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Senators to debate bill to clip PM’s powers

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE much-anticipated constitutional amendment bill which seeks to clip a prime minister’s powers to advise the King to dissolve parliament whenever he loses a no confidence vote to is set to be debated in the senate tomorrow.

This was said by senate deputy president Tšepo Monethi in his address to senators yesterday. The bill to stop any unpopular prime minister from unilaterally advising the King to dissolve parliament whenever his power is threatened, is seen as a crucial first step towards current spirited moves to oust current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. If the motion succeeds, then Mr Thabane would be effectively curtailed from advising King Letsie III to dissolve parliament in the event of a successful no confidence vote against him.

The senate reconvened on Tuesday and the re-opening followed Friday’s Constitutional Court judgement nullifying the prorogation of parliament by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

The judgement was issued after Mr Thabane’s own All Basotho Convention (ABC) joined hands with other parties to file an application for an order to nullify the prorogation on the grounds that it had been done without the King’s approval and without consulting coalition partners. It remains to be seen when the national assembly will reconvene after its speaker, Sephiri Motanyane, said there were still some logistical challenges in relation to the state of emergency and lockdown before it could be re-opened.

When senate reconvened on Tuesday, the president, ’Mamonaheng Mokitimi, urged senators to unite in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19).

She said by the time the senate was suspended on 20 March 2020 by the prime minister, there were several bills it still had to scrutinise including the constitutional amendment bill.

Yesterday, Mr Monethi told senators that “tomorrow we hope the (constitutional amendment) bill will be deliberated on”.

Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso who, sits on the senate’s legislative committee, told the Lesotho Times that the constitutional amendment bill “could not have come at a more opportune time because we can’t always afford to go to elections each time government is troubled and loses a no confidence vote”.

“Our economy cannot afford that (fresh elections whenever a government is toppled through a no confidence vote). It is high time that the King is protected from politicians who always run to him whenever anything goes wrong in the administration,” said Chief Seeiso, a younger brother to King Letsie III.

Meanwhile, the national assembly is yet to reconvene in the aftermath of the Friday Constitutional Court judgement. Speaker Motanyane said the delay was due to some logistical challenges in relation to the state of emergency and lockdown before it could be re-opened.

“My attention has been drawn to the judgment delivered by the High Court of Lesotho in the constitutional case delivered on 17 April 2020. I am duty bound and ready to have the national assembly resume its normal business…

“Due to the current prevailing situation in terms of which a state of emergency has been declared by the prime minister…and in view of the lockdown declared by the government restricting the movement of persons and meetings, we are working on logistics and making suitable arrangements for the sitting of the House.
“Members will recall that in terms of the current lockdown regulatory regime meetings are restricted to not more than 50 persons in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. In the same manner it is required that persons maintain social and physical distancing at all times…We are obliged to maintain sanitisers and take all other reasonable health precautions,” Mr Motanyane said in a circular to  legislators.
He said they were in the process of acquiring all the necessary protective clothing for MPs and staff, adding that the national assembly would reconvene once this was done, “possibly in the coming days”.

However, Mr Motanyane’s explanation of the delay has been rejected by the ruling ABC’s caucus chairperson ’Matšepo Ramakoae. She said legislators had acquired their own protective equipment after being told to acquire these on their own by Mr Motanyane before parliament was prorogued.

“So, it is quite shocking that suddenly he (Mr Motanyane) is busying himself with organising things for us. He is just trying to create a mountain out of a molehill and we are not going to allow that.

“We have a lot of work to do and we can’t afford to lose out on a day as the issue of budget appropriation is also outstanding. We are prepared to bring our own stuff and work and if it means sitting outside, we shall do exactly that,” Ms Ramakoae said they were prepared to court to force Mr Motanyane to reconvene the national assembly.

 

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