Parly opening date stirs storm

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Reformed Congress of Lesotho’s Secretary General, Mamolula Ntabe

Billy Ntaote

THE announcement of 24 February 2017 as the date for the reconvening of the National Assembly has torched a storm with the opposition alliance accusing government of using delaying tactics to thwart a looming no-confidence motion.

National Assembly Clerk, Advocate Lebohang Maema King’s Counsel (KC) on Tuesday announced 24 February 2017 as the date for the reconvening of the august house after its indefinite closure by Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai on 22 November 2016.

“I am directed to inform you that the fifth meeting of the First Session of the Ninth Parliament of the Kingdom of Lesotho will be held at the New Parliament Building, Maseru, on Friday 24th February, 2017, at 9.00am in terms of Standing Order No. 14 (2),” reads the notice penned by Advocate Maema (KC).

The date has, however, ignited the ire of the opposition alliance, which has accused the government of scheduling the reopening late to ensure there was no room for the mooted no-confidence vote on the Dr Mosisili-led seven party government.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) last November joined forces with the recently-formed Alliance of Democrats (AD) with the pact’s raison d’être being to dislodge the government.

Their bid to unseat Dr Mosisili’s regime began prior to the 22 November 2016 adjournment of the august house with a submission of a no-confidence motion on Deputy Speaker Montšuoe Lethoba.

The motion was meant to test the opposition alliance’s strength ahead of another no-confidence motion on the seven-party governing coalition.

However, shortly afterwards, Ms Motsamai indefinitely adjourned the National Assembly, saying the House had “run out of time” following the presentation and tabling of various reports and bills, much to the opposition’s chagrin.

Ten Members of Parliament then lodged an urgent application before the High Court last month seeking an order to compel Ms Motsamai to reconvene the august house. However, the legislators on Monday withdrew their application, saying it had been rendered academic since the judges presiding over it had not regarded it as urgent.

In their determined bid to ensure the National Assembly is reopened, the opposition had applied to hold a protest march which was declined by the police who said it was a “threat or harm to public safety, public security and public order”.

Organisers of the march have since appealed to Police Minister Phallang Monare to overrule the police’s decision.

Representatives of the opposition yesterday told the Lesotho Times they felt hard done by with the decision to reopen the august house on 24 February, since the “urgent” business of a no-confidence motion on the government would likely be trumped by preparations for the national budget. Ordinarily, the National Assembly focuses on the national budget preparations at the beginning of the year.

ABC Chairman Motlohi Maliehe said 24 February was unprecedented as it deviated from the normal procedures and traditions of the National Assembly.

He said at the latest, parliament should be reopened by the second week of February and not at the end of the month.

“The shocking thing is that, contrary to the provisions of parliamentary standing orders stipulating the announcement should be made 14 days before the reconvening of the house, this notice comes more than 30 days before the house reconvenes,” the Butha-Buthe legislator said.

“It appears the notice is meant to frustrate and stop our youth leagues from petitioning the government and the National Assembly speaker for house sittings to be reconvened as soon as possible and not at this late date.”

BNP leader Joang Molapo echoed the sentiment, saying the decision to schedule the reconvening of the house to such a “faraway date” was a political ploy to stop the protest march.

He said Dr Mosisili’s administration did not have the wherewithal in parliament to pass the national budget since it was a “minority government”. The opposition claims it now constitutes the majority in parliament after Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) split in November leading to the formation of the AD.

AD leader Monyane Moleleki claims more than 20 legislators support him in parliament, while the other opposition parties have more than 50 seats. A minimum of 61 seats are required to form government.

“They are not confident of being able to pass the national budget using the normal procedures of the august house,” Chief Molapo said.

“If they have nothing to fear, I dare them to open the house at the normal time and not at the end of February as they have announced.”

He said the governments’ efforts to retain power should not be made at the expense of Lesotho’s wellbeing and prosperity.

“Why can’t Mosisili let people who can pass the budget take over the reins of power? Is the prime minister saying his stay in office is more important than anything else? He clearly doesn’t have the numbers in parliament to administer this country.

“The protest march we are calling for is meant to lobby for the opening of the house. Basotho want to see a competent administration take over, so we don’t want to see parliament opened on 24 February but as soon as possible.”

Chief Molapo also scoffed at Dr Mosisili’s repeated warning to MPs that they would have to repay the M500 000 interest-free loans extended to them if they ousted him from power.

The legislators qualified for M500 000 interest-free loans from First National Bank (FNB) as part of their benefits, and were supposed to repay the money over five years. The government underwrote the loans and also paid interest on behalf of the MPs.

“Those threats are useless rants because opposition legislators are not afraid to repay their M500 000 interest-free loans,” he said.

RCL Secretary-General Mamolula Ntabe chimed in saying they wanted to continue where they left off with a no-confidence motion on Mr Lethoba.

“Some of the urgent matters we need to address include the unfinished business we had brought to the house. This includes a no-confidence motion on the deputy speaker that we were about to discuss and vote on when the house was unceremoniously adjourned sine die,” she said.

For his part, AD spokesperson, Teboho Lehloenya, said 24 February was not in the best interests of the legislators as it would require them to work under a lot of pressure and stress to deliver the national budget timeously.

He said the date could have been arrived at due to the financial challenges the government is facing.

“My suspicion is that there are limited funds for sitting allowances and possibly the sitting allowances will be included in the budgetary allocations for the next financial year,” said Mr Lehloenya.

“The lack of funds, I suspect, has affected the sittings of the august house’s committees. We also believe they may be unable to pay the money MPs are entitled to claim for transport.”

He said the passing of the Appropriation Bill, as the national budget is called, ordinarily takes about six weeks to two months. From there, it is taken to the Senate before 1 April.

“Given such a timeline, there is a need for the house to be reconvened earlier than 24 February,” Mr Lehloenya said.

“The AD also holds the views that the national budget should be preceded by voting on a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Mosisili and his government.”

Attempts to get a comment from Advocate Maema (KC) were fruitless at the time of going to print.

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