LESOTHO recently held the second plenary of the Multi-Stakeholders National Dialogue of the national reforms process. This marked a milestone for a process that has been protracted due to the bickering of politicians. The reforms were recommended in the aftermath of the report by the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led 10-member Commission of Inquiry that was appointed by SADC in July 2015 to investigate the killing of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his army colleagues. A National Reforms Authority (NRA) is now expected to be launched in the near future to steer the process. Lesego Makgothi (LM), the Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister recently sat down with Silence Charumbira (LT) the deputy editor of the Lesotho Times to give an update on the reforms. Below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: Lesotho recently closed the second plenary of the Multi-stakeholder National Dialogue on the multi-sector reforms process. Please take us through the reforms process, what has been achieved and where are we now?
LM: In June 2017, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane took the oath of office and during his inaugural speech, he made an undertaking to ensure that the reforms journey, which started with the first coalition of 2012, would go ahead. This time around we had to ensure that the processes are done to finality. The cabinet was appointed in July after which we went for a cabinet retreat at Mohale Dam. The coalition agreement was signed during that retreat followed by the announcement of the Steering Committee which would lead the reforms process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was tasked with leading the reform process working hand in hand with the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Service, the Minister of Police and the Minister of Defence.
We were directed to come up with a roadmap for which we engaged international partners and the Government Technical Support Team to come up with a document titled “The Lesotho we want”. The country encountered security challenges shortly before launching the roadmap, that is when Lieutenant General Khoanatle Motšomotšo was assassinated by his colleagues. This somehow had a potential of derailing the reforms journey.
Lesotho’s security issue was immediately given priority at a SADC Troika meeting and a fact-finding mission was dispatched and it concluded that the situation was volatile. SADC Preventative Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL) was then deployed and it operated for about a year retraining all security sectors.
Towards the end of 2017, I also went around distributing the roadmap to the SADC chair (eSwatini) and South Africa as the facilitator, Tanzania as Chair of the Organ and to Executive Secretary of SADC. The roadmap was endorsed in April 2018 in Luanda Angola during the sitting of Double Troika Organ Summit as issues at hand were that of us (Lesotho), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Madagascar. It was recommended that President Cyril Ramaphosa retain his role as the facilitator. He was however, further directed by the summit to appoint a team that will be on the ground to assist him as he has now assumed the new role of president of the Republic of South Africa. He then appointed retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to be the leader of the Facilitation Team with three deputy ministers who assisted him. The oversight committee was also extended to 26 members and we requested that its tenure be extended from June 2018 by another six months so that it could continue to act as an early warning mechanism in the country.
This helped us balance our reports to SADC in ensuring that reporting is not one sided. However, another challenge that we were faced with was on the implementation of SADC’s decisions and recommendations; the process had to be inclusive and meant engaging all stakeholders which ultimately lead to timelines not being met on the roadmap.
We also engaged the entire nation to ensure that the reforms are not that of the government only but for the entire Basotho. This further elongated the process as we also had to engage leaders who were in exile and had some conditions that they wanted met before they could come back to the country. Ultimately, they ended up coming back. In the process, we lost about three months which ideally shifted us off the roadmap timelines that were endorsed by the regional body. The leader of the facilitation team also did not assume his role into country immediately after being appointed in April 2018 but came around June. That also shifted the process back again. He however, engaged actively with the leaders who were outside the country. International Partners and Civil Societies played a pivotal role in engaging in ensuring return of those leaders.
In order to support the roadmap, I met with the United Nations Peace Building Fund on the margins of the 72nd UN General Assembly in 2017 where I stated our case and the desire to be assisted to support the roadmap. It was a laborious process as in order to get the funding of USD2 Million (about M29 417 100), a concept note and project brief had to be developed with the assistance of Government Technical Team and UN Development Partner until approval and inception of Lesotho National Dialogue and Stabilisation Project (LNDSP) a project aimed at supporting the roadmap in June 2018. The project was to last for 18 months while we were on the first phase of the reforms journey.
Upon launching the project, we did shuttle diplomacy where we immediately started with bringing all stakeholders on board, especially the leaders of political parties, civil society and academia. It was a tough task but we ultimately had a pre-National Leaders Forum in view of giving stakeholders an idea of what the first National Leaders Forum should be like. During the first National Leaders Forum NLF in August 2018, the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) was endorsed. Engaging the members of the NDPC ideally entailed that they had to work with the logistics of ensuring that we go to Plenary I and II respectively without any challenges.
