WITH the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) cobbling together the 63 parliamentary seats they garnered after the 3 June 2017, the National Assembly held its first special sitting last week to elect the house’s speaker and the deputy.
Veteran politician Sephiri Motanyane, who previously served as speaker from 2012 to 2015, was voted into the same position by the majority of legislators across the political divide.
AD legislator and spokesperson, Teboho Lehloenya, was elected as National Assembly deputy speaker. Mr Lehloenya tabled the 1 March 2017 parliamentary no-confidence motion on then premier Pakalitha Mosisili’s government which resulted in the elections.
In this wide-ranging interview, Mr Lehloenya tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Pascalinah Kabi about the no-confidence vote and other related issues.
LT: Briefly tell us who Teboho Lehloenya is.
Lehloenya: Teboho Lehloenya is a Mosotho man who grew up in Boleka, Mafeteng. I was educated at Malimong Primary School, Moshoeshoe II High School and Christ the King High School. In 1978, I joined the then Posts and Telecommunications which was later referred to as Lesotho Telecommunications Company. I worked as a telephone technician before I went to the Oxford Air Training School in the United Kingdom to study Aeronautical Science and to train as a commercial pilot between 1980 and 1983 before working for Lesotho Airways for many years.
I later on relocated to Canada from 1987 to 1994 where I served a pilot. In 1994, I went to South Africa to help launch the South African Express Airlines. I specialised in design system operations control, finding efficient ways of managing flights and making sure they made profits. I then went to Canada where I studied for a post-graduate diploma in Electronic Engineering at the Sir Sanford Dlen College. I oversaw the installation of major systems in South Africa working closely with the South African Statistics Department.
I need to mention that sometime around 1986, I fled the country to Botswana and become a political refugee during Lesotho’s political upheaval.
In Lesotho, I designed an Animal Registration System still being used by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In 2007 I returned to Lesotho and worked as a Mafeteng District Administrator for five years before I was voted as Kolo Member of Parliament for both the 2012 and 2015 elections under the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Democratic Congress (DC) banners, respectively.
LT: Growing up, have you always dreamt of a career in politics?
Lehloenya: Not at all. Actually, it was by sheer accident that I became interested in politics. It was the 1970 general elections when Ntate Ntsu Mokhehle came to address a public gathering not very far from my school. We decided to go and see this great man touted to be the next prime minister of Lesotho. When we got there, we found out that his opponents had blocked the road. I am also a grandson of the area chief and when I got there, I was so ashamed and terribly sorry. So, I gathered and supervised people to remove the rocks that had been used to block the road before Ntate Mokhehle had arrived.
Unfortunately, he arrived to see this young boy supervising the old men to clear the road and decided that the media might construe the situation as that of people not supporting him. He then decided to take me into his car and we sat for about 40 minutes having a discussion while the road was being cleared. My political career started there and then, along with my fight with the National Security Services (NSS) because they watched the whole incident and hated it.
The fight was so intense that when I went to England, it was a struggle for me to get an international passport. At the time, there were two types of passports – local and international – and for one to get the international passport, one would have to undergo intelligence tests and I failed it because of that and subsequent actions between secondary school, high and my involvement with CASAS (Committee for Action for Southern Students). I had to fight really hard to get that passport and as result I knew that I was a politician whether I liked it or not.
After high school, even though I didn’t apply for a course at the National University of Lesotho, I was admitted to study law but chose to go for science and engineering so that I can still continue to live while I enjoy the fruits of my political inclinations. I am quite happy that it turned out this way for me.
LT: You became popular overnight when you tabled a no-confidence motion against former premier Pakalitha Mosisili’s government, earning yourself the moniker “Mr Motion” nickname in the process. Are you happy with your actions on that day despite the fact that you did not win back your constituency?
Lehloenya: Actually, there was one important motion before the one I pushed for which I think made me popular in parliament. After the 2012 general elections when my former party, DC, could not form government yet it was in the majority, I decided there was a need for a law that prescribed the modalities of a coalition government in line with the constitution. At the moment, there is no legal provision for how a coalition government should be formed. So I went on to draft that law and pushed for a motion for a private member’s bill in that regarding.
