SADC proposes sweeping reforms for Lesotho

Lesotho Times
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KING Letsie III (left) chats with SADC Facilitator to Lesotho Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday at the Royal Palace in Maseru.

  • Wants more powers for the King
  • Suggests innovative way to limit premier’s stay in power

Bongiwe Zihlangu

Lesotho should immediately embark on security and parliamentary reforms to achieve lasting stability and revise the overlapping features of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

The country has also been urged to “seriously and speedily” consider amending clauses pertaining to floor-crossing and no-confidence motions in the National Assembly and the prorogation of parliament, as well as creating laws to support coalition governments and reviewing the role of the King in governance, which is currently ceremonial.

These are recommendations contained in a Southern African Development Community (SADC) report submitted to King Letsie III and government last Friday by the regional bloc’s Facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa.

According to the report—the brainchild of the SADC Observer Mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho (SOMILES) deployed under the auspices of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (OPDS) after the country was plagued by political and security instability in 2014—the Kingdom should redefine the functions of the police and military so that they do not have overlapping features.

The report puts emphasis on the separation of powers of the two agencies, stating that while the LMPS’ job is to maintain law and order, the military’s duties should be limited to the “defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the land”.

“These two important duties should not be a source of conflict between security services. During the SADC deployment, it was noted that there was some overlap between the mandates of the LDF and the LMPS,” the report states.

“This overlap, as observed by the SOMILES, tended to bring disharmony in the delivery of an effective security service in Lesotho.”

According to the country’s constitution, the report notes, the LDF was established for the defence of Lesotho, while the LMPS is responsible for the maintenance of law and order.

“This constitutional provision, therefore, sets the tone for the demarcation and separation of powers of these two security agencies with regard to the maintenance of law and order in Lesotho,” the report notes.

“Logically, consequential amendments should have been made in both the LDF and LMPS Acts. These amendments were not made and are the primary causes of clashes between the LDF and LMPS.”

The report further observes the protection of VIPs/government officials by the LDF is contrary to regional and international best-practices, adding “such service are provided by either the police or secret service”.

“The Lesotho government could be encouraged to look into this matter. The above are some of the areas that might need revisiting in order to move the country forward.

“It should be noted that the objective of these reforms is not to isolate security services, but create a working relationship among them.”

While it is common practice for heads of security agencies to be appointed by the head of state, security challenges experienced by Lesotho in 2014 and subsequent controversies over the leadership of both the LDF and LMPS has prompted SADC to call for a review.

“This appointment/removal process should be revisited in order to ensure continuity and faith in the command-structure of the security agencies to maintain their integrity.

“This is therefore another area ripe for review, in order to bring security stability to Lesotho. Indeed, civilian oversight over security services is one of the key tenets of international security best-practice,” the report states.

On the controversial issue of floor-crossing in parliament, the regional bloc recommends measures that would regulate the practice because “according to the Commonwealth’s Dr Rajen Prasad, the practice of crossing the floor to join another party affects the balance of power in parliament and can serve to destabilise governments”.

The report continues: “The constitution of Lesotho has no provision regulating floor-crossing. Although floor-crossing has been criticised for giving too much power to political parties and threatening Members of Parliament’s freedom of expression… can also serve to guarantee the voters’ right to expect that their representatives will remain in the same position.”

The vote-of-no-confidence in the government, which led to former Premier Thomas Thabane proroguing parliament for nine months in June 2014 to avoid his ouster by legislators, has also been addressed by SADC. The bloc says there is need to relook Parliamentary Standing Orders and the constitution in order to “ensure the primary purpose of the motion of no-confidence is retained, while protecting Lesotho against political instability”.

Again, the report looks at the Prorogation of Parliament clause, advising it might be worth considering a review of the manner in which the suspension is effected. This, it further notes, is to ensure all players understand and appreciate the “circumstances, rationale and consequences of doing so in order to avoid conflicts emanating therefrom”.

SADC further proposes that laws providing for the formation of coalition governments in Lesotho be strengthened because the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system the country adopted in 2000 “is likely to lead to parties needing to form coalitions in order to form governments”.

“Other countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe undertook constitutional changes in order to recognise coalitions, a necessary step after a divided election outcome,” the report says.

“In terms of sustaining coalitions, Dr Prasad is of the opinion that this cannot be prescribed by law, but is based on the trust and relationship of the parties and monitoring committees that ought to be put in place”.

The development of a handbook on the formation of coalition governments, making sufficient time for coalition negotiations, and the review of rules, practices and conventions applying to the formation of such governments, are some of the recommendations highlighted in the report.

In addition, the report touches on the call by certain sectors of society to review the limited functions and powers of the Office of the King, referred to as a constitutional/ceremonial monarch.

“As such, the King does not enjoy absolute powers but is limited to what the constitution and other laws of the Kingdom dictate; the powers of the King are mainly ceremonial. The powers of the King are therefore limited and subject to instruction from other authorities. Other notable areas regarding the King’s powers relate to his assenting to Bills by parliament, where it appears he has no powers to refuse to assent to a Bill, on good grounds as head of state.

“Other jurisdictions have made provisions in their constitutions covering instances where the head of state declines to assent to laws that have been passed in parliament and what ultimately happens to such laws.

“It is appreciated that Lesotho’s system of government is modeled on the Westminster model where the Queen, as the head of state, also has a ceremonial role. However, the Kingdom of Lesotho may wish to reflect on the role of the King in light of his considerable standing among the Basotho.”

The report further touches on the unlimited terms of the prime minister, and notes: “The issue of unlimited terms of the Office of the Prime Minister warrants attention. Discussions on this issue have been triggered by the fact that Prime Minister Mosisili, who returned to power on 17 March 2015, previously served as prime minister for a period of 15 years. There might also be comparisons being drawn with leaders in the region or indeed, most democratic states where heads of states have limits to their terms of office, generally limited to two.

“It is important to appreciate that unlike most SADC countries with a presidential system of government, Lesotho follows the parliamentary system of government modeled on the Westminster system of the United Kingdom. Under this system, there are no fixed terms, instead, the prime minister may stay in office for as long as their party or coalition wants.

“…From the foregoing, the current system is not unique to Lesotho. Granted, it may lead to certain individuals staying much longer in office and in some cases, returning to office. Rather than reviewing this system, it may be worth considering strengthening intraparty democracy. Reform proposals could therefore target  political party constitutions that could limit the terms of office of the chairman/president/leader of that party. If this happens, Lesotho could have prime ministers that do not stay in office for perceived longer periods of times or make comebacks.”

The SADC report also touches on depoliticising the civil service, judicial reforms that include public interviews when judges are being appointed, as well as media reforms.

“Since the inception of SOMILES,” the report notes, “the media has been awash with stories that threaten the political and security stability of Lesotho. Most of these stories, especially over the radio, were proved to be malicious and unfounded. Media transformation must be accounted for as part of the broader transformation process of Lesotho’s political culture and system.”

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