NLF II was held in October 2018 and the First Plenary was held in November 2018; which was successful with participation of critical stakeholders. Despite that, there were however challenges as well with Plenary I with few things that were supposed to have happened failing to take place such as, the endorsement of in-district consultations tool and guidelines. Instead; we had to have an extended version of that Plenary I in February this year to endorse the two and to come up with the timelines for the In-district Consultations. Initially 390 pitsos (meetings) were planned for the in-district consultations but due to the overwhelming engagements, we ended up having slightly over 400 pitsos. After that, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental (NGOs) as a lead partner under LNDSP conducted the In-District Consultations assisted by Government Technical Support Team throughout the 10 districts a d further went to South Africa for more consultations with the Diaspora.
After the consultations, consultants and experts were engaged; both internally and externally, to compile the reports based on the seven thematic areas in line with the roadmap termed The Lesotho people want. The secretariat of the NDPC had some challenges coming up with the reports. But ultimately, the reports were issued out and roadmap was developed on how we would want to forge ahead.
We had a key meeting on 4th August 2019 shortly before the arrival of President Ramaphosa on official visit to the country the facilitator. In days preceding the meeting, the political leaders met to look at the structure that will replace the NDPC to agree on the numbers for representation, this where stakeholders agreed on the National Reforms Authority (NRA) for the structure. In the very same meeting, political leaders made a signed declaration that they will safeguard the reforms process in the event of any change that may happen. This was meant to ensure that the reforms are safeguarded even if anything can happen to the current government should there be a change before its mandate of five years expires. That was a key milestone because even up to now, the leaders are adhering to the declaration diligently and probably the only thing that they have remained true to thus far.
Government and stakeholders have been through this journey for almost two years now and all the leaders have made an undertaking to safeguard the process. We are at a point of no return and I don’t see how the process cannot be protected, and how it cannot succeed taking note of the efforts made by the four-party coalition.
To date, six NLFs have been undertake with the last one being on 22nd and 23rd November 2019. The last NLF endorsed the experts’ reports and agenda for the Plenary II. The much awaited Plenary II was carried on 25th to 27th November 2019. Anticipation was to launch the NRA on the 27th however, due to some challenges, it is expected to be launched in the coming with which will be followed by a three day induction of members and secretariat. The bill has since been passed by National Assembly and Senate. Approved those changes. They did not change much of the substance of the bill. Once the government drafting team is through with changes, Speaker of National Assembly will present it to His Majesty to for Royal Ascend.
LT: How would you rate the progress of the processes so far and what’s next?
LM: Looking forward, considering the challenges and successes, I think we are in the right footing as a country now. It has shown me that the people are enthusiastic about ensuring that we change the laws that are out-dated and ensure that at the end, we bring stability to ourselves. What is basically left now is to legislate. The legislation will be done by the Parliament (National Assembly and Senate). The role of NRA is to craft amendments in based on the outcomes of Plenary II, approval before Parliament will still be at the executive level is being done by the NRA. I am a member of the NRA along with the Minister of Law and constitutional Affairs and Attorney General as an Ex-officio.
The Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister will be the one to table the proposed amendments to all the laws that are going to be amended. The role of National Reforms Authority is to ensure that it synergise proposed amendments in line with experts reports as indicated earlier, then government drafting team will do the rest of the work in aligning proposed changes to acceptable legal terms. The NRA is planned to be in place for 12 months, but with an option for an extension of a further six months should there be a need for that. But we are hopeful that we will be done with legislation within 12 months from the day NRA assumes office.
LT: What sort of challenges did you face from the onset up to now?
LM: The challenges that we faced stemmed from political parties’ refusal to accept the government as the convener gatherings such as NLF and Plenaries. I recall when Prime Minister convened NLF I, leaders of political parties vehemently said they would not attend if it was convened by the Prime Minister. Those were the teething challenges as we were in the process of trust building. They felt it was wise to be convened by a neutral party in this case which was Leader of the Facilitation Team. This was despite the fact that the constitution directs the Prime Minister to be the one that convenes such special meetings. Nevertheless, the government decided to go ahead and that the Prime Minister would not convene the NLF I; totally contradicting our constitution. It went well but I believe when we got to the NLF III the issue of who should convene was not a question any more.
It was also a challenge to get everybody on board to work together, especially the leaders outside the country. Other stakeholders were also reluctant to come on board. They thought the structure should somehow be re-proposed. They thought it was not too engaging but ultimately through radio and television interviews; and of course, newspaper interviews, they started appreciating what we were planning to do. Also, the general public did not understand the details of the roadmap, so Government Technical Support Team undertook country wide workshops educating the nation to make them ready and to appreciate the journey we were about to embark on.
This helped us educate citizens about the Lesotho National Dialogue and Stabilisation Project because it was confusing to other people wondered why we were having two different projects or roadmaps at the same time.
