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Commonwealth warns coalition government

 

. . . ignore recommendations at your own peril

 

Billy Ntaote

THE Commonwealth Expert Adviser to Lesotho, Rajen Prasad, has warned the coalition government against failing to adopt the raft of changes recommended in the report prepared after the recent study tour of New Zealand by a 25-member delegation from Lesotho.

A high-powered delegation of politicians, senior civil servants and civil society representatives visited New Zealand from June 28 to July 5, with a view to study the country’s governance system.
After the tour, the Commonwealth was supposed to make recommendations on how Lesotho’s three feuding ruling political parties — the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) — could improve their working relationship, which has soured over recent months over Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s alleged lack of consultation when making key governance decisions.

Dr Prasad submitted the report to the coalition partners last week and Dr Thabane is expected to release it to the public tomorrow at a press conference scheduled for the Ministry of Health Auditorium.
It is expected the three ruling parties will use the recommendations to amend their original Coalition Agreement, on which the current government was founded after the 26 May 2012 general election had resulted in a hung parliament.

The report, titled “Governance in Lesotho: Repositioning for success” makes several recommendations, and also warns of the consequences of failing to adopt them in their entirety.
Reads the abridged version of the report: “The major recommendations were developed by the delegation and represent the consensus that was reached on the final day of the New Zealand visit.
“Suggestions on how to progress the recommendations were developed by the Commonwealth Advisers and represent suggestions to the Government of Lesotho and any future implementation team.
“The recommendations are informed by the extensive consultations conducted with a wide cross-section of interests in Lesotho since the May 2012 election by the Commonwealth team and their knowledge of workings of the New Zealand governance system.”

According to Dr Prasad, “the recommendations and proposed reform programme represent a set of interrelated changes that is advisable for deepening democracy and enhancing development.
“It is the Commonwealth Expert Adviser’s view that addressing only some of the recommended changes will not produce the sustainable change that various stakeholders have informed the Commonwealth team is required in Lesotho.

“Together, there is every chance that sufficient momentum will be gained to give citizens confidence in their governments and will enable governments to focus on those things that could lift Lesotho from the group of least-developed nations.
“The programme suggested here depends on strong leadership that is focused on doing what is best for the country and nothing else.
“The Commonwealth Advisers believe that Lesotho has the potential to become a leading example of participatory democracy in Africa, and through this, progress prosperity for its two million citizens.”
Dr Prasad lists the following in the recommendations, and why the changes are necessary:

  • Establishing an independent public service. The Lesotho public service should be reshaped as an independent, non-politicised, professional service delivering the policies set by Ministers and approved by Cabinet.

It has also been accepted that processes should be enhanced so that Principal Secretaries are more accountable to their Ministers and that Parliament should be further enhanced to hold both Ministers and Principal Secretaries accountable through its various procedures.
The international standard is for public servants to be appointed on the basis of their competence and experience, and that their political views will be kept private.

  • Role of the State Services Commission: In New Zealand, there is a tripartite relationship between the State Services Commissioner, Minister of the Crown and Chief Executives of Ministries who are responsible for the hiring of all staff.
  • Process for major appointments in New Zealand: New Zealand has well-established processes for major appointments in constitutional and senior public service roles, some of which are described below: Governor-General: the Governor-General is appointed by The Queen on advice from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister consults with senior Members of the Opposition to make sure they agree with the appointment.
This allows for stability if the government changes. Individuals who have been politically active or stated publicly their political affiliation are not likely to be appointed as Governor-General.
Chief Executives (called Principal Secretaries in Lesotho): Appointment is the responsibility of the State Services Commissioner.
All vacancies are publicly advertised and applicants are assessed on their experience and competence. Once shortlisted, applicants usually undertake two interviews by
Recruitment consultants, sit an IQ and psychometric test, and attend a panel interview.
The panel then makes a recommendation to the Commissioner, who appoints the Chief Executive after consulting the Minister and Cabinet.
Chief Executives are appointed for a period of up to eight years, and may be
Reappointed depending on their performance. However, the usual period of appointment is five years.
The process for appointing the Chief of Defence and Police Commissioner is roughly the same as appointing a Chief Executive.

