A WAR of words has broken out between Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Minister Likeleli Tampane and Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, over the apparent refusal by the Senate in approving the Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
Ms Tampane accuses Chief Theko of “using his influence” with fellow chiefs to block the approval of the Bill which is aimed at enacting a law to empower women by allowing widows to inherit property and estates upon the deaths of their husbands.
In turn, the outspoken chief has scoffed at the minister’s accusations. He said the Laws of Lerotholi were not an act of parliament but simply a code of customary laws. Hence the Gender ministry should not be pushing to amend the code which it did not enact in the first place. It should instead be pushing to enact a law to cater for the empowerment of women without necessarily seeking to make the Lerotholi laws an act of parliament, Chief Theko said yesterday.
He was reacting to Ms Tampane’s accusations made in an interview with the Lesotho Times earlier this week.
The Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was tabled in the National Assembly by Ms Tampane in February this year and it was approved in April. The Bill was referred to the Senate for further deliberations.
But the Bill is stuck in the upper house. Ms Tampane blames Chief Theko for this development.
Were it not for Chief Theko’s hatred for congress parties and his influence over fellow principal chiefs, the Bill “would have been passed by now,” Ms Tampane claimed.
“The National Assembly passed the Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022 which aims to give widows control over their husbands’ estates instead of the status quo wherein they are treated like children when their spouses die,” Ms Tampane said.
“We then referred the draft law to the Senate where we have hit a brick wall. We have been told that when my ministry began this journey, they left the chiefs behind. Although we are being accused of not consulting them, I can assure you that we held consultations. The reasons they advance are not enough for them to harden their hearts against widows.”
She said there was little time left to pass the Bill before the dissolution of parliament which is likely to happen sometime next week.
“Those principal chiefs are supposed to protect the interests of their subjects, especially widows. They know that there are so many civil cases instigated by widows over estates and properties. Widows are their subjects. I’m appealing to them to help us pass the law and then we’ll deal with the rest later.
“They argue that the National Assembly does not have the mandate to amend the Laws of Lerotholi. It is wrong of them to even say that because parliament has the power to amend laws as provided for in the constitution,” Ms Tampane said.
She laid into Chief Theko, labelling him an angry man who was influencing his fellow chiefs to reject the Bill.
“What has hurt me most is that Chief Khoabane is an angry man who is rejecting this Bill and influencing other chiefs to follow suit. All this because of his deep hatred for the congress movement.
“I am not advocating for this draft law for political mileage. Any minister from any other party would do the same. But because of the fact I am from the congress movement, Chief Theko told me directly in one of the meetings, that we hate chieftainship institution and he believes we want to end it. There is nowhere in that draft legislation where it says we want to end chieftainship.
“We have realised that Ntate Khoabane has immense influence on the principal chiefs, and he knows it. I think he is not being fair to the house and Basotho in general because he is imposing his personal opinions on issues affecting the nation. Ntate Khoabane is the one who runs the show. The saddest part is that the draft law has not been included on the agenda of the Senate by the Business Committee. He (Theko) is a member of that committee. I insist that if Ntate Khoabane continues this course of discrediting a good cause, he might as well leave the Senate and join party politics,” Ms Tampane said.
She said the Senate’s rejection of the Bill was a blow to the progress already made because enacting the Bill was one of the preconditions for Lesotho to retain its eligibility for the lucrative second compact grant from the United States (US’) Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
She however, said her ministry had agreed to restart the consultation process “in the hope that we will have concluded the process before parliament is dissolved in preparation for elections”.
“We have agreed to start the process from the beginning as he (Theko) is demanding. We will need about M1 million for the consultations within two weeks,” Ms Tampane said.
She had no kind words for Senate President, ‘Mamonaheng Mokitimi, who she accused of being silent. She said as a woman, Ms Mokitimi “must be sympathetic to the plight of widows and fight to ensure that the Bill is approved”.
In its report, the National Assembly’s Social Cluster portfolio committee describes the Bill as a piece of legislation which has local and international support because “it is meant to empower widows economically”.
The report also states the enactment of the Bill is a precondition for Lesotho to access the MCC’s US$320 million compact grant.
Meanwhile, Chief Theko has denied the allegations levelled against him by Ms Tampane.
“I am disappointed by the Minister of Gender,” Chief Theko said.
“How someone with her level of education ends up acting like she does is beyond me. We are not opposed to the empowerment of women. But the Laws of Lerotholi are not an act of parliament. How does one amend something which is not an act of parliament?
“The Laws of Lerotholi are not an act of parliament, it is a code of customary law. Saying or suggesting parliament is amending a code is an anachronism. For the honourable minister to suggest that I have an influence on my colleagues is baseless and shows her low level of thinking. If she thinks my opinion is based on my hatred against what she labels ‘congress’, this shows her seriously misplaced perceptions about me as a person. What does the congress movement have to do with the amending the Laws of Lerotholi.
“Our stance is that tampering with a law that is not an act of parliament but a collection of Basotho’s laws is unheard of. The Laws of Lerotholi is a documentation of Basotho laws under the custody of the chieftainship. So, what we are saying to the Ministry of Gender is that they must draft a law that details clearly what they want to do to protect women. We don’t deny that we come from a patriarchal society but tampering with a law that parliament never enacted in the first place can’t just happen.
“Again, there is a history behind what I am saying. I was once invited by the US ambassador (Maria Brewer), to discuss this law. I explained to her that we were not necessarily rejecting the initiative but that we would not condone tampering with the Laws of Lerotholi. I further told her that we would support any law that was meant to protect a woman in a marriage not to tamper with the Laws of Lerotholi,” Chief Theko said yesterday.