LESOTHO attained its independence in 1965. The return of democratic rule has been guided by the 1993 constitution which has been amended five or six times, at most. Every move forward requires some evaluation of the present and some look into the future. The constitution has to prescribe what is necessary for a modern or world class bicameral parliament in our democratic Kingdom.
The 8th Parliament made various additions to historical events in the democratic Kingdom of Lesotho. It introduced the first formal constitutional coalition government; with a clear official opposition.
There was also a group that assumed the description of the “Block”. This Block was not a movement of any middle road political parties. They did not belong to either the government or the opposition. “Block” only gave them a common identity to distinguish them and their role in parliament. In other parliaments, they would deserve the description of parliamentary groups with the rules of the House making reference to them as such.
The 9th Parliament only has the government and the opposition. These are, however, both coalitions with the latter likely to be an official opposition. Has the Block disappeared or relocated to outside parliament? This incident ought to be explained because both the government and the opposition looked up to the Block for support in the House when the need arose.
A challenge to the 9th Parliament is how those parties which failed to be elected to parliament may be engaged in a useful manner. The 2015 general election has not written those political parties off. There are, however, those which are likely to go into hibernation until the Independent Electoral Commission dishes out fresh political party campaign funds. Others may continue to keep their fire burning. The device of consultative meetings could be helpful and handy in the engagement with them. This, however, would require the concept of a “wise minister” to come into play.
This challenge is cited to signal to the potential appointee for the portfolio of Parliamentary Affairs to actually stand up and be counted. That Ministry has to be functional, relevant and useful to both the executive and parliament in a vibrant democracy. This poses the question of whether or not Lesotho is a vibrant democracy! There has to be a deliberate effort to achieve that. Prayers alone may not be enough.
There exists another sad truth about Lesotho. It has some deep rooted misfortune of being a slow learner or actor. Lesotho has to be told one thing repeatedly; if not over and over or all over again, before it acts. A classic example is the need to democratise or just add some election dimension to the Upper House of this democratic Kingdom. This other House has remained as conservative as ever, but ultimately something will be done. We take courage from the House of Lords in London where long standing tradition there is modernised. It remains a challenge to the 9th and the next parliaments.
Lesotho is also a country of interesting experiments. Basotho may recall the 8th Parliament Prime Minister Thomas Thabane bragging during one of his party rallies about a partisan or coalition IEC. How the current IEC hierarchy was appointed was quite an experiment. Every experiment has to be controlled to give the desired result. The election of the IEC was similarly controlled and supervised.
There are presently some Basotho who took the recent mention of the need for a grand coalition for Lesotho seriously. This could imply another experiment with strange-bad-fellows as samples to be tested. This is not likely to work now, although it may probably work later, because time is the best medicine. Lesotho has a good example of this. The much talked about “government ushered in by God” ruled for a short spell and ended unceremoniously..
This 9th Parliament has to show some difference. Obvious wrongs of the past have to be avoided and corrected, where possible. It has to develop a practical outlook towards its growth and development. In all organisations, the “staff function” is very important for any success. Parliamentary staff should not appear as mere appendages of their principals. Staff ought to add value to managers of parliament. This is why many parliaments rely on their own staff to continuously orientate Members of Parliament (MPs) in the workings of the august house. When can we see a member of staff from Lesotho being invited/co-opted by the Commonwealth to go and train MPs of a newly-elected parliament elsewhere? This is a challenge to our parliament.
Key actors in Lesotho’s parliament have exhibited the very unfortunate attitude of putting all hope for the growth of parliament on either its Presiding Officers or individual MPs. Growth and development cannot remain on track where actors frequently change with very election. The staff is more permanent so as to take parliaments into the future.
Parliaments have procedural and administrative chores to be performed. In Lesotho, the tendency has been for the former to overshadow the latter. All that needs to be done should be done well. The capability of a Presiding Officer to prevail over MPs through the uncompromising use of Standing Orders or exercise of discretion through Rulings from the chair has to be complemented with good output from other fronts. This could be another challenge for the 9th parliament.
One immediate challenge or test will be how the two Houses will participate in the next phase of Inter-Parliamentary Union fora. Will staff attend as frequently as MPs do? If ever they do, do they participate actively or passively? The answer lies in their input towards injecting some change into parliament. There is more wisdom in investing more in staff than managers whose tenure in office is not guaranteed. Lesotho tends to invest more in MPs and less in staff.
The kind and form the next Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs will take is also of great interest. This ministry has, in the past, existed in name only and without any formal organisational structure. It did not have the teeth to whip ministries in line so they can fully account to parliament. The purpose behind this portfolio has to be clearly understood. The 9th Parliament has to be show the difference and have a full-fledged ministry.
The powers that be in parliament and government alike, have to remain conscious of the need to be both efficient and careful about the kind of footprints they will leave. Electors of the 9th Parliament do not expect this parliament to be a lame duck like its predecessor which watered down the no-confidence motion in the coalition government. Change could have been effected more swiftly and cheaply in the House if the motion was tabled. The 9th Parliament is expected to have interests of the nation at its heart, which is another challenge.
The complexion of the 9th Parliament is very encouraging in respect to the calibre of personalities who have been elected. However, the road in this direction will not be easy. This has some bearing on individual members who earn the honour of being titled “Honourable”. This has been so since Lesotho had its parliament. Those who are familiar with the workings of parliament wonder as to how soon the Lesotho parliament will find it necessary for its MPs to retain the honour of “Honourable” when their time ends in parliament. That cannot to be automatic. It has to be earned as a recognition of individual MPs. This could be another challenge to ponder over.