IEC operations grind to a halt

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Nthatuoa Koeshe | Pascalinah Kabi

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s operations have ground to a virtual standstill after the expiry of the director of elections Dr Letholetseng Ntsike’s contract last week.

Law and Justice principal secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, this week told the Lesotho Times that the IEC was now without a director of elections, effectively disabling its entire operations.  He said the post cannot be filled in the absence of commissioners as they were the only ones empowered to do so by the Electoral Act of 2011.

As a result, the IEC’s operations are at a standstill and the electoral body cannot conduct by-elections or demarcate constituencies, Rtd Col Mothae said.

He said the IEC cannot recruit her successor as this can only be done by commissioners who were yet to be appointed.

The crisis-ridden electoral body has been without commissioners after the previous Thomas Thabane-led government refused to renew the contracts of former chairperson, Justice Lehohla, and fellow commissioners Advocate ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Dr Makase Nyaphisi’s contracts following their expiry in January 2019. The decision not to renew their contracts was baffling as the three had conducted themselves impeccably during their tenures and run three consecutive credible elections.  The commissioners nonetheless also lost their court bids to remain in office.

Subsequent moves to recruit new commissioners were put on hold by a July 2019 Constitutional Court application by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and two others for the nullification of the appointment of Workplace Solutions as the consultants in the recruitment of new IEC commissioners.

The TRC’s co-applicants are IEC hopeful, Maieane Khaketla, and the African Ark party. The African Ark is one of the political parties involved in the processes to recruit and appoint new commissioners.

The TRC wants the court to order the recruitment exercise of the new IEC commissioners to be re-done with the active participation of civic groups through a public interviewing process.

The TRC also wants a final order which nullifies the appointment of Workplace Solutions as the consultants in the whole recruitment exercise.

The TRC contends that Workplace Solutions was awarded the tender without following proper bidding processes in contravention of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2007.  It has been suggested the firm did not even have a tax clearance certificate.

The case is pending before the courts and is the main impediment to the appointment of new commissioners.

Rtd Col Mothae said the IEC cannot replace Dr Ntsike in the absence of commissioners as they were the only ones empowered to do so by the Electoral Act.

“Dr Ntsike’s contract has ended and the position will remain vacant because the challenge is on the side of the law,” Rtd Col Mothae said.

“The (Law and Justice) minister (Professor Nqosa Mahao) is consulting to see how best we can navigate this matter.

“Maybe after the consultations, the minister will come up with a solution. But as we speak, there is no one in that office. This means that IEC business is at a standstill. The IEC cannot hold any by-elections or conduct all other serious business in the absence of commissioners,” added Rtd Col Mothae.

Prof Mahao’s mobile phone rang unanswered when he was called for comment yesterday. Last month, he described the situation at the IEC as a crisis.

“We are in crisis at the IEC. We currently do not have commissioners and the work cannot go on. For example, the constitution dictates that we must periodically demarcate the electoral constituencies but that assignment cannot be concluded without commissioners. In addition, the contract of the director of elections expires at the end of this month (June 2020).

“I have asked the Attorney General (Haae Phoofolo) to give me legal advice on this matter in the face of the pending court cases regarding the appointment of new commissioners,” Prof Mahao said last month.

Meanwhile Adv Ntsike this week told this publication that without commissioners, the IEC would continue to be paralysed by serious challenges including the inability to conduct elections or demarcate constituencies.

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