Thabane will weather the ABC storm-Phori

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SMALL Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing Minister, Chalane Phori, says plans to exclude Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his deputy Monyane Moleleki from a new coalition were ill-conceived by the premier’s enemies. A staunch supporter of Dr Thabane, Mr Phori says he will not hesitate to ditch the All Basotho Convention (ABC) if the 12-year-old party enters into a coalition with the Democratic Congress (DC).

In this wide-ranging interview, Minister Phori (CP) tells the Lesotho Times Senior Reporter, Pascalinah Kabi (PK), that there was a high possibility Dr Thabane prorogued parliament in retaliation to the ninth amendment which strips him of powers to advice the King to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections if the premier losses no confidence vote.

PK: You recently released a video on social media, differing with some of your ABC colleagues in relation to Dr Thabane’s relationship with Mr Moleleki. Why is that?

CP: Coalition governments are like marriages. Disagreements arise now and then and there are currently no red flags suggesting that we should push for separation in this coalition. Since the formation of this government, we have never closed ourselves in one room and raised our concerns. We have not followed all steps leading to divorce.

I have been in two coalition governments and to me, this is the best coalition ever although there are some challenges. However, I don’t agree with anyone suggesting that we should part ways. Whoever is suggesting separation is targeting only certain individuals. They want the ABC leader and Prime Minister excluded from the proposed coalition government.

This clearly tells you that the proposed new coalition government is not founded on genuine aspirations. Our leader was forced into exile in 2015 during the DC-led government. The very same people who forced him into exile now want him out. The DC also does not want Ntate Moleleki in the proposed coalition.

This is the very same person who went out of his way to facilitate our leader’s safe return into the country in 2017. The DC must go hang. It should focus on its internal business. They are sowing divisions within the government and the ABC. Monyane Moleleki is not going anywhere. Ntate Moleleki and his Alliance of Democrats (AD) will continue to be part of this government.

PK: What would be the reason for the DC to single out Dr Thabane and Mr Moleleki as a condition for forming coalition government with the ABC?

CP: The DC is fully aware that it is smaller than the ABC. It was once the bigger party and is currently under the same impression that it still enjoys mass support. Its leadership is jealous of the ABC and wants to use the ABC infighting as a stepping stone to rebuilding the DC. Its leadership thinks it can land into government without going for elections and that is not going to happen.

They know that Ntate Thabane will give them a headache, that he will see right through their plans. Whatever they are planning is not going to happen. They should just forget about being part of this government. Theirs are Pharaoh’s dreams. The AD’s views on a government of national unity (GNU) have been very clear right from the start. You will remember that Ntate Thabane mentioned the issue of a GNU in January 2020 when he announced his intention to retire.

That is where people’s confusion regarding a GNU are coming from. People think that they can take advantage of the ABC factions. It is all propaganda. They are saying “Ntate Thabane is forming GNU, how can he form a GNU when other parties are left behind? That would not be a GNU”. I think we are in this quagmire because of what my leader said in regard to GNU. The ABC was dealing with very crucial matters at the time that the PM announced his retirement. I think my leader’s timing (for retirement) was off. The ABC national executive committee (NEC) was working hard to stabilise the party and his timing to announce retirement was off because the NEC’s focus was shifted from stabilising the party to appointing the PM’s successor. That caused confusion.

Some people suggested that he was going to pass the baton to Ntsekele (Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele). Ntsekele was even deserted by some people in his circle. We made it clear that we should concentrate on reuniting the party and deal with the PM succession just a week before he leaves office. Some people wanted the PM to immediately leave office while others did not want that. We differed there. We told them to give us a list of his mistakes but they failed.

I am happy that the NEC allowed parliamentarians to vote and Ntate Majoro (Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro) won. The onus is on Ntate Majoro to either unite or disunite the party as PM. He is supposed to be part of the process of uniting the party. However, there are already complaints on the ground. He is not part of those complaining. Some people are plotting to do something to destabilise the party because their preferred candidates did not win. We are aware of such plots.

Some are even suggesting that certain individuals must be fired. It is causing us more confusion. This is not the way to handle power. Every one of us loves the taste of power but we should not use it to destabilise the party. This is why I am clear on the proposed DC/ABC coalition. Should it happen, I will hold a rally at Qoaling and tell them I am leaving the ABC.

I will not be part of a coalition that includes the DC because there are no valid reasons for the ABC to part ways with Monyane Moleleki. Ntate Moleleki is the one who brought Tom Thabane, Keketso Rantšo and Thesele ‘Maseribane from exile. The trio was chased by (Mathibeli) Mokhothu through his DC party. There is no justice in saying Thabane and Moleleki should not be part of the coalition. I will join opposition.

