THE LESOTHO High Court on Monday reserved judgment in a case in which opposition parties are challenging the possible expulsion of 13 opposition Members of Parliament from the National Assembly.
The tripartite opposition bloc consisting of All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) on 9 November 2016 filed an application in the High Court challenging the anticipated expulsion of some of their MPs for alleged absenteeism in the National Assembly.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Ntlhoi Motsamai and the Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe are cited as the first and second respondents respectively.
Ms Motsamai, on 18 November 2016, wrote letters to 13 opposition MPs requesting them to ‘show cause’ why she should not expel them from the National Assembly for alleged absenteeism in parliament without her permission.
The opposition parties wanted the High Court to declare that the Speaker has no authority to expel MPs from the August house.
The case was argued on Monday and the judges presiding over the case reserved judgment to a date they did not announce.
But they said it would be delivered any time before the parliament re-opens on 24 February this year.
The High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara said: “We will have to reserve judgment to a date to be announced later, but it would be delivered before the 24th of February.”
Judgement was reserved after both lawyers representing the applicants and the respondents argued the case.
A lawyer representing opposition parties, Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, argued that the Speaker of the National Assembly has no powers to declare a vacant seat in the august house.
He said despite lack of such powers the Speaker wanted to declare vacancies in the seats of the MPs she wrote letters to.
He further said the lawyer representing the respondents, Senior Counsel Guido Penzhorn, indirectly admitted that the speaker wanted to declare vacancies on the seats occupied by the 13 MPs to whom she wrote letters.
“My learned friend fell short of simply admitting that the speaker wanted to declare a vacancy in parliament; and if so, what is her source of power?
“There is no provision either in the National Assembly Act, Constitution or any other law that allows the speaker to declare a vacancy.
“Her intention appears clearly on the letters she wrote to the MPs that she might make a pronouncement on the vacant seats and thereafter inform the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission),” he said.
He further argued that the constitution provides that: “Any question whether there is vacancy shall be referred to the High Court.”
On the contrary Advocate Penzhorn argued the speaker did not intend to declare any vacancy in the august house.
“The speaker merely brought to the attention of the MPs that by operation of law their seats were vacant.
“She did not make any decision on their absenteeism.
“The speaker merely acted on the facts that were not disputed by the MPs that they had been absent for a considerable period in parliament.
“She did not rule on anything, but just referred to the provisions of the constitution. She only took cognizance of the law,” he said.
The MPs that face expulsion include the exiled opposition bloc leaders, former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the All Basotho Convention, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho respectively.
The trio sought refuge in South Africa on 11, 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively, allegedly after being alerted of a plot to kill them by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members – an accusation the army and government have vehemently denied.
Other MPs facing expulsion include the BNP’s Joang Molapo and Dr Nthabiseng Makoae and the ABC’s Samonyane Ntsekele, Leshoboro Mohlajoa, Tšoeu Molise, Majoro Mohapi, Chalane Phori, Mokherane Tsatsanyane, Motlohi Maliehe and Prince Maliehe.
The case is presided over by Justices Tšeliso Monaphathi, Semapo Peete and Makara.