‘Reforms will proceed with or without the opposition’
LAST week, the opposition walked out of parliament to protest the tabling of the National Reforms Commission Bill by the government.
The bill is aimed at establishing a commission to spearhead national dialogue towards the implementation of multi-sector reforms in line with SADC recommendations.
Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister, Lebohang Hlaele, presented the bill which was immediately opposed by opposition legislators who accused government of arbitrariness for suspending the Standing Order 51 (5) which would have enabled the bill to be scrutinised beforehand by parliamentarians.
The opposition walked out of parliament after they unsuccessfully tried to block the introduction of the bill.
Following the walk out, Lesotho Times (LT) Reporter, ’Marafaele Mohloboli, this week spoke to the Chairperson of the Law and Public Safety Committee, Lekhetho Mosito to find out what will happen to the bill and the envisaged reforms process.
LT: The opposition bloc walked out of parliament when the Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Lebohang Hlaele, tabled the Reforms Commission Bill. Do you think that they were right to have reacted the way they did?
LM: They walked out prematurely. They should have waited to see what the next step would have been following their meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly. And besides, there is no way we could have dealt with their misgivings before the bill had been presented.
LT: We have noted that after the Bill was presented, government called for submissions from various stakeholders and will also be holding some consultative meetings. What made the government adopt this stance?
LM: It’s not that the government has deviated from its original plan. It was always important to first present the bill as it would defy all logic to start by calling for submissions on a bill that no one knew about.
LT: What is the main task of the Law and Public Safety Committee?
LM: Now that Parliament has delegated the bill to us, we will go out to the people to gather their views and opinions so that we can go get a consensus which will inform the bill as this is an initiative that needs a multi-stakeholder input.
LT: When the bill was tabled, it was suggested that parliament would suspend Standing Order #51 which would have enabled the bill to be scrutinised beforehand by parliamentarians. Has the suggestion been implemented?
LM: No it has not been implemented. Parliament is still doing its business. No standing order has been suspended and everything is proceeding normally in parliament.
LT: The opposition bloc and the CSOs strongly feel that a national dialogue should have preceded the crafting of the bill to enable it to incorporate the views of all stakeholders. What are your views on this?
LM: There is still going to be a National Dialogue and all stakeholders shall have provide their input.
LT: Are you now calling for the National Dialogue because you admit that the government bungled the Reforms Commission Bill?
LM: No. The only reason we are calling for the National Dialogue is because it ought to be done. Only when the bill has been tabled and when its contents are known to the people can we have the National Dialogue. The call for the dialogue does not mean that the government erred in any way or has bowed down to pressure.
LT: Is the parliament ready and well-resourced to take up the issue of the reforms bill? When is the Bill likely to be passed?
LM: We are very much ready and Parliament will provide the necessary resources to cater for all processes. A bill is normally given 30 days for completion from the date of its tabling. Hence the call for submissions before it can be passed to the Senate.
Hopefully the Bill shall be passed by end of March this year as I have heard that the National Dialogue could be held towards the very end of February.
LT: Are you open to scrutiny as the committee dealing with the bill?
LM: Since we want these reforms to be owned by all Basotho, we are going to be very open to scrutiny. Everyone should own the reforms process hence the call for submissions.
LT: Is the opposition ready to be part of this bill and the subsequent reforms?
LM: The opposition is always making demands and shifting the goal posts. They are trying to buy time and making all sorts of demands trying to derail the whole reforms process. They want us to fail like they did and we have nothing to lose while they have everything to lose if they choose to not take part. We are however, going to go ahead with or without them.
LT: What are you going to do to ensure that the opposition is on board the reforms?
LM: We promise to make the Reforms Commission Bill very inclusive just like the very reforms process. We are going to engage all stakeholders and use their inputs and that’s a promise we intend to keep. We promise that the bill shall not be passed without considering the given submissions.
This is an issue of trust and we don’t blame them if they don’t trust our operations. It is only because they never dealt well with us so they suspect that we could avenge.