Even if I am alone, I will sit on the opposition side. I will not be part of a coalition with the DC. I am not making threats here. I am dead serious. I will not be part of a coalition that includes Mokhothu. There is no convincing reason to remove others from this coalition. It is just petty politics.

PK: You have challenged people to look into the real reasons why the DC and other ABC members want Mr Moleleki out. It suggested that you are privy to those reasons.

CP: Yes I know the reasons. It is because the police are hounding Thomas Thabane on murder charges. They are saying his phone was used to call a number whose owner is not indicated. They asked him to report to the police on that account. Do you think there is a case there? They just want to overthrow Ntate Thabane. His phone is identified and he has been requested to identify the owner of the other number. Is Thabane now a mind reader? You can tell that they just to overthrow Thabane.

The AD has always been clear that it has confidence in Ntate Thabane. The AD has seen this conspiracy. You have never heard the AD speaking ill of Ntate Thabane. You can tell that the AD is the stumbling block for those who want Ntate Thabane out.

Secondly, there has always been resistance from some coalition partners every time Ntate Thabane wanted to appoint anyone exercising his constitutional right. Upon inquiry, we are told that the King did not sign because the Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) did not consent to those appointments. Are you listening to me? We are told that the BNP and RCL disagreed.

I can give you an example. When the Prime Minister wanted to appoint Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase as substantive Chief Justice, that did not happen. We are told that the BNP and the RCL didn’t consent to that appointment. I am told that the King said the coalition partners did not agree to that appoint and His Majesty could not therefore take the Prime Minister’s advice to appoint her.

When we ask which coalition partners those are, we are told it was the BNP and the RCL. In fact, they are referred to as Five and One because the BNP and the RCL respectively have five and one parliamentary seats.

That happened twice with the Commissioner of Police (Holomo Molibeli) and the Chief Justice. The AD did not have a problem with those appointments because it knows who controls the power to appoint people to those offices. This is why they attack both boNtate Thabane and Moleleki. Now you understand why I want this to be looked into.

I am sure you are aware that every time Tom is attacked, the ABC NEC never protect him. They would rather attack him while the AD is clear that it cannot attack its coalition partners. This is why the AD will never be loved. Basotho need to closely look into and see if John Deere (Mr Phori’s nickname) is wrong.

PK: Are you saying Mr Moleleki is supporting Dr Thabane in all these fights?

CP: Yes. They (some ABC members and the DC) want Ntate Moleleki out because he is supporting the Prime Minister. Ntate Moleleki is very clear when it comes to the constitution. The Prime Minister is using the constitution to execute all these decisions. I recently told Tšenola FM that the constitution is very clear. Comrade Manama Letsie was suggesting that the government is held hostage because the King is refusing to sign and I differed.

There is a constitutional clause which says a PM can sign if the King does not. I still maintain that we cannot blame the King. That clause was not crafted by Tom Thabane. It is constitutional and I don’t understand why he (Dr Thabane) is not using it. If the King does not sign, Ntate Thabane must sign and I would think he really does not want to sign. Do you understand?

PK: Would not you say he is respecting the wishes of the coalition partners?

CP: This can be interpreted in many ways. It is either he does not want to sign or he is respecting the coalition partners. We cannot point a finger at the King. Ntate Thabane has given people a lot of leeway. I love him a lot and there are few hearts like his.

His government is challenged by everyone yet no one has been thrown into the dams. Bodies were recovered from the dams, thrown by the DC government. So many atrocities happened during the DC regime. (BNP deputy leader Machesetsa Mofomobe) Machesetsa, (AD spokesperson Thuso) Litjobo and Seleke (Lesotho National Development Corporation chief executive officer Mohato Seleke) were persecuted under the DC regime. In this current regime, nothing has happened despite that people say whatever they want. People insult the government and nothing happens. We are not saying insults are acceptable but we don’t believe in persecuting people.

Ntate Thabane has allowed people to practise democracy. He has not gone ahead and signed for the crucial appointments because parties with six seats are not supporting him. This is costing him.

PK: Your video has attracted the attention of Mr Mofomobe, who now wants you locked up in a psychiatrist hospital.

CP: I don’t want to talk about him. He is my colleague and I like him. He is finding the political journey too challenging for him. He was very vocal in attacking the Prime Minister and now realises that whatever plans his party had, have not yielded any results. People are saying he (Mr Mofomobe) is responsible for the death of Home Affairs procurement officer Khahliso Soro and other issues. I don’t want to believe those allegations. I can stand here and call for his prosecution yet he has the guts to say Ntate Thabane must face the wrath of the law and that they cannot be in government with someone facing murder charges. I will not bring myself to Ntate Machesetsa’s level. I like him but I will not stoop to his level.

