MASERU — The controversial Land Bill 2009 yesterday moved closer to becoming law after parliament passed it with an overwhelming “yes vote”.
The Bill, described by some critics “as an attempt to sell land to foreigners” will now be passed to the senate next week.
The senate, according to MPs close to the issue, is likely to take about two weeks with the Bill.
The Bill was passed in the absence of most opposition MPs who had walked out of parliament protesting that there had not been enough consultation on the proposed law.
The boycott started last Friday when opposition MPs objected to the Bill being tabled for the first reading.
They walked out just as the Prime Minister’s Ministries and Departments Cluster chairman Hlonepho Nts’ekhe was about to table the Bill for the first reading.
The opposition has accused the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) government of trying to railroad the Bill without subjecting it to enough public scrutiny.
They said there were other urgent issues to discuss and the Bill was not one of those pressing issues that should consume parliament’s time.
The MPs also walked out of parliament on Monday.
During their absence from parliament yesterday, the remaining MPs who were mostly from the LCD passed the Bill.
Last night Nts’ekhe, whose committee had been tasked to scrutinise the Bill and gather stakeholder concerns, said the Bill could soon become law.
He branded the opposition MPs hypocrites as opposition legislators were part of the committee that accented to the Bill during the consultation process.
Nts’ekhe said most of the MPs who were in the committee even suggested 30 of the 57 amendments that had been made to the Bill during the consultations.
“We have about 57 amendments 30 of which originate from the opposition leaders who are also part of this committee. They made the recommendations both in their personal capacities and as party leaders,” Nts’ekhe said.
Opposition leaders who are members of the committee include Metsing Lekhanya of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Macaefa Billy, Lesotho Workers’ Party (LWP), Moeketse Malebo, Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) and Lekhetho Rakuoane, of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD
Nts’ekhe is an LCD MP for Thaba-Phats’oa constituency 8 and is a former assistant minister for the ministry of gender and youth, sports and recreation.
He said it was not true that the people had not been consulted.
“We discussed the issue with leaders at all levels. We engaged members of parliament from all districts, senators, district councilors and administrators, agricultural organisations, chiefs, NGOs and the general public.”
“We also engaged private land developers and real estate agencies. But most of all, we engaged representatives of the Master of the High Court and the Law Reform Commission.”
He said the opposition MPs were “now trapped because they had promised their supporters that they would block the Bill.”
“They are just using the Bill as a bargaining chip,” he said.
According to Nts’ekhe, if the opposition had any valid grievances about the Bill to begin with, they should have compiled a minority report to be attached to the committee’s report to parliament before its first tabling.
“Had they queried this issue from the beginning, they could have compiled a minority report reflecting their descending views which would then be captured in the main report,” Nts’ekhe said.
“The grave mistake they made however was misleading their followers and promising them that they would fiercely oppose the Bill.
“They also promised that they would walk out of parliament when the Bill was tabled just to impress their disciples.
“They also intentionally shied from telling their supporters that they had engaged in the drafting of the Bill and had vouched for it because they were ashamed.”
Nts’ekhe again also dismissed claims that they are speeding up the passing of the Bill because they were under pressure from the Millennium Challenge Corporation which is to pump US$20.5 million into Lesotho’s land reform project.
“The assumption that we are passing the Bill due to pressure from the Americans is false. We as Basotho made the proposal for land reform as we realised that our land tenure system needed to be changed,” Nts’ekhe said.
“Even the ABC leader, Thabane agrees with us. This Bill is meant to speed up land administration and tenure.”