MOKHOTLONG-Polihali villagers have accused the government and their Member of Parliament (MP) of “forgetting” about them despite the “many promises” the politicians allegedly made when “begging for our votes”.
Tens of the villagers gathered at the Lesotho Evangelical Church in the area on Friday last week to discuss parliamentary issues, but also used the occasion to speak about their frustrations with the coalition government and their MP, Serialing Qoo of the Democratic Congress (DC) “for centralising public services in Maseru and neglecting us in the rural areas”.
Friday’s meeting was one of a series that rights group, Development for Peace Education (DPE), has organised in several villages across the country to discuss the New Zealand report compiled after a high-powered delegation of politicians, senior public servants, civil society representatives and the clergy, had visited the island nation between 28 June – 4 July 2014.
The tour, led by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, sought to familiarize the delegates with New Zealand’s governance system under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation parliamentary model, which Lesotho adopted in 2002.
In his address, DPE Coordinator, Sofonea Shale told the Polihali villagers that the purpose of the gathering was to discuss the New Zealand report, as well as the reopening of parliament tomorrow, 17 October, following its nine-month prorogation by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane four months ago. The veteran All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, it would be recalled, decided to suspend the August House on 10 June 2014 to avoid a no-confidence vote by MPs who accused him of several misdemeanors, among them maladministration. However, since the prorogation, the coalition government, which also comprises the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) led by Mr Metsing and Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, has been plagued by infighting, resulting in mediation efforts by a number of organisations, among them the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SADC’s mediation eventually led to the signing of the Maseru Facilitation Declaration on 2 October 2014, under which the country’s politicians in both government and the opposition, agreed to reopen parliament on 17 October, dissolve it early December and hold snap elections in February 2015. Lesotho had initially been expected to go for general elections in 2017, after holding its last poll on 26 May 2012, which gave birth to the tripartite government when none of the political parties had managed to garner the outright majority seats required to rule on its own.
Mr Shale told the Polihali villagers: “As you may all remember, there have been problems in the current government of three parties, namely the ABC, LCD and BNP . Following many interventions and mediations by various stakeholders, it was recently agreed that parliament will be reopened on 17 October 2014. However, it will be dissolved in December, as per the agreement, to allow for preparations for early elections. The elections are expected to take place sometime in February next year.”
However, the villagers were quick to fire Mr Shale with a barrage of questions, with many insisting they were not aware of the New Zealand trip and the resultant report (which among others, recommended reforms that included ensuring a professional, depoliticised civil service, and restructuring parliamentary procedures to enhance its functions as an oversight body), as well as the reason for an early election. Some of the villagers even questioned Mr Shale’s presence in their area, insisting he had no business to be conducting the exercise in the first place, but their own MP and government officials.
The villagers asked Mr Shale: Who exactly went to New Zealand and for what purpose? How come he (Mr Shale) did not come to seek their opinion before the tour but was now telling them about it and requesting their input into something they were not even aware of? What did New Zealand have to do with Basotho and the government?
Although Mr Shale patiently explained the details of the New Zealand trip and its outcome, the villagers were far from amused and later took turns to blast the government and their MP for failing to consult with them on “important” issues.
One of the villagers, Mr Buang Sotane, said: “If it is really true that this is our government, why are we not being informed about all these developments concerning us, on time? Why are we the last to know there was this trip to New Zealand concerning our government and parliament? Why have these people we voted into power neglected and completely forgotten about us? It is not fair, and we will not just sit here and accept it.”
The villagers also expressed concern over the early elections, insisting they were not ready to go for “yet another poll” before the completion of government’s five-year term, which was supposed to end in 2017.
Said another villager, Mr Mohlouoa Leisa: “We hear about the elections coming back again soon, and we are wondering what exactly is happening in Lesotho? We know very well that the law allows for the prime minister and his government to rule for five years before another election is held. Here in the rural villages, we have not been informed about what went wrong between the leaders, which led to this early election. It is now clear that people living in Maseru were informed a long time ago about these developments leading to early elections, yet we are only being told about them now. The big question we are asking now is, where are the people we elected into power? Why aren’t they here to tell us about this New Zealand tour, which happened so long ago, and the reason why we have to go for early elections, the reopening of parliament and all these other issues of concern to the public? Why are we not being consulted by these people if it is true we sent them to represent us in parliament?”
Another villager, Mr Mosaletsane Sentle added: “It is the responsibility of our political leaders to inform us about all these issues, and not you people from the DPE. You don’t have any right whatsoever to be here informing us about the trip to New Zealand because you were not part of it. You are only telling us what you also heard from other people, who went on the trip. We have a representative of this area in parliament. Where is he now? Where is the MP we voted into power?”
The villagers then went on to attack Mr Qoo, the Malingoaneng Constituency MP under which Polihali falls, for allegedly failing to attend “crucial community meetings,” during which he could have told them about what was going on in government.
Mr Qoo’s mobile phone was not reachable each time the Lesotho Times called to get his comment.
Meanwhile, Mr Shale said after the countrywide meetings, the DPE would now come up with a report and present it to parliament once it reopens tomorrow.