Civil society ‘oxygen of democracy’

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Executive Director of Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisation (LCN) Seabata Motsamai
Executive Director of Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisation (LCN) Seabata Motsamai

Motsamai Mokotjo

A CALL has been made for government to forge stronger links with civil society to ensure Lesotho’s social and economic development.

This was said by Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) Executive Director, Seabata Motsamai, on Tuesday during a public forum to commemorate International Day of Democracy at a Maseru hotel. The forum was attended by civil society organisations, government officials and development partners among others.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolved to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy in 2007, with the purpose of promoting and upholding principles of democracy.

According to the UN, this year’s theme, “Space for civil society”, was a reminder to governments around the world that the hallmark of successful and stable democracies is the presence of a strong and freely operating civil society.

The intergovernmental organisation also called on governments and civil society to work together “for common goals for a better future, and at the same time, civil society helps keep government accountable”.

In his remarks, Mr Motsamai said civil society’s role was to mediate between the public and State to ensure good governance.

“We are charged with the responsibility of mediating between government and the people. We need to be the counterbalance; that’s our mandate,” he said.

“Trust and understanding can only exist in a nation if there is tolerance and cooperation between civil society, government and communities.”

Mr Motsamai said Lesotho’s constitution was unequivocal in sections 20 and 16 by enshrining the right to participate in government and freedom of association respectively, hence the continued existence of civil society.

“Civil society is the oxygen of democracy. Where government stops, civil society starts the journey,” he added.

In his remarks, European Union (EU) Head of Cooperation, Theo Kaspers, said as civil society lobbies for transparency and good governance from the authorities, the same should apply within their own organisations.

“Civil society’s role is to critique government and it is accepted in Lesotho. We are relatively fortunate in Lesotho that there’s space,” said Mr Kaspers.

“As civil society, you need to be transparent and accountable. As the EU delegation in Lesotho, we will continue investing in the sector because it plays an important role in capacity-building programmes.”

On his part, Ministry of Development Planning Acting Principal Secretary, Teboho Mokela, said government had embraced non-governmental organisations and clearly understood their role.

“We have to work in partnership. Government will always be there, but there will also be space for civil society to operate. That is why the private sector, government and civil society need to work together,” Mr Mokela said.

In his message to mark the day, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said civil society must be given the space to carry-out its vital functions.

The communiqué, read by Governance Specialist at the United Nations Development Programme, Thabo Mosoeunyane, said: “Civil society is the oxygen of democracy. We see this clearly in the world’s most vibrant and stable democracies, where government and civil society work together for common goals.

“Civil society acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth. It plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable, and helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups.”

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