…threatens court action if plan is implemented…
BASOTHO Action Party (BAP) leader, Nqosa Mahao, has strongly condemned new Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s plans for an amnesty for people who have been implicated in corruption, theft and embezzlement of government funds.
Addressing a press conference this week, Professor Mahao said he was gravely worried by the proposal which he described as an “egregious plot” aimed at obstructing the course of justice and shielding criminals from facing the music.
He vowed to fight the plan in parliament or in court if need be.
His remarks come against the background of Mr Matekane’s announcement at his Friday swearing-in ceremony of a 20-point action plan to stabilise the country and foster socio-economic growth.
Among other things, Mr Matekane’s ambitious plan includes measures to rein in excessive government expenditure. To this end, the premier said his government would immediately begin investigations into the M6, 1 billion government funds which Auditor General, Monica Besetsa, said could not be accounted for in the 2020/21 financial year. Ms Besetsa made the findings in her latest report on government revenues for the financial year which ended on 31 March 2021.
He said the probe into the funds, which could not be accounted for by the previous Majoro-led government, must begin and the findings should be made public within 15 days of the completion of the probe.
Other measures to be undertaken in terms of the 20-point plan to restore fiscal discipline, the prime minister said, include a “corruption, theft and embezzlement amnesty programme within 30 days”.
But Prof Mahao is having none of the proposed amnesty.
Speaking on the issue at his Tuesday presser, which was attended by his deputy, Motlatsi Maqelepo and members of the BAP’s national executive committee (NEC) in Maseru, Prof Mahao said, “To a rational and conscientious mind, this (amnesty) is a worrisome omen”.
“There is ample reason to believe that this is an egregious plot engineered for the purpose of obstructing justice and the absolution of criminal suspects from prosecution in this context of endemic corruption in Lesotho.
“Without a shadow of doubt, for this matter to be declared a programme of government, it must have consciously been deliberated at length during the political bargaining to arrange a coalition government and to stipulate its business.
“The passage of such a (amnesty) law would abort the project of sustainable development and distort the agenda of democracy as such a law would be discriminatory and only benefit certain people.”
Prof Mahao said his party was gravely concerned about what it said were contradictions exhibited by Mr Matekane in calling for an immediate investigation into the missing M6, 1 billion while simultaneously proposing an amnesty for fraudsters and looters.
“I will engage RFP robustly in parliament over the amnesty bill if it will dare propose it. Other people who shall be unfairly discriminated by such a law have a right to challenge its constitutionality in the courts of law. Obviously, it is unbecoming for a leadership entrusted by popular vote to salvage Lesotho out of corruption-inflicted poverty to flagrantly circumvent the law in the manner envisaged.
“The government should uphold the law, observe the equality of all citizens before the law without any discrimination and it must steer clear of unscrupulous methods of selective justice that give impunity to special persons in political power.
“Such untenable compromise of the law shall abort the project of sustainable development and distort the agenda of democracy,” Prof Mahao said.
He said he would not wait for Mr Matekane to “trip and fall” before steering him in the right direction.
“I just want to help him do things right from the very beginning of his rule and I don’t need to be joined by other parties before I can oppose him. The BAP is sufficient on its own. We have promised to be His Majesty’s loyal opposition and we have started. We will not whisper in the ear of the government when it errs, but we will always come out and openly criticise, as well as commend where necessary.”
He said the sole purpose of convening the presser was to call the new government to order and advise it to desist from its plan. He said they also wanted “to alert the local and international communities to the potential risks in the government’s contemplation of a policy to grant amnesty to persons who may have committed economic offences”.
“We implore and expect the new government to come to its senses; to desist from perpetuating and nurturing corruption and become a responsible government subject to the constitution. There are no pragmatic reasons or special political circumstances to warrant the absolution of culprits from criminal liability for the abuse of economic and social rights committed against Basotho by the political class.”
While Mr Matekane’s inaugural speech was generally well-meaning, the BAP nonetheless harboured a critical reservation to and foresee “an ill-intentioned amnesty policy” he said.
On his part, Mr Maqelepo said it not only defied logic, but it was also worrisome that the premier and his allies had come to a decision which “badly compromised democracy”.
“We just don’t understand how they made such a detrimental decision of wanting to give amnesty to people who committed economic crimes. Lesotho is where it is today because of the same corruption which they want to disregard and pardon. Who is this intended to benefit,” Maqelepo asked.