Countdown to 2020 and beyond

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parliamentMakhabane Maluke

His Majesty`s speech from the Throne during the opening of the 9th Parliament (on 8 May) was a significant event to signal a return of order in Lesotho, compared to what followed the prorogation of the 8th Parliament (on 10 June 2014).

In the latter, there was no single mention of “My government” in the speech. Many activities and related events have to come to reality out of that speech. The onus for further countdown by different state actors remains with each of them: Parliament itself, the Executive and agencies like the Lesotho Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) etc.

For the Executive, the expressed wish to be a reformist government, among other commitments, was very encouraging. There is a lot implied in that mention. One gets compelled to think across sectoral   boundaries and focus on the “whole government”.  His Majesty`s speech only set the agenda and left execution to others to demonstrate that they have the wish, capability and the capacity to shift to the appropriate gear to respond to all problems identified in His Majesty`s  speech.

By the nature and magnitude of the anticipated reforms, success will require organisational arrangements to be put in place.  The existence of some kind of Cabinet Implementation Unit or Coordinating Office could be a necessity to ensure that all those who matter maintain the required momentum, otherwise everything is likely to turn into business as usual. Planning for reform does not need to scramble for attention.  There has to be some way of monitoring on whether or not there will be any progress.  It could be an interesting challenge, by anyone, to deny that in Lesotho, the tendency has been to have a show of some dislike for any meaningful coordination in the management of public affairs.

For example, it may not be denied that the concept of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has always not been fully adopted and implemented in the true spirit of the idea, resulting in an apparently strong Executive in relation to parliament to which it is supposed to fully account.  Designers of the portfolio had probably considered it wise to have a body within government itself, whose function is to whip all the other portfolios to fully account to parliament. The portfolio would link very neatly with the Leaders of both Houses of Parliament.

Similarly, the launch of parliamentary reforms, way back in 2004, has interesting experiences: ideas of a joint Parliamentary Service Commission, with a “Clerk of Parliament” appeared to be unpopular. Reasoning for the idea was to achieve harmony for the two Houses of Parliament. Bicameralism has to be managed. There is always a price for any disharmony anywhere in life: Failure of the Senate to have suitable space in the new parliament building on Mpilo Hill is an undeniable sad example.

As a matter of fact, the parliamentary term of five years might actually be too short for  the attainment of all the anticipated reforms by 2020. Only good planning, now, could enable any carryover of unfinished administrative business into the next parliament(s). The goodness of such plans could be in their ability to indicate some timed wins over the anticipated period of execution.

There exists a parliamentary dimension to any countdown to 2020. Parliamentary convention provides that no current parliament may prescribe for its successor. This makes sense: the post 2020 power-relations within the new parliament and the next government remain unknown. The Speech from the Throne after the 2020 elections may reflect different priorities. This dictates that both the  9th Parliament and its government should push hard enough to get as much as possible done before 2020. Parliamentary staff and civil servants, as a resource, become handy and instrumental in such situations. Those at parliament should not only be viewed as procedural assistants: They are administrators, managers, facilitators, educators, etc, who remain when politicians continuously replace one another in parliament and as government or the opposition after elections.

Parliamentary staff do not need to be treated as just appendages to elected principals.  Under normal circumstances, MPs are dependent on staff for guidance to take decisions.  As it were, there is a culture in Lesotho for parliamentary staff to wait for new MPs to come in, to drive even obvious administrative projects forward.  Parliamentary Service ought to be in place by now, but it is not because staff is conditioned not to guide or get things done unless so directed.  If this was otherwise, their first duty would be to orientate new MPs about any pending administrative business to be taken forward. Focus has always been on procedural aspects of parliamentary work.

The countdown to the next local government [and parliamentary] elections ought to have practically started. Has continuous voter registration started already? The current IEC has a unique challenge which ought to encourage it to demonstrate that it, indeed, has the capability to perform better than it may have done for the 2015 elections.

Section 66A (I)(b) & (b) of the Lesotho constitution [to organise, conduct and supervise, in  an impartial and independent manner, elections…and to promote knowledge of sound democratic electoral processes…] ought to be the most challenging of the duties and functions of this particular IEC. Waiting for the often belated statutory election period or  timetable to engage the voting public may be too late for the promotion of knowledge.

This IEC has an unenviable task to proactively erase from the minds of Basotho and the world at large, the unprecedented portrayal of a national election management body, by the former Prime Minister at a party rally he addressed , that the current IEC is actually partisan, with each commissioner being declared to belong to each of the three parties which formed his coalition government. Could it be illogical or wrong to now view such an IEC as largely pro-opposition?

The recruitment of the very commissioners was dramatic. For the first time in Lesotho, applicants to the IEC were put through psychometric tests or whatever that was. Results spoke as they did, but gave rise to our current IEC which ought to, from now on, demonstrate that they deserve to be relied upon to deliver credible elections.

One urgent reform move could be to do away with the permanently-in-office commissioners who have been declared partisan, and opt for a temporary body which would sit only as necessary, to make decisions and not to actually plan or map the direction of elections. Along with this would have to exist a dependable team of staff to do the spadework. It is those technocrats who deserve to be tested for competence and not commissioners with known political bias.

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