Exiled leaders no longer MPs: Metsing

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Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing
Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing

Keiso Mohloboli

Deputy Prime Minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing says exiled opposition leaders are no longer Members of Parliament (MPs) because of their continued absence from the August house and has urged his party to prepare for by-elections in their constituencies.

Mr Metsing, who made the remarks while addressing his party’s youth conference in Maseru last Saturday, further said by continuing to pay  Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leaders Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo respectively, government was breaking the law because they have not been attending parliament to warrant the remuneration.

The deputy premier said there was nothing wrong with the remuneration All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane was receiving from the government as it was his “pension” as a former prime minister, but pointed out he had automatically lost his position as leader of the opposition by missing parliament sittings alongside Chief ‘Maseribane and Ms Rantšo.

Dr Thabane is the MP for Abia No 37 constituency and while Chief ‘Maseribane is the MP for Mount Moorosi No 67 constituency. Ms Rantšo is in parliament through one of the two Proportional Representation (PR) seats allocated to the RCL after the 28 February snap election.

The three leaders fled for South Africa in May last year claiming their lives were in danger from some members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) but the army has since dismissed these claims.

“I have serious concerns that the government could be violating the constitution by paying parliamentary benefits to the leaders of the BNP and RCL. Section 60 (g) of the constitution specifies that, and I quote, ‘if, in any one year and without the written permission of the President of the Senate or, as the case may be, the Speaker of the National Assembly, a member is absent from one-third of the total number of sittings of the House of which he is a member, one would lose membership of that House,” Mr Metsing told the conference.

“Last year, the National Assembly sat 59 times and if you use the one-third formula, you will realise that one-third of 59 is about 20 sittings. But National Assembly records indicate that opposition leaders attended less than 20 of the sittings.

“Again, the opposition leaders did not get written approval from the Speaker of the National Assembly to be absent from the house. So according to this section of the constitution, these three are no longer Members of Parliament.

“And based on this legislation, this means we could soon be holding by-elections for Abia  and Mount Moorosi constituencies, while the RCL will have to choose a leader from their PR list.”

Mr Metsing also said the reason why the government had to act on the issue was because continuing to pay the leaders could encourage lawlessness in the country.

“In a country that abides by laws and principles, the government must be loyal and abide by the law. What the government is doing might result in a defiant nation which does not respect the law, claiming the government is also breaking the law through these payments to the opposition leaders.”

Mr Metsing also said the government tried to convince the three leaders to return to Lesotho but failed.

“I want you all to know that the Prime Minister, Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, made several attempts to facilitate the return of the opposition leaders but they refused,” Mr Metsing said.

“Initially, Ntate Mosisili himself met with Ntate Thabane and had a written agreement with him, where he agreed to come back home in line with the conditions outlined in the document. But Ntate Thabane never came back.

“As if the Prime Minister’s efforts were not enough, the government engaged two ministers (Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane and Home Affairs Minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane) to talk to the opposition leaders but until today, they have not come even after assurance that nothing will happen to them; that they will be safe. I want to assure this youth league conference today that the government met its end of the bargain but its efforts to assist the exiles living in Ladybrand and Ficksburg to return home, failed.”

Mr Metsing also spoke about recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after its Commission of Inquiry investigated the death of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao. After Lieutenant-General Mahao was gunned down on 25 June 2015 by members of the Lesotho Defence Force who had come to arrest him for alleged mutiny, the government requested SADC to help probe the tragedy. The Commission was led by Botswana judge Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi, and in its report, made recommendations to the government aimed at addressing the country’s security and political challenges.

Among the recommendations was the dismissal of army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli; the suspension of all soldiers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into their cases proceed; criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao should be conducted “expeditiously and comprehensively without any hindrance” and also that the government should ensure the safe return of the exiled opposition leaders.

Mr Metsing told the conference that the government was studying the recommendations and would soon announce its decision.

“The government announced the recommendations made by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi to the nation and the same government is busy studying those recommendations. After the study, the government will revert to the nation and announce its findings about the recommendations.

“The government won’t just take recommendations and implement them without carefully going through them,” he said.

Asked if the opposition leaders could lose their seats in parliament as indicated by Mr Metsing, Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe on Monday agreed with the deputy premier.

“From a legal point of view, the constitution’s Section 60 (g) clearly shows how MPs will lose their membership of the august house,” King’s Counsel Makhethe said.

“If the Member of Parliament breaks the provision, then it is clear that such an individual will no longer be considered an MP.”

Dr Thabane on Tuesday would not comment on the issue, telling the Lesotho Times: “I didn’t hear Metsing’s claims, so I cannot say anything about what you are asking me. However, I am of the opinion that Metsing thinks he is a law expert which he is not.”

On her part, Ms Rantšo said she was disappointed that Mr Metsing used “the wrong platform” to address such a crucial issue.

“It was not proper for Ntate Metsing to abuse his party’s youth league elective conference to discuss me and my allies in the opposition.

“I am disappointed that instead of approaching us about such a serious matter, Ntate Metsing chose to lie about us at a forum we were not present and where we could not defend ourselves,” Ms Rantšo said on Tuesday.

“Ntate Metsing misled the youths because I approached government immediately after my escape and asked for help so I could come back but I didn’t get the help I requested.

“I also wrote a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly indicating that I would not be attending to my duties because I had fled the country fearing for my life.

“If I was no longer an MP, parliament could have stopped assisting (RCL secretary general) ‘Mamolula Ntabe with duties I always assign her to do on my behalf.

“I have not received any illegal salary from the government and don’t know what Metsing wants to achieve by his utterances. But even if the country can hold by-elections for Abia and Mount Moorosi constituencies, the LCD will not win those seats.

“It is actually a disgrace for the whole Deputy Prime Minister to announce such a misleading development. What he was only doing was to give the LCD youths a platform to insult and disrespect us.”

Repeated attempts to speak with Chief ‘Maseribane were not successful but BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, was scathing in his response to Mr Metsing’s announcement.

“Metsing is not qualified to speak about laws and principles because he is one man who has been disrespectful of the constitution of this country.

“The High Court made a ruling and gave the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) the go-ahead to investigate his bank accounts but he refused, which means did not respect the law,” Mr Mofomobe said.

“When he was Deputy Prime Minister during Ntate Thabane’s reign, Metsing defied a decision by His Majesty King Letsie III, with advise from the prime minister, to remove Kamoli as army commander.”

Mr Mofomobe also said Chief ‘Maseribane informed the National Assembly Speaker about his absence from the legislature. The Lesotho Times could not immediately verify this claim, as well as a similar statement made by Ms Rantšo.

“Since his escape to South Africa last year, Chief ‘Maseribane has made sure that at the beginning of every National Assembly session, he writes a letter to the Speaker of the House, Ntlhoi Motsamai and informs her that he still fears for his life and as a result, cannot make it to parliament sittings.

“There is a record that he didn’t just abandon his duties as an MP.

“Metsing must be clear if he is trying to win constituencies he lost in last year’s election, but he must be warned that his party will not win them. Morena Thesele was elected by Mount Moorosi residents and not Metsing so he can’t just take away the people’s choice without their consent,” Mr Mofomobe said.

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