MASERU – Local Government Minister Ponts’o Sekatle (pictured) yesterday warned the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to stop stepping on her toes and blaming her ministry for its incompetence.
Sekatle was particularly irked by the IEC’s attempt to blame her for its failure to complete a plan on the demarcation of electoral divisions for key local government polls tentatively slated for late August.
She was part of a political parties’ meeting called by the IEC to table its second report on progress on the demarcation of electoral divisions and voter registration at the commission’s boardroom yesterday morning.
The minister was infuriated by IEC commissioner, Fako Likoti’s assertion that the body had failed to produce the demarcation plan on time because it was “yet to consult with the local government minister”.
Participants had expected the IEC to table a full report at yesterday’s volatile meeting.
“When you make mistakes, you always blame it on me…it stops here and now,” fumed a visibly angry Sekatle.
This was after Likoti had said: “The issue of electoral divisions is not ours alone. We have to work on it with the local government minister. We’re yet to meet with her,” Likoti said.
“We have a draft ready. We just need to add some minor details to it.”
Sekatle’s ministry was in charge of local government electoral divisions prior to amendments to the Local Government Elections Act last year, which transferred the bulk of the powers to the IEC.
“It is unfair on my part because I’ve officially handed over that part of my work to the IEC. Mine is to deal with administrative boundaries, not electoral divisions.
“Just like national constituencies, electoral divisions are the responsibility of the IEC, not mine,” she said, warning the commission to be careful not to step on her toes again.
The IEC’s delay in finalising the plan could result in local government elections, which have been pending since April last year, being held up even further.
Representatives of political parties at the meeting also came hard on the IEC for its half-baked work.
The IEC was formed in 1997 as a statutory body to lay the foundation for credible elections following disputed polls in 1993.
IEC members are appointed by the King at the advice of the State Council, which gets its recommendations from political parties.
Political parties at yesterday’s meeting felt the IEC was not faring any better than the electoral authority it replaced. Present were leaders from most major political parties.
An attempt by another IEC commissioner, Malefetsane Nkhahle, to shift blame on junior officers drew sharp rebuke from the political party representatives.
Thomas Thabane who represented the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) party accused the electoral commission of failing to execute its duties as mandated by the leaders of political parties.
The ABC leader expressed dismay that IEC commissioners always piled blame on junior staff when things went wrong.
“We do not care what those junior officers do because they answer to you, not us. You as commissioners answer to us and that had better be clear,” Thabane said.
Sekatle chipped in: “No, Ntate Nkhahle. The buck stops with you. You should not blame junior staff. You should not be embarrassing them to us in their absence where they can’t speak for themselves.”
The political leaders also criticised the Committee on Monitoring of Electoral Processes for producing a progress report lacking in substance.
They said the report tabled at yesterday’s meeting failed to provide insight into what could possibly happen in the long run.
The monitoring committee works within the IEC and is responsible for monitoring the electoral body’s progress on electoral processes by producing fortnightly reports.
It is appointed by and is answerable to political parties.
Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa said the monitoring group had proven that “there’s still a lot of uncertainty”.
“The committee is on a fact-finding mission.
“Theirs is to provide facts so that we can be able to have a glimpse into the future,” Mahase-Moiloa said.
BDNP deputy-leader Pelele Letsoela accused the committee of being casual.
“My general observation is that the committee is supposed to be on a fact-finding mission.
“But in your reports, you use statements such as ‘we were informed instead of we’ve verified that’,” Letsoela said.
United Party (UP) leader Makara Sekautu echoed Letsoela’s sentiments.
“The team’s reports are empty in that they contain history. The names of the members also do not feature anywhere and there are no recommendations,” Sekautu said.
The team had also failed to get the correct information on the number of districts whose community councils had completed the demarcation of electoral divisions.
The monitoring committee’s chairman, Thabang Tsietsi, defended the team’s work.
“We do verify the information we get by acquiring documents corroborating what we are told. We don’t just take things at face value,” Tsietsi said.
“Even when IEC staff refuses to give us certain information on instructions of the director, we confront the director and demand that we are given what we need.”