MASERU — A former MP who served as the only opposition legislator between 1993 and 1998 is demanding a government pension equivalent to that of the opposition leader of the National Assembly.
Bofihla Nkuebe quit the then ruling Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) in 1993 to become the only opposition member in parliament under his Sefate Democratic Congress party which is now defunct.
He claims that the fact that he was the only opposition MP in parliament meant that in those five years he was the official leader of the opposition and was therefore entitled to a pension.
An official leader of the opposition in parliament is entitled to the same benefits as an assistant minister.
They are required to buy a Mercedes Benz vehicle which is maintained by the state.
The state must also provide two chauffeurs, two body guards, a special assistant, a personal aid and a personal secretary.
Added to these is a M500 000 interest-free loan and five-day annual holiday at the state’s expense as well as other allowances.
They also get their MP salaries.
It is on this basis that the state will calculate their pension and benefits when they leave office.
Nkuebe said although he did not get the salary and benefits that come with his position, the BCP government still recognised him as the leader of the opposition in parliament.
He said while denying him the benefits the BCP government still claimed that he was the official leader of the opposition in parliament during their diplomatic interactions with the international community.
This, he claimed, was meant to give the impression that Lesotho was not a one-party state.
Nkuebe wants the state to give him the same treatment it is giving to Chief Leabua Jonathan’s widow who is enjoying the benefits of a former first lady.
Nkuebe has since written a letter of appeal to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office to push for his pension.
“When the office of the first lady was created, the government decided to do a good thing by remembering the contribution made by Chief Leabua Jonathan when he was prime minister and they gave his widow a first lady’s pension and other benefits,” Nkuebe said in the letter to Mosisili’s office.
The prime minister’s office this week confirmed receipt of Nkuebe’s letter.
“If they remembered Chief Leabua’s widow why can’t they remember me?”
He argues that the widow of Chief Leabua Jonathan, ’Mantahli Jonathan, was treated in the same way when the government in 2003 created the office of the first lady.
Jonathan’s widow gets a M1 000 pension a month and is chauffeur-driven in a government vehicle.
“I am rightly expecting to be treated likewise as the leader of opposition is given the benefits because I was not listened to when I made these demands in the 1993 – 1998 parliament.”
Nkuebe told the Lesotho Times this week that although he is no longer an MP he felt that the government should treat him like ’Mantahli Jonathan who received benefits of the first lady 18 years after her husband’s government was toppled.
He said the current issue of reviewing the position of the leader of opposition and his benefits should start with him like the government did when it created the office of the first lady.
Also the widow of Dr Ntsu Mokhehle, Lesotho’s third prime minister, was put on a government pension five years after her husband had stepped down as the leader of the government.
’Maneo Mokhehle received the first lady’s pension until she died in 2007.
He said the BCP government introduced him as the leader of the opposition in parliament when it wanted support from international donors.
“When the SADC Parliamentary Forum was established in Windhoek, Namibia, Bofihla Nkuebe was sent there on the basis that Lesotho had an official leader of opposition and that Lesotho was not a one party state.
Lesotho was therefore accepted without resistance, he wrote.
“Bofihla Nkuebe was again registered at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Forum held in Canada as a leader of opposition in Lesotho’s parliament.”
“Lesotho therefore satisfied requirements for the membership of Commonwealth member countries.”
“Correspondence from Canada and the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom for the leader of opposition were addressed to me, Bofihla Nkuebe, and were handed to me by the Speaker Dr Kolane.”
Nkuebe said when the BCP government wanted to maintain good relations with Germany it claimed that it had an official leader of opposition and he was sent to Germany as part of the government delegation.
“Funds and opportunities were found but Bofihla Nkuebe remained merely an ordinary member of parliament.”
He said he was surprised when between 1998 and 2004 a BNP MP for Bobatsi constituency, Mothepu Mothae, was officially declared the official leader of opposition despite being the only opposition MP.
At the time Nkuebe was no longer an MP.
Nkuebe’s argument comes at a time when opposition parties are pushing for parliament to recognise All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Tom Thabane, as the official leader of the opposition.
The National Assembly Speaker in 2007 ruled that there is no leader of opposition because no opposition party had enough numbers to qualify.
ABC has 14 seats in parliament.
Nkuebe said the late speaker of the National Assembly, Teboho Kolane, wanted to give him the rights of the leader of opposition but met fierce resistance from the then BCP general secretary, the late Shakhane Mokhehle and a member of the BCP women’s league ’Mamoshebi Kabi.