Recommendations for the reform of parliament and its procedure
1. That the Government appoint a Parliamentary Reform Committee (the Committee) to undertake a review of Lesotho’s parliamentary processes and institutions, and recommend changes, guided by the contents of this report and international best practice, to make them fit for purpose in a MMP environment.
2. That all political parties or block of parties be represented on the Committee.
3. That the Committee ensures its recommendations are suited to the cultural traditions of Lesotho.
4. That the Committee examines the impact of floor-crossing on proportionality which frustrates the results of Election Day, and suggest rules that will give parliament stability.
5. That the Committee review the portfolio committees with a view to increasing the number of committees, reducing their size and circumscribing their areas of focus.
6. That the Committee examines ways of increasing the participation of citizens in the portfolio committees.
7. That the Committee reviews the regularity with which parliament meets for the best fit with its law making and monitoring roles, and for providing citizens with adequate access.
8. That the Committee considers the need for community education on the role of parliament and how citizens can access it.
9. That the Committee review the method by which votes are cast in parliament and to consider the merits of introducing the casting of party votes, as used in the New Zealand Parliament, in order to increase the efficiency of parliament.
10. That the Committee recommend any changes to relevant legislation, the constitution, standing orders or other rules governing parliament.
11. That the committee progress the establishment of a Commission to oversee parliament and the separation of parliamentary operations from House business.
12. That the Committee report to parliament within three months of being established.

Coalition negotiations: During the coalition negotiation phase, different parties identify specific policies from their election manifesto that they want to see implemented by a coalition government.
Parties are willing to enter into these negotiations because they want to influence the direction of the country in particular areas in order to build a better society.
Coalitions always require compromise and negotiation to steer a successful pathway that meets the aspirations of the electorate which did not give any one party the mandate to rule on its own.
All parties that agree to join in coalition need to have an agreement on where they are heading.
It is acceptable for the parties to have different ways to reach the same destination, but there must be agreement on the destination.
The coalition agreement usually includes provisions designed to ensure open communication in advance, including a ‘no surprises’ clause.
The agreements also always include a statement on consultation requirements.
These statements are not intended to be onerous, and usually require conversations between the leaders of the coalition parties in advance of public disclosure of information.
These meetings are important as they keep the relationships between the different parties fresh.

Allocation of Cabinet positions: The accepted practice is that the head of the largest coalition party will become the Prime Minister.
Where the second largest coalition party is a similar size, the leader of that party may become Deputy Prime Minister.
The only other positions that are determined during the coalition negotiations are Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, and committee chairpersons.
The decisions determining which ministerial portfolios are held by which party are influenced by the relative strength of the parties that make up the coalition.

Maintaining separate identities: After parties have agreed to enter into a coalition government, many experience consistent tension between trying to maintain their separate identities while simultaneously trying to create and maintain a strong coalition identity.
No individual party would want to give up their identity as they will need to campaign on it at the next election.
However, coalition partners must also have a joint identity, so that the electorate knows what to expect from their government.

Summary and Conclusion: When the Kingdom of Lesotho adopted the Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system of government it did not undertake a parallel process to reform its governance system.
For as long as it produced one party government this did not matter.
However with the dawn of coalition politics the inadequacies of the current system have become apparent.
This makes the reform programme urgent as future governments will also get trapped into difficulties that result from the mismatch between the current system of governance and what is actually required for an MMP parliament.
Each of the four matters that have been the focus of the study visit is critical to the future of Lesotho’s parliamentary democracy.
They all require reform. The visit to New Zealand has shown the delegation what is possible and what will be the positive spinoff for Lesotho if the reforms could be implemented.
This report shows a way forward.
It now requires political will to make it happen.

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