He said I must be taken to Mohlomi and that I am a tenderprenuer. Of course, I am a tenderprenuer. I do tender in this government. I was a tenderprenuer before I became a minister and I am not ashamed of that. He is not instilling fear in me, he is only reminding me of who I am. I will not entertain my colleague’s utterances. They say if you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. He is feeling the heat.

The reason why I still stuck with Ntate Thabane is that he called on the illiterate, the literate, the crooks, lerashea (gangs) to come together and form a convention. I liked that idea. I still believe in his ideology and still maintain that he has my support come what may. I am not attacking the BNP. I respect Chief Thesele a lot. I have been with him in the political struggles.

However, there are some points where I disagree with him (Chief ‘Maseribane). As my leader, I want him (Chief ‘Maseribane) to know that when the going gets tough, they must lock themselves in one room as coalition leaders and deal with their differences. We don’t want to hear whatever was discussed in the public domain. That is where I disagree with him. When your (Chief ‘Maseribane’s) party youth attack your coalition partner, reprimand them. They may not listen but at least reprimand them, don’t keep quiet. That is where my problem with Chief Thesele lies. Despite that, I like him. He loves this country and can make things happen when he wants to.

PK: Are you suggesting that the BNP and the RCL are not supporting the Prime Minister?

CP: I am not going to say they are not literally supporting him. Maybe they have different views on some points raised by other leaders. All I am saying is, don’t attack each other or betray one another when disagreements arise. Rather say, this time around I didn’t manage to convince this person. One more thing that I want people to understand is that, we need to draw a line between a partner in government and a prime minister.

A partner in the coalition should not behave like a prime minister. That is where the problem lies. We must distinguish the difference between the two… At the end of the day, even in a household structure, there must be a decision maker. We are not all equal in coalition governments.

So the confusion emerges when they disagree on their own, where we are not there, but bring those issues to the public domain. Many times we have heard people blaming the First Lady (‘Maesaiah Thabane) for certain things. She has erred but people continue accusing her of many other things. I am a cabinet minister but have never seen her in cabinet meetings. The Government Secretary takes minutes of the cabinet meetings and the decisions of the cabinet are produced as they were discussed. However, such decisions are still blamed on the first lady.

I am part of the ABC NEC. I have never seen her in our meetings. It may come across as though I am defending her but that is the naked truth. I love telling the truth and the truth only. I am not saying she has not erred. She has and that is not good, that must be corrected.

PK: As a cabinet minister, what is your take on the instability of this coalition government?

CP: I don’t want to lie. This government is unstable. We have three arms of government. The judiciary, parliament and the executive. There are situations where a party structure wants to be an executive and government will collapse. In the same fashion, the government will be unstable where the judiciary wants to assume the executive’s powers.

There is confusion right now. We have the commissioner appointed by the judiciary. He no longer functions under the leadership of his employer (Dr Thabane). That is a political position. Whom is he reporting to now because I am sure that he cannot report to his boss now that he is appointed by the judiciary? I would be lying to myself if I said the government is stable.

PK: Besides the issue of the commissioner of police and other governance related issues, what are some of the things that cause the instability?

CP: The parliament is unstable. We have the ninth amendment right now, which was filed in the form of addendum. It did not appear on the business of the house on that day. After our colleagues in parliament met somewhere, that amendment was filed. The amendment states that when a prime minister loses a vote of no confidence, he should not advise the King to dissolve parliament. Do you realise that the constitution was amended in a minute?

Then we see a situation where someone is saying, I am proroguing the parliament because of coronavirus. Do you see that? One would ask, why are we not closing parliament sine die? Someone is saying I am proroguing parliament. He did not make any mistake. He was attacked first when people clipped his powers. He retaliated by proroguing parliament. There are so many things that I can tell you. I speak nothing but the truth, like a dying man.

Of course, we understand that the coronavirus is a serious issue. He has dealt with the instability within the party but he is fighting back. Have you ever seen a horse staying calm when it is being castrated? You go ahead and strip off the prime minister his powers and think he will just stand by and watch as he is being attacked? He will fight back and you will get hurt. He has all the powers. He is not the one who came up with those powers. He will hurt you. He is powerful.

PK: Are you saying Dr Thabane used prorogation to reiterate from the ninth amendment?

CP: I am not saying he reiterated by proroguing parliament. I do not know his own genuine reasons for proroguing parliament. I know reasons that he shared with us but I am applying my mind on this issue and say this may have been provoked by the ninth amendment stripping him of his powers. I am saying it might have been like that. Remember that person is a seasoned politician. Most of his age mates are no longer around. He is in power. He has walked this road for far too long. I don’t know if there is anyone who can defeat him. The worst part is that he has been paired with Monyane Moleleki, another long-serving politician. We will have serious problems if we challenge these two. The best way to go about this is to reconcile and build our country. I don’t see anyone defeating Ntate Thabane.

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