But Ntate Sephiri Motanyane, who was also National Assembly speaker at the time, said it was a good initiative but pointed out that it should be made a part of a bigger reform package. He suggested that I be part of the 25-member delegation of Lesotho politicians, senior civil servants and civil society representatives who were visiting New Zealand from 28 June to 5 July 2014 to study the country’s governance system.
That is when I became popular and I liked that kind of popularity because it was for the betterment of the nation.
As for the motion of no confidence, my colleagues, the other 73 legislators, decided that I should be the one to table it. This was after they had noticed that I tended to involve myself in the workings of parliament and was aware of the various legal provisions on many issues. That’s how they decided that I should be the one doing it. I did not choose to do it, but rather a popular choice among the other parliamentarians.
Coming to your questions, yes I was happy and I am still happy that we were able to remove the government that was not listening to us as MPs. They were not listening to the majority of the population who were suffering, particularly because of corruption and misappropriation of public funds. I am happy that the previous government was ousted and I am even happier because it was not just me or the parliamentarians saying so subsequent to the general elections, but even Basotho were saying the same. So if you are on the side of the population, you are on the side of God.
It is not just that we could not have won the constituency. As you know, of the 20 odd numbers who had the constituencies, only one (Monyane Moleleki) came back. It is not because we could not pass the message or that people could not understand but it was issues of the timing. My party was only launched in January and in two months’ time we were in election mode but we put up candidates in all the 80 constituencies and the numbers that came back say a lot. We are second in the coalition despite the fact that the BNP is over 50-years-old as a party, the RCL is a year-and-a-half and the ABC is over 10-years-old and from that perspective, we still have some momentum going for us and we are going to build on that.
LT: What is the mandate of the office of deputy speaker that you have just been elected into?
Lehloenya: This office has two mandates, with the first one being to ensure that the institution called parliament is known, respected for its work and performs its functions efficiently and that is what we aim to do. The second aspect is make sure that parliamentarians themselves are well taken care of; do their job and are equipped to do their job. These are the major issues that we will look into.
LT: What are you hoping to achieve in this office within the next five years?
Lehloenya: Like I said in my speech — after being voted into this office — the first thing I intend to do is to make sure that this parliament is respected and its responsibilities are not infringed upon. For instance, you will recall that there was a court ruling to the effect that the budget has been tabled in parliament. We believe, very strongly, that the courts have no jurisdiction to tell us when and how the budget has been laid and therefore we are grappling with that fact and now we need to go back and reconfigure those particular rules of the game.
Secondly, we need to protect the integrity of parliament against all the other state organs including the executive. The executive has no power to tell us how to do our job, more so because I would consider them as our baby because all the members of the executive have to be members of parliament, including the prime minister, before they become members of the executive.
In addition to that, we are the ones who decide how much money the government should get. The executive may wish but the ultimate decisions of how much each one gets come from here. We need to make people respect and understand all those elements. The second issue relates to us as parliament in ensuring that all the government expenditure and expenses are adhered to. We have to make sure that we look after these people to make sure that they do their jobs well through our portfolio committees.
I also believe that the committees and secretariat need a lot of empowerment, support, resources and researchers. Currently the staff complement is not as good as it should be and we need to address that. Those are the elements that constitute us as parliament.
We also have some international obligations like the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), Pan African Parliament (PAP), Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the International Inter-parliamentary Union and in all those forums, Lesotho needs to increase its visibility and make sure that its participation is active. This is why in the coming National Reform Agenda, one of the things that we need to make sure comes to light is the calibre of members of parliament. The standard has to be improved more so that we need proper participation both in the house, committees and international forums. We do not want to see parliamentarians wondering why and how certain things were happening.
We need to make sure that when we talk about issues of national and international importance, like climate change, we should not be having parliamentarians not knowing what is climate etc. and this is why we need to upgrade our parliamentary portfolios to make sure that when one is called MP, they at least have one area they have some background. The same goes for the other house – Senate – the English refers to it as the chamber of second sober thought and all it means is we would be making a lot of hasty decisions in the National Assembly and maybe we may end up making very amateurish bills or laws that we pass onto them and when they get there, they ought to reach the desks of people who are basically specialists, and have seen it all, done it all.
