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The opposition bloc has argued that the government cannot legally allocate M248 million the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says is required for the elections after Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane failed to table budgetary estimates for the 2017/8 financial year in February.
The bloc, which consists of All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), had disrupted Mr Sekhamane arguing that the government no longer had the legitimacy to pass the budget because they had lost their parliamentary numerical supremacy.
The opposition alliance eventually successfully sponsored a parliamentary no-confidence motion on the seven-party coalition government on 1 March 2017, with King Letsie III dissolving parliament on 6 March. The bloc has also warned the accountant-general and chief accounting officers of various government ministries against utilising public funds beyond the end of March prosecution, saying they would be liable for prosecution when a new administration takes over.
However, the government has stressed it has the powers to bankroll the elections without parliamentary approval.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili this week dismissed the opposition’s assertion saying the 28 February 2015 elections were also held without parliamentary approval.
In this interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with political analyst Dr Arthur Majara, about the funding for the polls and related issues.
LT: What are the implications of the no-confidence vote on Dr Mosisili’s government?
Majara: We are living in an era of coalition governments, and the system we use is a mixed-member proportion commonly known as proportional representation. We are also using the Westminster parliamentary model we adopted from the British. But we should be careful that the British themselves don’t have a written constitution. They use traditions and customs. This means their governance is quite flexible depending on consensus. But with us, we depend entirely on the constitution. It’s rigid. Now, the office of the prime minister is embedded in the constitution. This means there are no circumstances in which people could claim they have toppled the prime minister even by way of a motion of no confidence in parliament. A vote of no confidence only sets the precedent relating to what exactly happened in parliament which leads to the subsequent removal of the sitting prime minister from office. In other words, it’s not automatic that when parliament has passed a vote of no-confidence on the prime minister, he should immediately go.
LT: What exactly should happen where a vote of no confidence has been passed on the prime minister and his government?
Majara: The National Assembly Standing Order No. 111 clearly provides that there shall be a motion of no confidence which first needs to be submitted before the business portfolio committee. According to the Standing Order, it is mandatory for the opposition to suggest a name of a legislator they want to be the prime minister. By so doing, that doesn’t mean the name of the person they suggested is already automatically the prime minister. The sitting prime minister, on the other hand, is given three days to resign or advise the King after the motion is passed. Only if the prime minister fails to resign or advise the King can the Council of State then intervene and advise the King to replace the sitting prime minister with that name suggested by the opposition. This is where a lot of analysts are missing the point. They think Ntate Monyane Moleleki should have automatically become prime minister after the motion of no confidence was passed. But the constitution does not say so.
LT: What about an argument that King Letsie III should have received advice from the Council of State on the decision to dissolve parliament?
Majara: Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili himself told us that the same day the motion was passed he was quick to approach King Letsie III to advise him to dissolve parliament and set the Election Day. Now, there has been an argument whether Ntate Mosisili acted within his right to advise the King after a vote of no confidence was passed against him. And the question is whether Ntate Mosisili was no longer a prime minister after the motion? No! He was still the prime minister and he remains the prime minister even now. So he was the right man to advise the King at that very moment. I want to assure you that Ntate Mosisili will not be removed from that office unless and until he resigns. We cannot have a vacancy in that office. Alternatively, the Council of State can advise the King to use that name suggested by the opposition and the council can only do that if the prime minister decides not to either advise the King or resign. And here is the other thing; if Ntate Mosisili has a good standing with the army and he decides to use the army so that he cannot be removed from office under these circumstances, there would be nothing that anyone could do. He would remain in office by force. That is if he has good support of the army. But Ntate Mosisili has opted to be democratic and advised the King accordingly.
LT: Under what circumstances should the King consult with the Council of State for advice?
Majara: As long as the prime minister continues to make his decisions democratically and in line with the constitution, the Council of State is not necessary. The Council of State was established only in 1993 following the political events of 1970. Before 1993, there was no Council of State. We know that one of the things that happened in 1970 was the suspension of the constitution. The Council of State was established in the 1993 constitution so that the incident cannot repeat itself. There was no Council of State in the previous 1966 constitution. And people need to know why the Council of State was established. Legislators do not appoint the prime minister. The constitution is clear that a political leader whose party or coalition of parties has majority in parliament is the one appointed the prime minister. Now, because of the solemn oath the King makes in his office – which forbids him from interfering in politics – His Majesty cannot be seen to be interfering in parliamentary issues and determining who should be the prime minister. He does not have the technical knowhow about such issues. That is why now we have the Council of State or the IEC to provide him with hard facts about the numbers in parliament.
