ABC infighting spills into govt

1
  • as MPs loyal to Mahao vow to vote against budget speech
  • move could paralyse govt operations

Pascalinah Kabi

THE infighting within Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) threatens to paralyze the government as disgruntled legislators loyal to Professor Nqosa Mahao are planning to sabotage the national budget process.

The legislators have been courting fellow coalition government legislators to vote against Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s budget speech, when parliament reconvenes next week, unless efforts to derail Prof Mahao’s election as the ABC’s deputy leader are reversed.

Prof Mahao was elected to deputize Dr Thabane at the party’s elective conference on 1 – 2 February 2019. Prof Mahao beat Dr Majoro to land the top party post but he and fellow incoming ABC national executive committee (NEC) members are yet to start work. This is because their election is being challenged in the High Court by two cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Trade and Industry) and Keketso Sello (Mining) and the ABC’s legislator for the Rothe constituency, Mohapi Mohapinyane.

The trio want the court to nullify the election of Prof Mahao and others to the party’s NEC. They also want the court to order fresh elections within three months of the finalisation of their court application.

The election of the new ABC NEC, but particularly that of Prof Mahao, has sharply divided the party.  Dr Thabane had harshly rebuked Prof Mahao before the party polls. Even though he subsequently retracted his criticism, it is understood that he is still seething over Prof Mahao’s election and is not ready to support the latter’s election.

But frustrated ABC legislators backing Prof Mahao are standing by their man. They have launched an audacious fightback by courting legislators from the party’s governing coalition partners to vote against Dr Majoro’s budget speech to be presented any day after the national assembly reconvenes on 1 March 2019.

If successful, the rejection of the budget speech would cripple the government as it would not be able to withdraw money for operations from the consolidated fund without parliamentary approval.

Some of the ABC legislators who are said to be loyal to Prof Mahao are Samuel Rapapa (Mosalemane constituency), ‘Matebatso Doti (Lithabaneng), Sentje Lebona (Mohale’s Hoek), Sello Mooki (Bobatsi), Fako Moshoeshoe (Mabote), Nto Moakhi (Mantšonyane), Thabo Sophonea (Thaba-Bosiu) and Motebang Koma (Koro-Koro), among others.

The ABC is in a four-party coalition with Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).

The BNP this week confirmed that they were approached by some of the ABC legislators who requested them to vote against the budget speech when Dr Majoro finally delivers it before parliament. The BNP however, said it would not heed the request as it was keen to support government programmes.

Some of the ABC MPs, who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a decision to reject the budget speech had been taken and that they were already mobilising other party members to join them in their “action for justice”.

They said that Dr Thabane and his “team” had forced them to resort to extreme counter-measures because of the premier’s refusal to accept the outcome of the party’s elective conference which voted out all the former NEC members with the exception of Mr Lebohang Hlaele who assumed the post of secretary general.

One of the ABC officials said that Dr Thabane had until next Thursday to accept the new NEC and work with it or risk being embarrassed in the national assembly.

“It is true that we are mobilising other members to reject the budget speech. How do they expect us to react when they are doing everything possible to frustrate us? Do they expect us to sit down and watch them in awe?

“The three legislators (Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane) should withdraw their case from the courts to pave way for our official inauguration before parliament reconvenes or we will reject the budget.

“We know that the High Court is taking orders from the ABC leadership and they must tell (Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo) Mahase to deal with the matter urgently and pass judgement on Friday (tomorrow). They should not dare touch Justice (Kananelo) Mosito or else we are going to reject the budget,” one of the disgruntled ABC officials told this publication.

There have been rumours that the Thabane administration is unhappy with Justice Mosito and could consider removing him from his post as Court of Appeal president. This follows the 1 February 2019 apex court judgement that overturned Justice Mahase’s ruling which had upheld the former ABC NEC’s disqualification of Prof Mahao from contesting the deputy leader’s post.

Another ABC legislator accused the outgoing NEC, which is said to have the support of Dr Thabane, of using underhanded tactics to retain control of the party.

“They are doing everything they can to frustrate us and we are fighting back. The government needs an approved budget to operationalise their policies and rejecting the budget speech will force them to accept us,” the legislator said.

Meanwhile, the BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe said his party was approached by some of the ABC legislators who requested them to vote against the budget speech when Dr Majoro finally delivers it before parliament.

“I can confirm that we have been approached to oppose the passing of the budget by the finance minister. However, our stand point is that we will adhere to the mandate given to us by the BNP community and Basotho as a whole. We stand with the government on the budget and we will vote for it,” Mr Mofomobe said.

The AD and the BNP recently told this publication that that they would not interfere in the ABC’s internal affairs and the latter should be left alone to deal with its potentially damaging fissures that escalated in the run up to its disputed elections.

The two parties also said they hoped the ABC would speedily and amicably resolve its internal power struggles so that it re-focuses its energies on national governance issues.

BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe said “all the four coalition partners have had their own share of internal problems and that each partner was allowed to solve such issues without any interference”.

“We chose to form a coalition government because there was that common understanding that we want to work together in government as political friends.

“We all have our own internal issues as political parties. The BNP has its own share, so does the AD and the ABC but those issues are left for the individual parties to resolve in accordance with their own internal remedies provided for by their respective constitutions.

“It is not for us to take any side and say Team Thabane or Team Mahao is right, ours is to provide the support they need and let them solve their own problems. It is for the ABC members to decide which team is wrong or right.

“But we are talking to each other and they (ABC) have assured us that they are not going to fall in the trap of allowing their internal fights to cause the government to collapse. So, it is up to the ABC to solve its own problems. We just wish them well and hope that they will ultimately find a long-lasting solution to their problems,” Mr Mofomobe said.

AD spokesperson Thuso Litjobo said his party would continue to support the ABC at all times without interfering in its affairs. He said his party will always strive for peace and tolerance among political parties.

“We are very worried by what is happening in the ABC. We are trying to assist where possible while maintaining neutrality. We are not supporting any sides in the ABC but we hope that they will ultimately find ways of peacefully working together,” Mr Litjobo said.

 

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