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Reforms paralysed: TRC warns of impending crisis

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Staff Reporter

The delay in passing the long-awaited constitutional reforms poses a threat to the establishment of the Human Rights Commission, vital democracy-supporting institutions, tiers of government, and public interest litigation.

This concern was voiced by the local advocacy group, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), in a statement presented to the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, currently underway in Tanzania.

Advocates Mokitimi TÅ¡osane and Mabela Lehloenya representing TRC, highlighted that since the dawn of coalition politics in 2012, Lesotho has experienced repeated bouts of political instability and the country has since pursued constitutional reforms to address this change in the political landscape and to align the constitutional architecture to these changes.

“The reforms are meant among other things aimed at addressing serious structural and institutional flaws in the laws of the land,” Tšosane and Lehloenya said.

They stated that despite significant domestic and international support, there has been “little or no progress since the dissolution of the National Reforms Authority in 2022” and subsequent rushed attempts to pass the mega constitutional amendments which faced serious procedural hurdles.

“Therefore, we recommend the expedition of the reforms in a manner that will not violate the basic structure doctrine and the established tenets of constitutionalism in constitutional change,” they said.

The reforms – meant to usher in a new era of stability in the country – are the result of years of discussions among political parties, civil society, and other role players, mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Last year after the previous parliament failed to pass the 10th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2022, commonly known as the Omnibus Bill, and following pressure from several quarters, the Council of State advised then-prime minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro to declare a state of emergency – one of two conditions under which a dissolved parliament can be recalled.

The Omnibus Bill seeks to amend key provisions regarding political parties, floor-crossing in Parliament, the appointment of senior officials, and the role of the prime minister.

When he declared a state of emergency, Majoro said failure to pass the Bill meant the continuation of unchecked politicisation of the public service, including the security agencies, loopholes in the constitution, formation of coalition governments, unregulated floor crossing in parliament, and inadequate regulation of political parties.

He said these issues had been identified as factors undermining political stability, justice, and peace in the country. He further indicated that the current political climate posed a substantial threat, risk, and danger to the country’s stability and prosperity.

“Unless the stated undesirable condition is addressed, it is likely to be beyond the control and escalate thus causing more threat to the peace, safety, and stability of the Basotho nation,” Majoro said.

After the state of emergency was declared, His Majesty King Letsie III recalled parliament to pass the omnibus bill and the National Assembly Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022.

The two bills and many other bills were consequently passed but on September 12, the High Court (sitting as the Constitutional Court) concluded that the state of emergency, as well as the reconvening of parliament, were null and void.

All laws passed by the recalled parliament were also declared null and void.

Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, as well as two judges of the high court, Justice TÅ¡eliso Monapathi and Justice Mafelile Ralebese, presided over the case.

Majoro and the attorney general, advocate Rapelang Motsieloa, appealed the high court ruling but the court of appeal on September 19 last year, dismissed their appeal with costs.

Political parties that were contesting the national assembly elections held on October 7 last year vowed to ensure the reform process would go ahead if they came to power.

During his inauguration on October 28 last year, Prime Minister Sam Ntsokoane Matekane said the importance of expediting ongoing national reforms could not be over-emphasised.

 â€œI thank you, your Excellency President Ramaphosa (Cyril) and your right-hand man – the leader of the mediation team Justice Dikgang Moseneke for your commendable efforts in leading and guiding our national dialogue and reform agenda,” he said.

“I promise to expedite the successful completion of the national agenda a journey towards the Lesotho we want,” he added.

In August this year when the government tried to resuscitate the Omnibus Bill to the state it had reached before the dissolution of parliament last year, local activist, Kananelo Boloetse, rushed to the high court saying resuscitation of Bills to the stage they had reached in the previous parliament was unconstitutional.

The high court ultimately ruled in favor of parliament’s authority to regulate its procedures.

This decision has been appealed, and the matter was heard in the Appeal Court on Tuesday this week, with a tentative judgment date set for November 17.

In the meantime, the National Assembly has indicated that it cannot proceed with reforms until the matter is finalised.

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