NEWLY-APPOINTED Principal Secretary for Cabinet Administration, Mothabathe Hlalele, has accused the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of “snooping” on the programmes being run by the Prime Minister’s Office.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Hlalele said he was “perturbed” by the manner the IEC has been addressing complaints levelled against the Special Projects department in the premier’s office “by disgruntled politicians”.
The IEC recently ordered the Special Projects department in Dr Thabane’s office, headed by his wife, Liabiloe ‘MaIsaiah Thabane, to stop offering gifts to villagers around the country ahead of the 28 February 2015 snap election.
The order came shortly after the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) lodged a complaint with the commission, in a letter dated 16 December 2014, alleging that Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and its coalition partner, the Basotho National Party (BNP), had breached electoral laws by using state resources for campaigning.
The DC argued the alleged vote buying also violated the Electoral Pledge signed by party leaders and other stakeholders on 11 December 2014, committing to a free and fair poll.
Mr Hlalele said he was also shocked to learn that the IEC “had the audacity” to summon an officer working under his ambit in the Prime Minister’s Office to appear before an IEC Tribunal without consulting his office as a principal secretary for Cabinet Administration.
“They summoned the Press Secretary, Ntate Thabo Thakalekoala, to appear before the IEC on 19 January over alleged electoral misconduct during one of the Special Projects Office’s activities in the Hloahloeng constituency,” Mr Hlalele said.
“What is surprising is that we have been issuing food parcels to Basotho even before it was announced we were going for elections. But today there are attempts to stop the Prime Minister’s Office from performing its functions effectively. “They claim that we are buying votes when in actual fact we are providing much-needed food aid to the needy.”
Mr Hlalele said he is in charge of the Special Projects Office as it reports to the Cabinet Administration department, adding that the IEC should only communicate with him about complaints levelled against the office and not summon his subordinates to the commission.
He said the Food Management Unit, Special Projects Office and the Disaster Management Unit would continue to disburse food parcels and assist the elderly, poor and the marginalised, adding that they would not be stopped to cater for the people’s needs “just because of an election”.
Mr Hlalele added that the department was established to alleviate the plight of the impoverished, the elderly, disabled, marginalised, orphans and vulnerable children whilst the Ministry of Social Development would work on long-term assistance programmes.
He said it was realised that the departments under the Prime Minister’s Office were well suited for the task as the Social Development Ministry was still short staffed and underfunded as it was a new ministry.
Mr Hlalele said the barrage of criticisms of the Special Projects department gave the impression it was a new office when the previous administration also had a similar department under the Office of the First Lady.
“This Special Projects Office is an office we run under the Poverty Reduction Programme here in the Prime Minister Office and nothing has changed. It is just like the Office of the First Lady in the previous administration,” he said.
He dismissed claims that the Special Projects Office’s selection criteria of recipients of food aid and wheel chairs was based on the preferences of chiefs and local government councils.
Mr Hlalele said last Friday’s distribution of food parcels in Mahobong constituency in Leribe was not politically-motivated but was an activity organised by the local government community council and local chiefs in the villages in the constituency.
Dr Thabane had to bring a beefed up security entourage to Mahobong, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothejoa Metsing’s constituency, amid fears the deputy premier’s supporters would disrupt the event.
“Recently we were in the Thaba-Bosiu constituency that was won by the ABC in the past elections, and it would be preposterous to say we went to the Mahobong constituency to buy votes,” he said.
“It was not a charm offensive for the Lesotho Congress for Democracy supporters but a genuine government initiative intended to assist communities in the Mahobong constituency as was the case in Thaba-Bosiu.”