Lesotho not ready for elections – IEC boss
INDEPENDENT Electoral Commission (IEC) chairman, Justice Mahapela Lehohla, has made an explosive disclosure that his electoral body is not ready to deliver a credible and legitimate general election next month.
This, the former chief justice says, is because of the poor state of Lesotho’s voters roll which requires expert verification as well as lack of funding required to bankroll a legitimate poll. The theft of the IEC’s computers, containing critical information, would also inhibit the IEC’s ability to deliver a credible election, the IEC boss says. In fact, in a highly charged tone, Justice Lehohla says if the lack of resources for the IEC continues, the snap general elections due on 28 February 2015, will be “at best highly imperfect or at worst as good as non-existent.”
Justice Lehohla’s shocking revelations, only a few weeks before Lesotho goes to the polls, are contained in a series of letters between him and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane as well as Law and Constitutional Affairs Minister Haae Phoofolo.
The issues raised by Justice Lehohla inevitably ring the alarm bells as Lesotho cannot afford to convene an illegitimate election whose outcome will likely breed more squabbles among its ever feuding politicians.
Justice Lehohla, who was appointed IEC chairman in 2013, effectively condemns Lesotho’s voters roll which he says needs “expert intervention” to clean up. He also highlights the lack of funding among the main impediments hampering the delivery of a credible poll.
But Advocate Phoofolo is clearly not impressed by Justice Lehohla. In his replies to the former chief justice, the law and constitutional affairs minister queries why the IEC chairman is only raising such explosive issues now, a few weeks before the elections are held. Advocate Phoofolo lambasts Justice Lehohla for having failed to raise these issues during the mediation efforts of South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, so that they could have been resolved much earlier.
Mr Ramaphosa’s mediation of the Lesotho crisis, spawned by Lesotho Defence Force commander Tlali Kamoli’s coup attempt on August 30 2014, resulted in the agreements to reduce the life of the coalition government led by Dr Thabane and the holding of elections next month, about two years ahead of schedule.
From the tone of the letters, it is clear that Advocate Phoofolo is of the view that Justice Lehohla’s issues – important as they are – are now being raised too late and nothing can realistically be done to resolve them now, although such attempts must be made. The minister’s responses seem to have infuriated the IEC boss who then wrote directly to Prime Minister Thabane seeking his intervention.
It seems though that no intervention from the Thabane government is now realistically feasible in the short time left and Lesotho would now have to hold elections under the defective circumstances highlighted by Justice Lehohla or at least postpone them.
There is no suggestion though in the correspondence from the IEC boss to postpone the elections. But electoral experts interviewed by the Lesotho Times last night said a clean voters roll is the very essence of any credible and legitimate election as rightly highlighted by Justice Lehohla.
“A clean and verifiable electoral register is the basis of any credible election. If the voters roll is defective, it becomes impossible to produce credible results as we have seen in Zimbabwe where elections are routinely disputed because of a murky voters roll…,” said the African electoral expert who asked not to be named for professional reasons.
“If the head of any electoral body raises issues about the legitimacy of a voters roll, then everyone must listen and all and sundry must put their heads together to resolve the issue to avoid convening an illegitimate election. Equally important is adequate funding for any electoral body to run elections and conduct important events such as voter education”
But the expert also said he agreed with concerns that perhaps Justice Lehohla was raising critical issues too late. While the IEC has previously complained about lack of funding for the elections, he said the issue of the voters roll was so important that it should have occupied the IEC “from day one”. It should also be raised publicly by the IEC as it is a matter of huge public and national importance and not through private correspondence to a minister, the expert said.
In a letter to Advocate Phoofolo, dated 22 December 2014, Justice Lehohla complains that the “very tight” budget given to the IEC was constraining “necessary commitments without which the election will be at best highly imperfect or at worst as good as non-existent.”
