Reforms under threat

…as NRA factions fight for control of body charged with reforms implementation

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Pascalinah Kabi

A POWER struggle is tearing the National Reforms Authority (NRA) apart.  This could scuttle the implementation of the much-delayed SADC-sponsored multi-sector reforms aimed at achieving lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.

And even if the reforms get completed, they are now fears that they may not end up reflecting the wishes of the population but the elites leading the process, leading to more future instability.

Indications are that the authority is split down the middle into two warring factions.

On one side is an NRA faction said to be backed by outspoken Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, and representatives of civil society organisations. The faction is said to be plotting the ouster of NRA chairperson, Pelele Letsoela, over a host of issues including his alleged attempts to push through constitutional amendments to reduce the number of electoral constituencies from 80 to 60.

Should the proposed constitutional amendments be passed, the number of proportional representation (PR) seats will be increased from 40 to 60 to accommodate more female legislators and representatives of other vulnerable sections of society like the disabled.

Last month, Ms Letsoela said the 2019 second plenary session of the national stakeholders’ dialogue had mandated the NRA to ensure that women and other disadvantaged groups were well represented in the National Assembly.

He said this could only be achieved by reducing the number of constituencies from 80 to 60 and increasing the PR seats from 40 to 60. He said the new PR seats would then be given to the disadvantaged groups to ensure they are well represented in parliament.

But the NRA faction said to be backed by Chief Theko insists that the proposal does not have widespread support. They say that it is only being pushed by Mr Letsoela who is allegedly advancing the agenda of small parties which are not represented in parliament.

The faction accuses Mr Letsoela of purging those he perceives as his opponents. It accuses him of instigating the removal of Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho chairperson, Nkoale Tšoana, from the post of NRA Media Committee chairperson.

Mr Letsoela is also accused of unilaterally renewing contracts of NRA CEO, Mafiroane Motanyane, and his deputy, Tšiu Khatibe.  It is not clear when the contracts of the two officials, who were appointed last year, expired. Nor is it clear when they were renewed.

Chief Khoabane refused to say whether he supports the calls to topple Mr Letsoela. He said it was his secret that he was unwilling to share with the media. However, NRA sources insist that he is the moving spirit behind the faction seeking Mr Letsoela’s ouster.

Mr Letsoela refused to comment yesterday. He accused the Lesotho Times of ignoring his request to discuss his concerns over an editorial and news analysis which was published last month shortly after he had announced the proposals to reduce the electoral constituencies while increasing the number of PR seats. He alleged that this publication had unfairly attacked him over the issue.

This publication has not ignored him as he alleges. Rather, he has not been reachable on his mobile phone on the occasions when he has been called to give his side of the story.

The NRA faction opposed to him has since petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, to intervene in the matter. It has submitted a petition to Mr Motanyane, detailing the allegations against Mr Letsoela. It also accuses him of insulting NRA members during meetings.

The Lesotho Times only saw the first page of the petition but the second page containing the names and signatures of the petitioners was missing.

Mr Motanyane yesterday confirmed receiving the petition but said it should not have been submitted to him.

“I received something which looked like a petition. It looked like it was lost and I have referred it back to the (Law and Justice) minister (Law Lekhetho Rakuoane) who is responsible for the NRA. We are not responsible for the NRA,” Mr Motanyane said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.

In a separate interview, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane confirmed receiving the petition.

“I only received it yesterday evening so I have not been able to do anything it,” Adv Rakuoane said.

Meanwhile, NRA sources who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said tensions were very high in the NRA. They said they had since requested Attorney General, Rapelang Motsieloa’s legal opinion over a litany of issues including the allegation that Mr Letsoela had unilaterally proposed the constitutional amendment to reduce the number of electoral constituencies from 80 to 60 while simultaneously increasing the PR seats from 40 to 60.

“Since we elected him, there have been two attempts to remove Ntate Letsoela,” an NRA source said.

“I opposed both attempts because I felt he had to be engaged over his shortcomings instead of being ousted. We wanted to assist him but he is the most stubborn person I have ever met.

“In one of our meetings, he (Letsoela) pushed for the reduction of electoral constituencies from 80 to 60 and an increase in the number of PR seats from 40 to 60. He argued that this was necessary to accommodate more female MPs, as well as people with disabilities and other key populations which are not well represented in parliament. But this had not been agreed to in the Plenary II Report. Instead, the report clearly stated that the reforms should maintain the status quo (of 80 electoral seats and 40 PR seats).

“But a faction led by Letsoela insisted on the proposal to amend the constitution and they would not entertain opposing views. They were doing the bidding of the small parties whose representatives had held their own caucus meeting and agreed on the proposed constitutional amendment.

“Letsoela, who had previously refrained from voting on other NRA issues, decided to vote in favour of the proposals. He even threatened to expel some NRA members for opposing him. He even unilaterally renewed the contracts of the CEO and his deputy without our involvement and input. This was despite that we had been involved in their initial recruitment last year.

“He was able to do this after secretly amending the regulations which prescribe how the NRA should conduct its affairs. He gave himself excessive powers. He is turning the NRA into its personal project,” the source said.

Another source said that the infighting threatened to derail the NRA’s work which is expected to culminate in the implementation of the reforms which the NRA and SADC had said would have been completed by September this year.  That deadline was missed as with other deadlines established before.

“We are now at the stage of drafting bills and passing them to cabinet for tabling in parliament. By amassing excessive powers and unilaterally drafting the bills, Letsoela is creating a situation where the bills are his own baby and not that of the NRA. We are back to square one. We are at a point where the NRA is divided and has different caucuses. This is threatening the successful implementation of the reforms,” the source said.

Another source said they had since written to Attorney General Motsieloa to advise them on how best to address their concerns.

Contacted for comment, Adv Motsieloa said he had not received the request for a legal opinion from the NRA.

“Maybe the letter is on the way,” Adv Motsieloa said.

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