Rights Bill ‘snatched’ from Senate

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Billy Ntaote

Senate was unable to incorporate its amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill after the National Assembly made the “rare” decision to take it back from the Upper House, Senate President, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso has said.

The Bill, which provides for the administration and regulation of the activities of the commission, was initially tabled in the National Assembly on 2 November 2015. After the Bill was passed by the National Assembly last December,  it was submitted to the Senate for approval before it could be signed into law by King Letsie III.

However, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso told the Lesotho Times this week the Senate did not make the amendments after exceeding their allocated 30 days. He said while legal, the move by the National Assembly was unprecedented.

“To my recollection, it is the first time since 1993 that the National Assembly asked for a Bill before Senate was done with its work,” said Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

He said the Senate Legislative Committee had made the proposed amendments, but the process failed to take place.

“The amendments were never taken to the floor of the Senate, so the actual process could not take place,” Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso said.

“Due to a 30-day constitutional requirement from the day the Bill is presented to Senate, we had no choice but to return it to the National Assembly.”

He said the expectation was that the Lower House would have overlooked the constitutional requirements and afforded Senate more time to make its contribution.

“My understanding is that the constitution is supposed to guide us, and where we seek extension it can be given, especially when we have good intentions,” the Senate president said.

“I know that civil society had its claims that in the National Assembly they did not get the audience they needed at committees but on our part, we had afforded them such audience.”

He further said harmonising the working relationship between the Houses was imperative even if they may have different viewpoints.

“We should be a parliament mature enough to respect each other’s views even if we may differ in ideas. At the end of the day, it is the public interest that matters,” added Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso.

Efforts to get a comment from the National Assembly Clerk (King’s Counsel) Fine Maema and Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai were fruitless yesterday.

But civil society organisations have argued that in its current form, the Bill falls short of the Paris Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions protecting and promoting human rights.

According to the Paris Principles, which were defined during an international workshop in the French capital in 1991, the key elements of the composition of a national institution are its independence and pluralism.

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