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Opposition calls for moratorium on key appointments

by Lesotho Times
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warns Matekane of reforms failure

’Marafaele Mohloboli/Bongiwe Zihlangu

OPPOSITION parties in parliament have warned Prime Minister Sam Matekane to halt new statutory appointments until the ongoing multi-sectoral reforms process has been fully implemented or risk throwing the whole exercise into jeopardy.

In a 27 February 2023 letter to Mr Matekane, eight opposition leaders in parliament said they were surprised that the government was continuing with appointments and dismissals of senior officials including principal secretaries (PSs). This was despite a discussion the two parties held in “good faith” on such appointments during a meeting with the prime minister on 13 February, they said.

The leaders said that although they were willing to support the government in ensuring the successful implementation of reforms, this was provided Mr Matekane ceased making key appointments until the end of the programme.

“The Right Honourable Prime Minister, you will recall that during our meeting on 13 February 2023, we assured the government of our support and commitment to the speedy finalisation of the reforms process,” reads part of the letter.

The leaders said the government must reciprocate and demonstrate good will by committing to a moratorium on new appointments to key statutory positions.

It should also stop dismissals until finalisation of the reforms.

The leaders are also demanding that a timetable for the smooth completion of the reforms be agreed upon.

Main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is also the Official Leader of Opposition in Parliament, former ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Nkaku Kabi, Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader, Nqosa Mahao, Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) leader, Teboho Mojapela, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM) leader,  Tšepo Lipholo and Mpulule Political Summit (MPS) leader, Edwin Sehlabaka signed the letter.

The letter was copied to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, SADC Panel of Elders chairperson, Jakaya Kikwete and Justice Dikgang Moseneke, the former leader of SADC Facilitation Team. It was also copied to Lesotho’s development partners.

The meeting between Mr Matekane and the opposition followed a recent visit by the SADC Panel of Elders that was in the country to try and establish why Lesotho never seems to be it right with the reforms.

In their letter, the leaders also told Mr Matekane that they were disappointed that the government had decided to “unilaterally storm ahead with removals of and appointments of individuals” to the key statutory positions.

“We are further dismayed that government has ignored the sacrosanct sub judice principle since court processes are already underway in relation to the unilateral removal of Principal Secretaries (PSs),” they said.

The leaders cited last month’s appointment of Knorx Molelle as the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) Director General and ‘Mathabo Makenete as Auditor General.

They argued that both appointments were done outside a framework proposed in the reforms process.

“These appointments are a violation of the intended depoliticisation and professionalism of the public service and affirmation of the independence of these institutions.”

Mr Matekane has maintained that the new appointments were aimed at professionalising the service and improving efficiency.

The leaders further indicated that the recent dismissals of PSs and subsequent court cases undermined the spirit of cooperation between government and the opposition in parliament.

They warned that the absence of cooperation would put the reforms process under threat.

“We therefore, appeal and urge government to commit to a moratorium on appointments pending finalisation of the reforms. Please once again, be assured of our unwavering dedication, support and commitment to a speedy and safe passage of the Omnibus Bill and related legislation.”

This letter comes after 10 disgruntled PSs accused Mr Matekane of seeking to replace them with his ruling Revolution For Prosperity (RFP) loyalysts under the pretext of reforming the civil service.

They petitioned the High Court to bar Mr Matekane from firing them unless his government bought out the remaining terms of their employment contracts, which vary as they range from August 2023, May 2024 and June 2025 respectively.

After the installation of Mr Matekane’s 15-ministry cabinet following the 7 October 2022 elections, his coalition administration stated that it wanted to align the number of PSs with that of government ministries, This meant all the 25 ministerial chief accounting officers would be sacked while new vacancies would be publicised for the interested to apply.

Mr Matekane’s three-party coalition government inherited the 25 PSs from former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s ABC-DC coalition government. The new administration says it wants to replace them with professionals appointed on merit only.

But the 10 PSs argued that is all disingenuous.  Mr Matekane’s administration cannot purport to seek to appoint PSs based on merit whereas it had already made three appointments on pure politics.  These three “political appointees” are to the ministries of trade and industry (Thabo Moleko), tourism ( Moshe Mosaase) and local government (Pokello Mahlomola).

The 10 PSs who have gone to court are Thabo Motoko, Tlhopheho Sefali, Mamoho Matlama, Dira Khama, Bereng Makotoko, Retṥelisitsoe Mohale, Lira Moeti, Mamonyane Bohloko, ‘Masekhobe Moholobela and Matela Thabane.

Mr Matekane and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are the two respondents in the application.

The 10 PSs have since been joined by six others who have taken the government to court on similar grounds. These are Matṥeliso Manaleli Phafoli, Maneo Moliehi Ntene, Mantsenki Nthabiseng Sekete Mphalane, Mole Khumalo, Moliehi Moejane and ‘Mamoeketsi Nkiseng Ellen Ntho.

Prof Mahao told the Lesotho Times in an interview on Tuesday that in their 13 February meeting convened by Premier Matekane, the opposition leaders had warned the government that there was dire need for a common understanding and unity for the reforms to be wrapped up and the Omnibus Bill passed.

This because some sections of the Bill needed to be passed by a two thirds majority of Members of Parliament “of which government doesn’t command, hence they will need our support”.

“We also warned them (government) that some of the reforms would need a referendum which also calls for unity even if it can be passed by a simple majority. We would still have to go to the people as a united front and not divided as this will also divide the nation,” he said.

“All that we are saying is that whoever is appointed to those positions shall have to be so based on meritocracy and transparency.”

Furthermore, Prof Mahao said, there must be due diligence in such appointments.

He said the leaders proposed that a timetable should be in place for the completion of the reforms.

Mr Matekane’s press attaché, Thapelo Mabote, confirmed that the premier had received the letter.

“Hopefully, we will be responded to accordingly,” Mr Mabote said.

“However, in connection to the same matter, the PM and his deputy have been holding some consultative meetings with various stakeholders following the 13 February meeting and is yet to revert to the opposition. There will be a meeting where they will all be called because as it is, the PM has not yet made a final decision on the way to go about the reforms,” Mr Mabote said.

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