Currently, our Senate is not like that, so the reforms that we brought in from other areas, especially those from New Zealand, have got to address this chamber of second sober thoughts. We appreciate that we have our principal chiefs in there but that was the previous times, past 100 years may, but not anymore. Today, we need new types of senators. So we will push hard to make sure that the reforms that come address many of the challenges Lesotho is currently facing, both here and in the Senate.
LT: For many years some quarters of the society perceive parliamentarians as incompetent people who are clueless about their mandate. Some have gone further to say parliamentarians are only interested in the M500 0000 interest-free loans, salaries and sitting allowances, not about the interests and needs of the people.
Lehloenya: Well I cannot blame it on parliamentarians. They are not the ones to blame. Our institutions, specifically the executive – in particular the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Development Planning – are doing their own thing. They go and get the money for their own thing, not necessarily what the people need. When the people we now call parliamentarians go into the constituencies during the election period, they make promises to the people. But when they get here, they have no facilities to ensure that those promises are actually in line with what the money is appropriated.
So during these reforms we are talking about, we should take a leaf from other countries such as New Zealand that say during campaigns, the manifestos of different parties should be realistic, be in line with the people’s needs which need to be quantified. Once that party comes into government, it should not be doing anything else other than what they promised in the manifestos because presumably that was what people voted for. This means the manifesto have to be turned into the government’s programme of action, costed and that is all it is going to do nothing else. So for that reason, parliamentarians will have the say, influence in the achievements of those very objectives that we set out in their manifestos.
So it is not the parliamentarians that are disenfranchising themselves but rather the system because all these policies are lost along their way. They don’t find themselves in the budget because the budget, as is currently happening now, is drawn by the principal secretary, directors in the ministries and those guys who were not there during the campaigns and have no idea of the mandate given to the winning parties by the electorate. So they are going to be at odds and if they happen to match it is by sheer accident. It has to be more systematic, more structured from the beginning (when the manifesto is written and costed) and the coalition agreements should address those specific issues.
For instance, in other countries it takes three months from the day election results are announced and a coalition government is formed because it is a process of give and take; they are negotiating. For instance, if this party promised a bridge over Mohokare River upstream and the other one promised a dam in Makaoteng and now come together, they find that the only way is for the other one to give and the other to take.
For that reason alone, they will have to go back to the people whom they promised the bridge to tell them why the bridge is not coming now. Those agreements have got to take into the picture the people who voted for them, in the first place, that is meant by the coalition agreement, not these drastic thing that we see nowadays that are more about the personalities of the party leaders as opposed to the people who elected them. They just give them blank cheques as it is now. So the reforms must include issues of that nature and when it comes to the development of the country that the MPs should be striving towards, there has to be a national document. I know we have the Vision 2020 issue which for me is just a pie in the sky, we will never get there, not in the current direction and the speed we are moving.
Some countries do look at where they have some comparative advantage and work on them and say we are going to develop this particular industry. But some people, like in Japan, the Chinese and Rwandese, develop their people.
LT: Past parliaments have failed to ensure the dust-gathering Media Policy is enacted into law. Will we see your office playing an active role in ensure that media reforms are included in the national reform agenda and subsequently enacting a Media Law?
Lehloenya: Well, to the extent that I know the political manifesto of the party I was representing in the past elections, which happens to be in the government, we can expect the media policy coming into the law. But I cannot speak on behalf of the government and therefore I am ill-advised to talk about it. What I can talk about is the relationship between the media and parliament, and its work. We have the information officer here, I have had some discussions with her and I found the office lacking in terms of how they have been working with the media.
There were missing elements that I would like us to see happen. The media, by all accounts, is the fourth estate and if you cannot open up your work to scrutiny, especially to the public scrutiny, then you know you are heading to the doldrums. We have agreed with the media to work out a plan whereby the media will have an interaction, at least on a weekly basis, to let the media know our work with the view that they will pass the information to the public.
LT: What is your message to the people?
Lehloenya: We have in Ntate Motanyane a very experienced parliamentarian. In me, we have the passion, the hunger to learn and the combination of the two we hope and trust will be able to help us take this parliament to a higher level of operational efficiency. We would like to make sure that it becomes different from the rest. Well it is going to be different in the sense that the work that is facing us, other than the normal year to year requirements of the parliament, we now have the reform programme which we now have to undertake which in itself is a major undertaking. I am not sure we can do it within five years. Some of them are so fundamental, like public service sector reform that will have to take longer.