…meeting to be held immediately after Easter in South Africa
A GOVERNMENT delegation will travel to South Africa soon after this weekend’s Easter holidays for crunch talks with self-exiled Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, over his possible return to Lesotho to participate in the country’s multi-sector reforms.
The leader of the government delegation who is also government spokesperson and Communications Minister, Thesele Maseribane, this week told the Lesotho Times that the talks had been requested by Mr Metsing who has been holed up in neighbouring South Africa after fleeing Lesotho last August citing an alleged plot to assassinate him.The government has nevertheless refuted his claims, insisting that Mr Metsing fled to escape prosecution for corruption.
According to Chief Maseribane, Mr Metsing, who faces extradition from South Africa, communicated his desire to negotiate with the government through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Oversight Committee whichwas established in July 2015 to serve as an early warning mechanism of instability in Lesotho and to monitor the implementation of SADC decisions aimed at achieving peace in the country.
The Oversight Committee is also tasked with providing assistance in the implementation of constitutional, security and public sector reforms in Lesotho.
Chief Maseribane, this week welcomed Mr Metsing’s overtures, saying the government had over the past few months been going out of its way to engage the opposition leaders in exile.
He said they had no qualms about meeting Mr Metsing and his deputy, Tšeliso Mokhosi, as the government was keen to bring all stakeholders on board to ensure an all-inclusive and participatory approach to yield reforms that would be acceptable to all sections of the population.
“As the government, we have not changed our position to have all actors on board with regards to participating in the steps we are taking towards implementing the reforms,” Chief Maseribane said.
“Inclusivity is the approach we are using because we would like this process to be as participatory as possible by incorporating inputs from all stakeholders, including the opposition parties. We would like all contributions reflected in the final product.”
The announcement of the talks comes barely a fortnight after the South African Minister of Justice, Tshililo Michael Masutha, issued a notification to the relevant government departments in his country to formally inform them of Lesotho’s request for the extradition of Mr Metsing so that he can “stand trial on charges of corruption, fraud and tax evasion”.
Early this month, a combative Mr Metsing used the occasion of his 51st birthday celebrations in Ladybrand, South Africa to demand an end to what he said were politically motivated prosecutions against himself, former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, and other members of the opposition.
He said he would only agree to answer to criminal charges against him in the aftermath of the reforms yielding what he said would be an independent national prosecuting authority to guarantee a fair trial.
And on Tuesday, Chief Maseribane conceded that the impending talks brought a new dimension to the current state of affairs wherein the extradition process against Mr Metsing had started.
In his response after being asked whether or not the government would halt the extradition process, Chief Maseribane said the government’s position would be informed by “what will emerge from the discussion we are going to have with Mr Metsing”.
“Mr Metsing’s request to talk with the government brings a new dimension to the current state of affairs. I cannot say what is going to happen because there are new developments to the whole matter (of the extradition).
“Going forward, decisions will be informed by, among other factors, what will emerge from the discussion we are going to have with Mr Metsing. It would be my wish to have all issues discussed for us to have a clear line of actions to be taken.”
Early this week, the Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, told a senators’ workshop on reforms in Maseru that the government was willing to provide Messrs Metsing and Mokhosi with security upon their return to Lesotho.
“All we want is for the reforms’ process to be inclusive and transparent. The government had to suspend the National Reforms Commission Bill to ensure everything is done through a participatory approach that is transparent and satisfactory to all actors involved,” Mr Moleleki said.
The government had tabled the Reforms Bill before parliament on 17 January, 2018.
The bill seeks to provide for the establishment of the National Reforms Commission whose mandate is to facilitate a national dialogue on the constitution and other related issues with the purpose of ensuring integrated constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, security and public service reforms.
The bill was however, suspended last month following demands by the opposition that a national dialogue had to be held first to inform the provisions of the bill and other steps towards the reform process.
Meanwhile, the LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata, has criticised the appointment of Chief Maseribane to lead the government delegation saying his party wanted the Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, or Mr Moleleki to negotiate with Mr Metsing as Chief Maseribane was not senior enough.
While conceding that the talks were agreed upon after the SADC Oversight Committee met with the exiled opposition leaders last Wednesday in South Africa, Mr Sekata said Chief Maseribane was not the right man for the job.
“Our leader (Mr Metsing) can only have talks if they are led by either the Prime Minister or his deputy and not Chief ’Maseribane. In as much as he is part of the coalition government, he failed to garner support in the past elections and did not make it in his own constituency. He is just riding on the back of those who performed well in the elections.
“Metsing is the leader of the LCD and he won in his constituency. Therefore he can only hold discussions with people on the same level. Sending someone like Chief ’Maseribane is as good as looking down on him (Mr Metsing),” Mr Sekata said of Chief Maseribane who is also leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP).
The BNP is part of the four party coalition government along with Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Mr Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Keke Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) which came to power in the aftermath of last June’s snap national elections.
However, Chief Maseribane said Mr Sekata’s comments were misplaced as he was meeting the opposition as representative of the government on a peace mission and not as a party leader.
“It is high time we act and work beyond utterances that will obviously take us nowhere as a country. The government did not request to meet Mr Metsing but we are willing to honour his request to discuss issues with us.
“There is a lot being said, information not properly contextualized, mismanaged, poorly coordinated and recklessly disseminated, and we ought to be careful, lest we become distracted from our goal. Importantly, if Mr Metsing decides he no longer wants to meet with the government, there is not much we can do, but we would like the world to take note of our efforts and conclude objectively on this matter,” Chief Maseribane said.