MASERU — The main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) party says it is not happy with the “appalling” treatment its MPs are receiving in parliament.
The party’s deputy leader, Monyane Moleleki, told a media briefing in Maseru yesterday that the DC was being discriminated against in parliament by being denied a chance to participate fully on the budget which “utterly undermines the role of parliament”.
“We’re angered by the manner in which the budget is being handled in parliament and the utter disrespect of the august House by the coalition government,” Moleleki said.
“We do have the intention in assisting government to pass the budget and allocate funds so that the needs of the people can be met. We do want this budget to pass on time.”
But, Moleleki alleged, the Speaker of the National Assembly Sephiri Motanyane was flouting procedures of the House and in the process “is also dragging this honourable House on thorny ground”.
“So far we have not opposed the passing of the budget. But there’s a tendency by the government side to ignore views of the opposition if they don’t sit well with them.”
Moleleki said “there’s also this bad practice of misusing the portfolio committees to keep issues that we raise instead of bringing them into the House. They did the same with the budget, tabling it on February 22 then shelving it for 24 days before bringing it back into the house.”
Moleleki was flanked by Tlohang Sekhamane, Semano Sekatle, Hloaele Mokoto, Mootsi Lehata, Mathibeli Mokhothu, Tsukutlane Au and Serialong Qoo, all DC MPs and the party’s shadow cabinet ministers.
Reading from a press release, Sekhamane said it was evident that government was taking parliament for granted adding “it has absolutely no regard for parliamentary processes”.
“It is bent on manipulating and maneuvering the budget process for political gain with no regard whatsoever for the opinions and ideas from representatives of the people,” Sekhamane said.
“We as the opposition took a stance and used every instrument at our disposal to block this absurdity. On Monday March 18 alone, the DC orchestrated two divisions of the House in order to emphasise its position in the attempt of the government to bulldoze and steamroll the budget process.”
“We would want to warn the nation that this budget process (has) very serious flaws. Government ministries have granted half their normal time to present their submissions and hear feedback from members.”
The DC was referring to the furious debate on Monday in the National Assembly where the report on the Budget and Estimates for the Financial Year 2013/2014 by the Portfolio Committee on the Economic and Development Cluster was passed by the House despite misgivings by the opposition.
During Monday’s debate, the opposition was of the opinion that since the report was being tabled for the first time, it was only prudent that MPs took it home with them to read, understand and form informed opinions on it before it was discussed in parliament.
But it was not to be.
Instead, it was first proposed that Standing Order (91) (5) be suspended in respect of the report.
The motion to push the report through into the House was voted for with government’s 58 votes against the opposition’s 39 votes.
Motanyane said although he was aware that although the report had just been tabled “I will give you from 3:35pm to 5pm to study the report”.
“It is elegantly put and short too,” Motanyane said.
After the break, the DC MP for the Lebakeng constituency Semano Sekatle made the point of order that Motanyane did not have the right to prescribe the length of time in which members should study the report.
“You decided to suspend this House earlier, which you have the right to do. What I don’t understand is what powers you have to prescribe for the time to read a report that’s supposed to be debated in this House,” Sekatle said.
“Honourable member for Lebakeng, you are right that I have the authority to suspend. Every suspension, like every adjournment has a time frame. It must be specific,” Motanyane said to applause from the government gallery.
“My question is based on where you derive the authority to decide the period of time in which the report should be read, not when we should return to the House after an adjournment,” a furious Sekatle said.
“No, the house has resolved,” Motanyane said.
“No, it hasn’t resolved,” Sekatle responded.
Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) PR MP Lebohang Ntšinyi then chipped in with a point of order, telling Motanyane that it was abominable that Sekatle was standing and motioning at him while he was addressing the House adding “it’s not supposed to be the manner in which we conduct ourselves”.
“I therefore propose that the MP for Lebakeng withdraws his statement and refrain from his actions,” Ntšinyi said.
“Honourable member (Ntšinyi), that’s water under the bridge,” a seemingly disinterested Motanyane said.
The Qacha’s Nek MP Ponts’o Sekatle also raised what she described as serious flaws on the report after it was voted that it be adopted by the House by government’s 57 votes to the opposition’s 39.
Because Motanyane had refused DC MPs’ points order saying they asking for them simply to sow further confusion, Sekatle told the Speaker that it was a shame that an senior person of his standing who had been in parliament since 1965 could be so bitter that “you can’t even differentiate between those who have substantial issues to raise and those delaying the House’s work”.
On the weaknesses of the report, Sekatle pointed that it said there was a substantial decline in the capital budget of M552.1 million of 10.3 percent from M5.396 million in the fiscal year 2012/2012 to M4, 842.5 million in 2013/2014.
“Qacha’s Nek is indeed surprised. We’re scared because whereas we thought Lesotho was progressing in terms of development and other projects carried out by the seventh parliament, the Eighth Parliament has immensely cut down such funds,” Sekatle said to applause.
“The recurrent budget continues to take a larger allocation which is 66.76 percent of the national budget. The House may wish to know that the recurrent budget stood at 61 percent in 2011/2012 and 2012/2013.”
“This means that what the previous government was doing its best to cut down has been increased this time around. What are the reasons behind this? It should also be taken into consideration that only 19 percent of last year’s budget was utilised.”
The other complaint raised was that ministries had only been given one hour to make their presentations, a situation which the DC claimed was unfair because “it denies us the opportunity to ask questions”.
“It is unfortunate the length of time given ministries to make their budget presentations. That is where we were supposed to be given the opportunity to air views based on the condition of our constituencies,” Sekatle said.