End of an era

 

. . . as MPs sit for the last time in the 8th Parliament tomorrow

Bongiwe Zihlangu

LESOTHO’S 8th Parliament is set to be dissolved tomorrow, paving the way for Prime Minister (PM) Thomas Thabane’s caretaker government until an election is held in February next year.

The dissolution is in line with the Maseru Facilitation Declaration (MFD) political party leaders signed on 2 October 2014 to ensure the country returns to normalcy. Lesotho has been politically unstable since Dr Thabane and his coalition government partner, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, fell-out early this year over the premier’s alleged failure to consult his fellow principals when making decisions with a bearing on good governance.

The squabbling prompted the signing of the MFD that was brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Under the Declaration, Parliament was to open on 17 October and dissolved early December and a snap election held in February 2015. Initially, Lesotho was supposed to hold its general election in 2017 but after the breakdown of relations between Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing, SADC brokered the MFD through South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in an effort to defuse the increasingly volatile situation.

Tomorrow’s dissolution of Parliament marks the penultimate stage of the MFD, with the poll expected to conclude the process and what has been a protracted struggle for power between All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Dr Thabane and his Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) counterpart, Mr Metsing.

The other coalition partner, Thesele ‘Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP), has stood by Dr Thabane throughout the feuding, which reached crisis point in June this year when Mr Metsing publicly embraced the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) led by Pakalitha Mosisili, while also hinting at forming a coalition government with the former prime minister.

However, aaccording to Legal Notice 101 of 2014 issued by the PM’s office and approved by King Letsie III on 26 November 2014, Parliament would be dissolved tomorrow, effectively ending its five-year tenure halfway through.

The Legal Notice reads: “I, King Letsie III, pursuant to Section 83 (1), (2) and (4) of the constitution of Lesotho, and acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, proclaim that the Eight Parliament of Lesotho, shall stand dissolved on the 5th December, 2014”.

But because Lesotho’s constitution does not make provision for a caretaker government or impose any limitations on what its main functions should be, the trend has been that the premier makes controversial yet legal decisions during this interim period.

A Private Members’ Bill brought to the National Assembly two weeks ago by the LCD’s Thabang Pheko and Retšelisitsoe Masenyetse of the DC, proposing that provisions for a caretaker government be included in the constitution, could not be discussed due to time-constraints.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times yesterday, political analyst Tsikoane Peshoane, said because of lack of constitutional and legal instruments to manage provisional governments, the premier “continues to run government just as a casual agreement and/or understanding”.

According to Mr Peshoane, who is Programmes Director at rights organisation Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a caretaker government could broadly be described as an interim administration which rules pending the outcome of a determining event.

In Lesotho’s case, Mr Peshoane adds, the determining event is next February’s general election.

“But in Lesotho’s case, the concept of a caretaker government may as well be deemed non-existent, because there are no legal and constitutional provisions stipulating what its functions and limitations are,” Peshoane says.

“But in countries where there are laws entrenched in the constitution, it is specifically provided what functions cannot be undertaken during this transitional period.”

But, he adds, the common practice in Lesotho is that once the electoral period starts “government does not always start big projects”.

“Normally, government, through its ministers, will suspend the launch of big projects but only strive to finish already existing ones,” Mr Peshoane says.

“Here, ministers simply choose not to launch projects to avoid controversy during this sensitive period.”

However, Mr Peshoane is quick to add the common practice is to make key decisions that would normally be made by a legitimate government.

“During this period, controversial decisions or appointments to key government positions can be made and that doesn’t mean anyone is breaking the law,” Mr Peshoane says.

“Remember, this is a not a caretaker government in the true sense of the word, because it is not defined by the constitution but just a casual agreement/understanding.”

Mr Peshoane then cites, as an example, the appointment of Lesotho Defence Commander (LDF) Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who was elevated to the post by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in 2012 after the dissolution of parliament, which paved the way for that year’s 26 May poll.

“Lieutenant General Kamoli’s appointment, for example, was controversial but not necessarily illegal,” Mr Peshoane says.

On the other hand, Mr Peshoane says the recent confirmation of Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka, on the eve of the dissolution of parliament “is a decision that could have been deemed controversial if he was confirmed following parliament’s dissolution”.

“It was just a strategic move to confirm him before the dissolution of parliament, as doing it later would have definitely attracted a great deal of controversy,” Mr Peshoane says.

On his part, Chief ‘Maseribane yesterday told  the Lesotho Times that as far as he was concerned and based on the provisions of the constitution, “Thabane is the PM and the sole authority to run the caretaker government until after the election”.

“As far as the constitution is concerned, everything and everyone is answerable to the PM during the transitional period.

“I am told there are some people who want a government of national unity to be formed before the dissolution of parliament to usher Lesotho into the 2015 elections.

“It is quite funny because these are the same people who want the remainder of their M500, 000 loans to be settled by government, but I tell you they will not see it happen.”

Meanwhile, the Council of State, a body that advices the King on key issues and decision-making, is expected to sit today to decide on a date for the election. The King is then expected to make a public announcement on the poll.

 

About caretaker governments

∎Caretaker governments may be put in place when a government in a parliamentary system is defeated in a no-confidence vote; or when the house to which the government is responsible is dissolved. It then rules until an election is held and a new government is formed.

∎Unlike in ordinary times, the caretaker government’s activities are limited by custom and convention.

∎In Bangladesh, an advisor council led by the former chief judge rules the country for three months before an elected government takes over.

∎In systems where coalition governments are frequent, a caretaker government may be installed while negotiations to form a new coalition take place. This usually occurs either immediately after an election in which there is no clear victor or if one coalition government collapses and a new one must be negotiated.

∎Caretaker governments are expected to handle daily issues and prepare budgets for discussion, but are not expected to produce a government platform or introduce controversial bills.

∎A caretaker government is often set-up following a war until stable democratic rule can be restored, or installed, in whi

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