in five constituencies and numerous local councils whereby people from five constituencies and several local councils were denied the constitutional right to participate in the running of the affairs of the country because the IEC neglected to hold the by-elections proved incompetence of the commissioners.
â€œWhilst the IEC made the excuse that the government of Lesotho failed to provide the required funding, this is neither here nor there as IEC is an independent body that ought to have taken all necessary measures including but not limited to seeking legal redress against the government to protect its mandate and democratic right of citizens.
â€œIEC seems to have outsourced its independence and has effectively become a government department under the full direction of the executive. This, we find to be a serious dereliction of their constitutional duty and responsibility,â€ read the letter.
In February, BNP, BPP, LPC, and UFC also wrote to the council of state requesting it to â€œurgently advise the King to appoint a tribunal to investigate IEC Commissionersâ€™ fitness to hold officeâ€.
â€œWe are aware that young concerned Basotho, Kananelo Boloetse, Motsamai Mokotjo, and Resetselemang Jane wrote a letter on 3rd January 2023 requesting that the Council of State should represent to His Majesty King III that the question of removing the three Commissioners of IEC has to be investigated and that he should appoint a tribunal that will enquire into this matter and report on the facts thereof to him and also recommend to him whether the Commissioners should be removed,â€ the four parties said in a letter dated February 21.
â€œWe fully support their request for a tribunal and wish to emphasise that the three IEC commissioners should be removed from office for misbehavior in that they announced wrong results for PR seats and ignored political leaders who tried to show them the mistake,â€ they added.
They cited section 66(11) of the constitution which states that the chairman or any other member of the electoral commission can be removed from office by the King if the question of their removal has been referred to a tribunal.