…as national dialogue is postponed indefinitely
THE country’s troubled reforms process is in limbo again after the national dialogue event scheduled for the 9th to the 12th of this month was this week postponed indefinitely.
The postponement comes in the wake of the opposition’s withdrawal from the all multi-sector reforms process in protest at the government’s decision to suspend Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara.
Opposition parties constitute a key segment to the national dialogue expected to culminate in the formulation and implementation of the multi-sectoral reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s press attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, this week confirmed that the dialogue process had been postponed.
He said the postponement came after the facilitation team, led by retired South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke held closed door meetings with the government, the opposition and Justice Majara.
“I am not in the light of what really transpired behind the closed-door meetings but I can safely confirm that the facilitation team left for South Africa immediately after the meetings that took place in Maseru on Monday,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
“There is yet another meeting which is scheduled to take place sometime next week, either on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
However, according to the opposition, the national dialogue, which is aimed at creating a clear roadmap for the reforms process could not go on following grievances raised by the opposition.
Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) deputy spokesperson Apesi Ratšele said: “Though I may not know for sure the main reason why the national dialogue didn’t go on as planned, we brought it to the attention of Justice Moseneke that we are unhappy about the way the government is meddling with the judiciary, especially Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara”.
Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, said he was unsure why the dialogue was postponed “as the government always held that it would commence with the reforms without the opposition.”
He nonetheless said the opposition had registered its displeasure over a number of issues to the facilitation team.
“I don’t think it will be fair to say the postponement was on account of our pulling out of the reforms because even the committee responsible for the logistics for the dialogue is not ready.
“There is nothing tangible on the ground in as far as the preparations are concerned, so I may not even be right to say that the opposition’s grievances are the main reason for the postponement,” said Adv Rakuoane.
Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader and leader of the opposition in Parliament Mathibeli Mokhothu told the Lesotho Times that Justice Moseneke came to Lesotho ahead of the national dialogue on their invitation as the opposition.
“We wrote to him and invited him to come for an urgent intervention as we felt that the government was not adhering to the rule of law and therefore we were forced to pull out of the reforms process,” Mr Mokhothu said.
He said they suggested that there be a joint meeting between the government and the opposition to iron out some of the outstanding issues.
“Justice Moseneke has agreed to our suggestion that the joint meeting be convened, except that this time it should be smaller than that of the NLF (national leader’s Forum),” Mr Mokhothu said.
Part of the opposition’s letter dated 19 September 2018 reads: “We write this letter to you Justice (Moseneke) as a matter of extreme urgency as we see a situation escalating in the Kingdom where the current government’s impunity and persistent gross violations of the laws of the land and violations of court orders has become the order of the day, thus dashing our hopes that any processes agreed to in relation to the national dialogue and the reforms will be respected”.
The letter calls for Justice Moseneke to ensure that the government upholds the rule of law and in particular “reverses its decision (to suspend Justice Majara) and desist from attacking the office of the Chief Justice”.
However, the government’s spokesperson, Nthakeng Selinyane, rubbished the assertions that Justice Moseneke flew into the country in response to the opposition’s invitation.
“Justice Moseneke and his team jetted in the country on Sunday… They were due last week but couldn’t make it as the PM had just landed from New York and already had a scheduled engagement with His Majesty King Letsie III at the nutrition summit held at Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village.
“They (facilitation team) did not come here to investigate the opposition’s assertions and that is no reason why the national dialogue has been postponed. The National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) is finishing off its programme even though it has delayed a bit,” Mr Selinyane said.
The reforms were recommended in the aftermath of the report by the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led 10-member commission of inquiry appointed by SADC in July 2015 to investigate, among other things, the assassination of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his army colleagues.
The postponement comes against Justice Moseneke’s prior expression of confidence that the National Leaders’ Forum (NLF) would end up in a successful national dialogue to resolve some of the challenges faced by the kingdom.
“We have had long and cordial discussions with the heads of government and members of the cabinet and the discussions were thorough and indeed very cordial and fruitful,” Justice Moseneke had said.
The government was in April ordered by SADC to fully implement the constitutional and security sector reforms by May next year. However, the reforms process has stalled largely as a result of the constant bickering between the government and the opposition over the latter’s preconditions for its participation in the reforms.
Among other things, the opposition has demanded assurances that exiled leaders such as LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing, will not be prosecuted upon their return to participate in the reforms. Besides Mr Metsing, other opposition leaders currently in exile are LCD deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and Teboho Mojapela of the Socialist Revolutionaries party.
The opposition also wants murder-accused former army commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, to be released on bail or his case be speedily heard.
They also want a truth and reconciliation commission which they say will help turn a new chapter for the country and put behind all difficulties experienced in the past 52 years of Lesotho’s independence.
Efforts to get a comment from Justice Moseneke were fruitless yesterday as his phone went unanswered.