THE much-anticipated National Leaders Forum, which is a crucial part of the multi-sector reforms, is likely to be held on 16 and 17 August this year, the Foreign Affairs and International Relations minister, Lesego Makgothi, has said.
According to the government’s roadmap for reforms, the “National Leaders’ Forum will involve leaders of the political parties to forge a political consensus on the reforms and national reconciliation”.
The forum comes against the background of Southern African Development Community (SADC) ultimatum that Lesotho must have fully implemented constitutional and security sector reforms by May 2019.
The reforms process has stalled largely as a result of the constant bickering between the government and the opposition over the latter’s demands for the establishment of a government of national unity and an end to the prosecutions of army officers suspected of human rights violations among other things.
So far the only tangible developments with regards to the reforms process have been Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s speech in parliament to formally launch the reforms and the holding of the National Day of Prayer for the reforms last month.
A government roadmap that was presented to the SADC heads of state in Angola in April this year indicated that the National Leaders’ Forum and the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) would have been convened and launched two months ago.
Mr Makgothi this week told the Lesotho Times that the National Leaders’ Forum will get underway on 16 August this year.
He said this would be preceded by a “pre-national leaders’ forum” which has been tentatively set for 1 and 2 August to work on the modalities for the National Leaders’ Forum.
“The pre-national leaders’ forum has been tentatively set for 1 and 2 August and it might spill over into the third day,” Mr Makgothi said, adding, “All political parties and other stakeholders are expected to attend”.
“The stakeholders include SADC, the United Nations (UN), the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations and the College of Chiefs.
“The pre-national leaders’ forum will agree on a working body and that structure will work towards ensuring that there will be a leaders’ forum which we plan to hold on 16 and 17 August.”
Mr Makgothi said Dr Thabane and the chairperson of the SADC Oversight Committee, Matias Bertino Matondo, were among the “key people” that would address the pre-national leaders’ forum.
“The Prime Minister will hold a consultative meetings with political parties that are represented in parliament. Each of the parties will be allocated 15 to 20 minutes for the sessions in preparation for the National Leaders’ Forum,” Mr Makgothi said.
He further said that the National Leaders’ Forum will be followed by a National Multi Stake-holder Dialogue where the draft reform agenda will be formulated.
“The National Multi-stakeholder Dialogue will deliberate and delve into the core business of the reform areas, the mode of operation as well as the institutional arrangements for the reforms process.”
However, the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Democratic Congress (DC) have vowed to boycott the forum unless their demands are met.
Among a plethora of demands submitted to the government by the opposition is the formation of a government of national unity, the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and the release from jail of former Lesotho Defence Force commander, Tlali Kamoli and many of his acolytes.
The opposition is now describing Lt-Gen Kamoli as a “political prisoner”.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is currently detained at the Maseru Maximum Prison awaiting trial for a plethora of murder and attempted murder charges. Several other associates of Lt-Gen Kamoli are also on remand awaiting trials for various charges.
“We made it very clear from the onset that we will not take part in the reforms process as long as our demands have not been met,” said the LCD spokesperson Teboho Sekata.
On their part, the DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, the Secretary General, Semano Sekatle and the national chairperson, Motlalentoa Letsosa, said they would not be “part of these bogus activities”.
However, Mr Makgothi said the reforms process will go on “with or without the opposition”.
Apart from the constitutional and security sectors, Lesotho is also expected to implement judicial, governance and media reforms.
Local stakeholders as well as the international development partners have all bemoaned the slow pace of the reforms which are seen as crucial to ending perennial instability and creating a conducive climate for socio-economic development.
Two months ago the Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro told the Lesotho Times that it was proving difficult for the government to attract meaningful investment as investors continued to sit on the fence in search of guarantees that the government will last its five year term.
The investors’ skepticism is based on the recent political developments which have seen three governments rise and fall in the space of five years from 2012 to 2017.
More recently, the United States United States (US) ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, has warned that Lesotho cannot afford further delays or derailment to the multi-sector reforms process.
The US has made it clear that Lesotho’s eligibility for development assistance through the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) hinges on the successful implementation of the reforms.
The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362, 6 million (more than M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
Lesotho has won approval for a second compact but negotiations are on-going to determine how much the compact will be worth.