LT: How will the government fund the elections when it has failed to pass the budget?
Majara: The issue of a budget proposal by the finance minister was not in any way going to interfere with the issue of a motion of no confidence. The National Assembly Speaker (Ntlhoi Motsamai) had already referred to the budget proposal on Friday 24 February 2017 before the speech was scheduled on Monday 27 February 2017. Ordinarily, the finance minister was supposed to be allowed to present the budget speech in parliament and then his presentation would be taken to the relevant portfolio committee to discuss it. That committee would then come back to the National Assembly and present a report over the budget estimations made by the minister. If everything went according to the law; this was the stage in which the opposition could contest the budget. But in the recent case, the opposition was too quick to attack the budget presumably because they thought the budget would interfere with their motion of no confidence.
So note that the opposition blocked the budget rebelliously and not legally. That’s why even the speaker threatened to dismiss them from the house. As we speak, the opposition don’t even have an idea of what they blocked. They blocked something they don’t know. Sections 112 to 114 of the constitution stipulate clearly what process should be followed during the budget. The opposition acted outside the confines of that law and what they did is illegal. They cannot claim to have toppled the government through an illegal action. They bypassed a constitutional provision. And by so doing, they declared a revolution on the government. So where we are, in terms of the budget, the government has not been defeated. The fact is that the budget has not yet been presented in parliament. In other the budget has been deferred indefinitely.
If the opposition had followed a legal route to block the budget, then the government would have a problem. The only option the government would have had would be to resign. But the issue we have now is that the government has not been defeated in terms of passing the budget in parliament. The government can continue to use one third from the previous budget allocation. The government cannot face an onslaught from international development partners, in particular the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for using the money now. In other words, the government can still use around M5 billion which is a third quarter of the budget from the last financial year. And the IEC has only requested M248 million. So they will get the money. Suppose the government doesn’t have that money now, it can still borrow that money from development partners which would otherwise refuse to help if the opposition had legally blocked the budget. It is therefore legitimate for the government to seek funding from wherever.
LT: Now that parliament has been dissolved, what will eventually happen with the budget?
Majara: Suppose the present government loses power through the coming elections, the next government will go back and use the same budget estimates left in place by the present government, at least for the few months left until the next financial year. The new government can only adjust the programmes to suit their policies but not the figures themselves. It will be too late for them to make adjustments on the budget itself. They can only make amendments on programmes.
LT: Do you think Dr Mosisili will win the elections?
Majara: If you can look at the statistics from way back, one can guess that things are not rosy for Ntate Moleleki. For instance, when the ABC was established in 2006, it only managed to get around 125 000 votes in 2007 elections. In 2012, ABC increased its votes by 13.5 percent. And in 2015 their votes increased much significantly. So it has been quite a journey for the ABC to be where it is today. Ntate Moleleki will have massive problems because he has a new party. So we cannot really say Ntate Moleleki is now a threat to Ntate Mosisili. But the ABC is likely to perform well in the coming elections. Ntate Mosisili, with his DC, will also perform well probably just after the ABC. Ntate Moleleki will then follow them with more proportional representation seats in parliament.
Ntate Moleleki will not have many votes from the constituencies’ level, but generally he will qualify for more proportional representation seats. So the many proportional representation seats that Ntate Moleleki will garner will play a big role in his alliance with Ntate Thabane. Their coalition is likely to form the next government. But that does not leave Ntate Moleleki in a better position. He is faced with a mammoth task because he will be fighting for proportional representation seats with the rest other parties aligned to Ntate Mosisili’s DC. Also what makes Ntate Moleleki’s political fight more difficult is that he cannot easily penetrate Ntate Mosisili’s support base in the mountainous parts of the country, while he also cannot penetrate the ABC in the urban areas. The congress movement is deeply rooted in the rural areas and that’s the same thing with ABC in the urban areas.