The letter also points to the “scourge” of the missing Mobile Registration Units which were stolen from the electoral commission’s warehouse in October and the poor state of the voter’s roll. Justice Lehohla proposes the hiring of people with “crucial expertise” in the area of identifying “whatever might be irregular in the process of registration and cleaning of the voter’s roll”.
“Because of the state of the voter’s roll, compounded by the scourge of missing computers, presently being investigated by the police, it is of utmost importance that expert verifiers be employed, if the result of the election will inspire any amount of confidence in its credibility,” said Justice Lehohla.
The IEC chairman added that they had identified two experts, Pamela Pokane and Pikie Monaheng, “with expertise in the area of identifying whatever might be irregular in the process of registration and cleaning of the voter’s roll (sic)”. But the two experts would need to be paid handsomely.
According to Justice Lehohla, Ms Pokane’s financial proposal for her services amounted to M5 456 630.52 while Mr Monaheng would be “in the range of M2 000 000.00”.
In his first response to Justice Lehohla, Advocate Phoofolo merely acknowledges receipt of the IEC’s boss’s letter and notes its contents.
“Please be assured, sir, that your request is receiving urgent attention, and that I will come back to you with a response soonest,” Advocate Phoofolo wrote.
However, in a follow up lengthy response, the minister then queries Justice Lehohla’s assertions concerning the voter’s roll, asking when they had come to light. He also takes the IEC boss to task for not raising all the issues of concern with the SADC Facilitator, Mr Ramaphosa, or even raising them before Parliament’s last sitting since these are matters of grave importance.
Advocate Phoofolo also requests Justice Lehohla to furnish him with details of the procurement procedure followed in identifying and screening the experts required to scrutinize and verify the voters roll as well as the terms of reference employed.
On the missing computers, the minister also asked for details of the nature of the data contained in those stolen computers, the linkage of the missing computers to the IEC servers and why the gravity of the resultant situation was not addressed earlier.
Advocate Phoofolo also requests information on the assessment made by Mr Ramaphosa regarding the IEC’s concerns on the voter’s roll and the missing computers.
“I further note that you had originally indicated to the SADC Facilitator that you required 10 months to deliver a credible election,” wrote Advocate Phoofolo.
“This projection was later reduced to six months and later further reduced to three months. Are you still confident that you have sufficient time to deliver credible elections?”
He continues; “Dear Commissioner, I am sure that you will appreciate the fact that as government, we are duty-bound to give due attention to all issues pertaining to the elections, hence the foregoing questions I raised. I am confident that your responses will indeed be helpful in our endeavour to assist you in carrying out your mandate …..” Advocate Phoofolo wrote.
He then asked the IEC chairman to respond by 5 January 2015 to enable the minister to do all he can to help the IEC deliver its mandate.
However, the minister’s probing seems to have infuriated Justice Lehohla. Instead of responding to the minister, the IEC chairman wrote to Prime Minister Thabane on 30 December 2014 seeking his speedy intervention and financial assistance for the IEC, while also complaining that the tone of Advocate Phoofolo’s last response was “completely out of sync” with his initial reply.
“On behalf of the IEC, I feel greatly constrained to make reference to an undated letter received here yesterday, purportedly written on behalf of the Hon Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, the tone of which is out of sync, with the one written by him dated 23rd December, 2014,” Justice Lehohla said.
“We have full trust in your competence and commitment, to put this rather thorny matter right, by providing necessary funding suggested in my letter addressed to the Hon. Minister dated 22nd instant…”
Contacted for comment last night, Advocate Phoofolo acknowledged the correspondence between him and the IEC Chairman, but declined to comment on the contents.
“I am aware of the existence of the correspondence you are referring to,” Advocate Phoofolo said.
“However, I will not comment on the issue until such a time as is necessary.”
Meanwhile, neither Justice Lehohla nor any of the two other IEC commissioners were available for comment at the time of going to press.
But the IEC’s own admission that it cannot deliver a credible poll is likely to unnerve a nation that had pinned its hopes on the 28 February poll to produce a coherent government and end the persistent quarrelling that had defined the current coalition at the expense of proper governance.