LAW and Justice Minister, Lekhetho Rakuoane, says the government is finalising submissions to His Majesty, King Letsie III, advising him to declare a state of emergency.
The declaration of an emergency will pave way for the recall of the recently dissolved parliament to pass the much-delayed reforms bill, Advocate Rakuoane said.
King Letsie III had disbanded parliament at midnight on 13 July 2022. This after the expiry of its five-year term of office.
The dissolution of parliament came while the Senate was busy debating the Omnibus Bill, 2022.
Senators had baulked at passing the Bill, accusing the National Assembly of tampering with certain key clauses including one which seeks to make the King, commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Adv Rakuoane had over the weekend said they were pushing for His Majesty to recall the dissolved parliament. He said they would advise him to declare a state of emergency in line with section 84 of the constitution to facilitate the recall of parliament.
In an interview this week, Adv Rakuoane said they were finalising the paperwork to be submitted to the King by the Council of State, advising him to declare a state of emergency to pave way for the recall of parliament.
“We are finalising a paper with our proposals and I hope all our teams will be through by the end of the week so that it will be presented to the relevant authorities,” Adv Rakuoane said.
“We will submit our paper to the Council of State and leave everything to them. Therefore, I cannot say when parliament is likely to reconvene to conclude the unfinished business of passing the reforms bill. That will depend on when the Council of State will meet to make its recommendations to His Majesty. But we want it to be soon. We are going to use section 84 of the Constitution to obtain a declaration of a state of emergency in order to bring back the tenth parliament. However, nothing has been finalised at this stage,” Adv Rakuoane added.
Section 84(2) of the constitution provides for the recall of parliament in the wake of a declaration of a state of emergency.
“If, after a dissolution of parliament and before the holding of a general election of members of the National Assembly, the King is advised by the Council of State that owing to a state of war or of a state of emergency in Lesotho, it is necessary to recall parliament, the King shall recall parliament that has been dissolved. That parliament shall be deemed to be the parliament for the time being (and the members of the dissolved parliament shall be deemed to be the members of the recalled parliament),” the section states.
Adv Rakuoane said he was confident they would get the King to recall parliament.
“We think we have a solid case for the recall of parliament. Our problems are more political than legalistic, hence the need for political commitment from all stakeholders to pass the reforms bill,” he said.
One of the key amendments in the Bill relates to the introduction of term limits for a prime minister.
“A person shall not hold office as prime minister for more than two terms,” the Bill states.
It also seeks to provide for the removal of the prime minister by the King “by way of impeachment, on the advice of the Council of State and following the recommendations of parliament”.
The prime minister may be removed by the King for gross misconduct, wilful violation of the constitution or the law, or inability to perform the functions of his office.
The Bill seeks to make it more difficult to remove a prime minister by proposing that an MP may only move a motion to remove a prime minister if it is supported by at least a third of all MPs. The current practice is that an MP can move the motion if it is seconded by at least one other MP and the prime minister can be removed by a simple majority vote of MPs after a no confidence vote in parliament.
As part of efforts to deal with rampant floor crossing which has resulted in a succession of four short-lived governments from 2012 to 2020, the Bill proposes that an MP representing a constituency will only be allowed to cross the floor to join another party “at the end of three years after the beginning of a term of parliament”.
“A member (of the National Assembly) who crosses the floor at any time outside the period referred to (above), shall vacate his or her seat in the National Assembly and a by-election shall be held in that constituency.
“A person who is a member of the National Assembly through proportional representation shall not cross the floor,
“That person shall vacate his or her seat if he or she expressly renounces the membership of the party whose seat he occupies in the National Assembly or joins another political party. The political party whose seat he or she occupies in the National Assembly, after following due process, informs the speaker of the National Assembly that the person is no longer a member of that party.”
The envisaged constitutional reforms are part of much wider reforms recommended by SADC way back in 2016. The country is also supposed to implement security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms.
Lesotho missed the initial May 2019 deadline to have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms.
The reforms process has stagnated due to bickering among politicians and constant changes of governments. The latest change occurred in May 2020 when then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s four party coalition collapsed and made way for the current Moeketsi Majoro-led coalition which is anchored by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC).
Since then SADC has repeatedly revised the deadline for the implementation of the reforms. However, implementation is still a long way off. Besides bickering, parliamentarians have spent the bulk of their five year-term focusing on trivial, self-serving matters like awarding themselves M5000 each as monthly fuel allowances.
All this was unacceptable, Adv Rakuoane said this week. He warned that there would be severe consequences for failing to implement the reforms.
He said Lesotho was heavily dependent on foreign aid and it could ill-afford to lose the assistance over the failure to implement the reforms.
“We can’t afford to lose friends (development partners) especially now when are still recovering from Covid-19. We must do everything in our power to implement the reforms. This requires political will and commitment,” he said.
He said Lesotho had been let down by successive governments’ failure to implement the reforms “due to the lack of political will and constant squabbling”.