Build consensus on Bill

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THE ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party last Wednesday ignored opposition protests in parliament and passed the controversial Land Bill 2009.

The law, which seeks to overhaul Lesotho’s land tenure system, has now been pushed to the Senate for debate.

With the majority the ruling party enjoys in the Senate, the Bill is likely to be passed into law in spite of fierce protests from the opposition.

Thereafter Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili is expected to sign it into law.

The Land Bill 2009 is therefore in our opinion as good as passed waiting prime ministerial assent.

We have closely followed the fierce debate over the Land Bill ever since we got nose of plans to introduce the controversial law last year.

Our humble conclusion is that Basotho need more time to reflect on the implications of the proposed law if they are to truly regard the law as their own.

The ruling party would do itself a world of good if it wins the consent of the governed regarding the proposed law. 

With national elections almost two years away, it is critical for the ruling party to engender a spirit of national consensus regarding the adoption of the controversial law.

It must not fall into the trap of making the Land Bill an election issue.

The opposition MPs walked out of parliament complaining that the Bill had not been subjected to adequate public scrutiny.

Civil society has also raised its concerns against the proposed law.

There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that we as Basotho are not the real authors of the proposed law.

The government needs to deal with this perception.

Dismissing such opposition concerns as nonsense is not the way to go.

What has clearly come out regarding the Land Bill is that we need more time to find each other as a nation.

We are far from building national consensus on the way forward.

We have two diametrically opposite visions regarding the direction we should take as a nation.

The opposition and civil society have made their point that they are opposed to the Land Bill in its current form.

The ruling party ignored those shrill protests and went on to pass the Bill in the absence of the opposition MPs.

But the ruling party cannot pretend that all is well.

We insist that while the ruling party might have the numbers to pass “unpopular” pieces of legislation in parliament, the party still needs to ensure there is consensus on key national issues.

As argued in our sister paper the Sunday Express last week, the government must therefore take the Bill back to the people for more consultations.

This means breaking down the Bill into a language that is understood by the people.

We hope the Senate will scrutinise the Bill much more closely to ensure that the proposed law represents the will of the people.

The government must also listen to the dissenting voices from the opposition and civil society and see if the offending sections of the law can be amended.

The opposition and civil society must however clearly enunciate these offending sections of the law rather than complain in general terms that the government wants to hand over land to foreigners.

The opposition must also acknowledge that the Bill does have some good aspects that could unleash real development for Lesotho.

The law for instance wants to allow proper planning in urban and peri-urban areas to ensure provision of infrastructure.

The haphazard manner in which people just build anywhere they like cannot continue to be allowed.

Dismissing the Bill in its entirety would therefore be a grave mistake.

We think it is therefore important for the government and opposition to strive for consensus by retaining the good while eliminating the offending sections of the proposed law.

We note with sadness the “war talk” by opposition leaders as well as their plans to form “resistance committees” to fight the Bill.

But resorting to threats of rolling “mass action” will not help solve this dispute.

Such threats can only result in a hardening of positions by both the government and opposition.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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