Other challenges involved our failure to meet the timelines on the roadmap because of the problems I mentioned earlier. I believe SADC was quite lenient on us because they kept on encouraging us to go ahead despite the challenges, otherwise if it was other people or countries and bodies, I would say they actually have put a lot pressure on us. At the same time, we found out that it was important not to rush the processes until we had everyone’s consensus because we advocated that the reforms are not for government but for the Basotho nation.
Other challenges would be related to financing which I would say if it was not because of the fund from the United Nations Peace Building Fund we would not have realised our dream. On the margins of the 74th UN General Assembly in September, I also met the Under-Secretary General of the UN Peace Building Fund who received our report with delight. They have encouraged us to ensure that the bill passed through the NRA is enacted. Once the bill is passed, then we are on the right footing with all the ingredients for further funding which they have indicated will be US$3 million (about M 44 315 001) meant for legislation and implementation.
LT: There have been nuances from different sectors that the public consultations did not really represent the views of the people on the ground, what is your comment on that?
LM: Our youth was not engaging during the in-district consultations to a point where we took out some funding out of the Lesotho National Dialogue and Stabilisation Project to hold a forum where all the youth groups came to the ‘Manthabiseng Convention Centre to voice their views, to voice out what they would want to see and how they can be represented. Likewise, the women’s forum was also conducted to do the same. During the in-district consultation the youth did not participate fully. Only the elderly people were participating.
However, women had a very valid point, which we still wanted to take into consideration, that in as much as they participated, culturally; they cannot voice their opinions before their in-laws or before the elderly. Our culture dictates that. I believe somehow during the process, the women should have been given a little bit of time on their own. However, the dialogue an ongoing process, we shall have more of them during the tenure of the NRA priority should be given to women and the youth. But generally, even the hard to reach areas were not a problem. The process was well representative including the Diaspora which covered the six provinces in South Africa where there is a high concentration of Basotho.
LT: The NRA is supposed to be launched in the coming week(s), what’s next? What is the NRA’s first port point of call?
LM: The first port of call will be induction of the members and secretariat, to settle into office, get the reports, familiarise themselves with the expert’s reports… Government is in the process of finalising accommodation for NRA. From there on they must set up the timelines on meetings as to when the first proposed draft will actually be presented before the NRA. The NRA is going to have a secretariat led by a chief executive and the working staff. The NRA will periodically meet with the leaders and the various stakeholders’ representatives as and when the need arises.
LT: You mentioned that women did not get a proper chance to air their views. There has always been issues to do with the key populations like herd boys. How were they handled?
LM: I would not be in a position to say but as I have said, the key issue was that of women. However, the herd boys are also fragile and must be considered. Our constitution guarantees rights and freedom of association and right to education, so that’s an issue of coming up with strategies to ensure that herd boys get their rights. Remember some time back we had challenges with girls and their sanitary issues that deterred them from going to school. The Queen is heading a project to ensure that girls are throughout the schooling days do not come around such challenges. There has to be a strategy as well in dealing with herd boys to curb problem of their education. Literacy should be our priority.
LT: So, there is still an opportunity for these vulnerable groups to be heard?
LM: There is still an opportunity for these vulnerable groups. Even those living with disabilities are also going to be represented in the NRA.
LT: There seems to be an information gap regarding the processes of the national reforms. What do you think is the cause for this gap? Do you think it can be improved?
LM: It is quite a challenge because when we launched the reforms, we also launched countrywide. There was a National Day of Prayer at Setsoto Stadium which happened simultaneously in the nine districts during the launch. We went to numerous radio stations around the country and interviews were done in newspapers. For some people, it is sheer lack of interest in what was happening in the country then. The Government Technical Support Team went countrywide to districts giving education about the reforms, although they did not go deeper into the hardship areas; I generally think a large portion of Basotho were aware of the reforms. I believe as government, we tried our best to publicise the process as widely as possible, to a point where we ended up increasing pitsos to more than 400. This means that the people were now more aware and keener to participate.
There is a lot of room because communication is key in ensuring that everything become successful. Yes, the issue of bundled SMSes and appearing on television periodically at least once a week, either myself or the Minister of Law. The NRA can also appear on television and radio stations. There is need for continuous dialogue because we cannot say the second plenary was the last dialogue. We need to have a third plenary so that we keep engaging our people. I believe there is going to be at least two or three dialogues; that is if we adopt a similar model to the LNDSP. But dialogue is key to success of the reforms. It must be a continuous process. It must be there as long as we are in the process of reforms.
LT: The reforms process has suffered numerous delays. Does the NRA have any definitive dates?
LM: The NRA has a timeline of 12 months. We must do everything within 12 months or with an extension of six months that is justifiable before the parliament. The funding we are going to have from the UN Peace Building Fund and European Union will also be for 18 months. However, challenges may be encountered and every challenge will be treated on its own merits. For every problem, there is always a solution.