THE Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) has distanced itself from last week’s study tour of New Zealand by a 24-member delegation of local politicians, civil servants, and civil society officials, saying they were not represented in the entourage.
The weeklong tour was facilitated by the New Zealand parliament in association with the Commonwealth Secretariat, and sought to enhance the delegates’ understanding of the Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) parliamentary system.
Lesotho adopted New Zealand’s MMP electoral model in 2002, and in 2012, resulted in the country’s first coalition government comprising the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP).
However, relations between the three partners have since soured over Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s alleged failure to consult his partners when making key governance decisions.
Last month, the LCD even threatened to pull out of the coalition government and form yet another coalition government with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC), prompting mediation efforts led by the CCL and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
As part of the reconciliation process between the three governing parties, stakeholders decided to send the delegation to New Zealand, with the tour beginning on 28 June and ending on 5 July.
In New Zealand, the delegation sought to understand how effective parliamentary processes operate in an MMP environment; forming and sustaining coalition governments; maintaining an independent and politically neutral public service and the transition period after an election.
However, the CCL had disowned a member of the delegation, Reverend Tšeliso Simeon Masemene of the Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC), who went on the tour as a CCL representative.
According to the CCL vice-chairperson, Matjako Nkhahle, Reverend Masemene was not representing the organisation when he went on the tour.
Ms Nkhahle said as far as the CCL was concerned, the body was snubbed in the tour and would not have anything to do with its findings and recommendations.
“If ever there was anyone who went to New Zealand under the banner of the CCL, he or she was never mandated to do so, which means the council was not officially represented on the tour,” Ms Nkhahle said.
“The only communication we received regarding the tour was written by Cabinet Principal Secretary Mrs ‘Mataeli Sekhantšo in April, when she was informing us that the study tour would be from 8-14 May.
“We later received a follow-up message from her informing us that the trip had been postponed.
“It was the CCL General Secretary, Mr Thabiso Mokobori, who told us that he had been informed about the postponement, and since then, there has never been any official communication to us about the trip.”
Ms Nkhahle emphasised there was a “clearly defined way of communicating with the CCL whenever it is involved with politicians”.
“No such procedures were followed in this tour, hence we are saying the CCL was not part of it,” she said.
Ms Nkhahle further said it was not proper to expect the CCL to be a guarantor in the new agreement the coalition government partners would soon be signing, guided by the New Zealand tour.
“We don’t understand how the CCL is supposed to be a guarantor of the revised agreement between the three parties in government.
The role and standing of the church is a prophetic, and not an operational one as suggested by the proposed Agreement Amongst The Coalition Partners in Resolving Areas of Conflict in Governance.”
Ms Nkhahle was referring to a point in the revised draft agreement, which suggested that the New Zealand study tour should be used as “a catalyst for the CCL to mount a national stakeholders forum or dialogue on institutional and constitutional reform programmes,” while also suggesting a CCL representative also signs the new agreement as guarantor.
“How can the church be a guarantor of a settlement of political squabbles when we don’t know what they are clashing over?
“Mediation yes, as we are mediating between parties.
“But this function which is being suggested that we should play, I do not understand,” she said.
Ms Nkhahle further asked how the CCL could assist in “putting out the fire when it is brought into the same house that is on fire by being a guarantor and also being given a functional role”.
Asked about Reverend Masemene, Ms Nkhahle insisted he had gone to New Zealand in his own capacity, and not a representative of the CCL.
“The heads of churches and the CCL have always worked in harmony but there has been a power-struggle between the two of late,” Ms Nkhahle said.
“The question is why the power-struggle now?
“Well, maybe we are talking the Jonah approach.
“When Jonah was sent by God, he ran away from the Lord and headed to Tarshish (Jonah Chapter 1: 3).” Ms Nkhahle said.
Contacted for comment, Reverend Masemene was adamant he was representing the CCL when he went to New Zealand.
“I represented the CCL heads of churches and it’s just a matter of different governance structures, I would want to believe,” Reverend Masemene said.
“I cannot even assume there are clashes over this because of the so-called per diem or allowance that was given to the delegates, as you are suggesting.”
However, Reverend Masemene would not comment on reports that the delegates were each given M80 000 during the weeklong tour.
“What I can only say is the money was supposed to be used during the tour.”