Anger over parly closure

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ABC MP Prince Malie
ABC MP Prince Malie

Billy Ntaote

NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai’s indefinite adjournment of parliamentary sittings on Tuesday has ignited the ire of opposition legislators who say the move was a strategy to dodge a proposed no-confidence motion against the coalition government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

The legislators have also accused Ms Motsamai of “dictatorial tendencies” vowing to challenge her decision in the courts.

The adjournment, which capped two days of drama in the august house, was made after the opposition last week submitted a no-confidence motion on Deputy Speaker Montšuoe Lethoba.

The motion was meant to test the opposition alliance’s strength ahead of another no-confidence motion on the seven-party governing coalition.

However, the motion never saw the light of day after the speaker and her deputy did not raise it up for debate much to the chagrin of the opposition lawmakers.

On Monday, agitated opposition MPs blocked the National Assembly sergeant-at-arms from taking the ceremonial mace to signify the adjournment of the house after Mr Lethoba had called off the day’s business.

Armed police officers ultimately retrieved the mace, which is the symbol of the authority of the House and the speaker.

In Tuesday’s sitting, Ms Motsamai, who is also the Hloahloeng constituency legislator, announced the indefinite adjournment at 6.30pm saying the House had “run out of time” following the presentation and tabling of various reports and bills.

Ordinarily, the motion to adjourn the House indefinitely is presented by the Leader of the House, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, with MPs afforded the opportunity to debate the motion.

Tuesday’s parliamentary programme included presentations by government ministers on service provision as well as a question and answer session thereafter.

Upon realising that posing questions to the ministers would deny them a chance to debate the motion to adjourn the house indefinitely, the opposition MPs withdrew their questions to save time.

Their efforts to save time were ill-fated as MPs from the government’s side asked numerous questions and follow-up enquiries, seemingly as a strategy to delay the process.

When all the questions had been addressed, Ms Motsamai announced that the ministers had requested to make statements before the House.

The first to make their presentations were Mining Minister Lebohang Thotanyane and his Agriculture and Food Security counterpart ‘Mapalesa Mothokho who took their time to the exasperation of the opposition lawmakers.

The order paper detailing the agenda of the House had also been amended to include the presentation of various bills which were introduced by various ministers.

Following the various presentations, Ms Motsamai announced that time had lapsed and the House would adjourn indefinitely.

“Honourable members, we have run out of time. Therefore pursuant to Standing Order Number 18 Subsection 4, this august house is adjourned sine die (for an indefinite period),” the speaker said before leading out a procession consisting of National Assembly Clerk Fine Maema, his deputies and the sergeant-at-arms.

The move did not go down well with the opposition, with some MPs shouting “point of order” in a bid to stop Ms Motsamai.

Basotho National Party (BNP) deputy leader Joang Molapo was among the first to question the adjournment, yelling: “Madam Speaker, Madam Speaker, Madam Speaker, you are subverting the law of this country.”

Chief Molapo told the Lesotho Times on the side-lines of the sitting, Ms Motsamai’s justification for the adjournment was her “personal interpretation that suited her intention to evade discussions in the House”.

“The standing order she used to adjourn the house sittings indefinitely does not tally with what she just did. She deliberately misdirected herself. In any case, the motion was never submitted to the National Assembly’s business committee as is the proper procedure,” said Chief Molapo, adding parliament should only be closed when the majority in the House want it closed “and not when a minority want it closed”.

“It doesn’t matter whether we have urgent business to transact or not. It is unfortunate that these minority members are using underhand tactics to shut the House against the wishes of the majority who have aspirations to see the house opened.”

He said the opposition intended to challenge the indefinite adjournment before the courts.

“The speaker should know that we are going to court and this parliament shall be reopened with a court order. The Constitutional Court will rule that Madam Speaker what you used to adjourn the House indefinitely is wrong,” Chief Molapo said.

“She cannot usurp the collective responsibility of parliament. In fact, she acted beyond her legal powers. We could have stayed in the House until 9pm yet she adjourned at 6:30pm. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

For his part, All Basotho Convention Chairman Motlohi Maliehe said it was “shocking” for the speaker to adjourn the National Assembly indefinitely without any discussion of the possible expulsion of 13 opposition MPs.

Ms Motsamai last week wrote letters to 13 opposition MPs requesting them to “show cause” why they should not be expelled from the august house for alleged absenteeism without her permission. The case is now before the courts after the opposition legislators lodged an urgent High Court application challenging the letters.

The speaker states in the letters that by 9 December 2015, the legislators had reached the “threshold of the prohibited absenteeism”.

“She had no valid no reasons to write such letters and the laws she cited don’t empower her to expel us as MPs,” said Mr Maliehe, who is the legislator for Butha-Buthe constituency.

“Her move to adjourn the House indefinitely denies us a right to be heard at a time when our fate hangs in the balance. We should have been allowed to discuss these letters. Our looming expulsion is a matter of national importance.”

 

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