’Marafaele Mohloboli and Bereng Mpaki
THE government yesterday presented the National Reforms Commission Bill 2018 that is aimed at establishing a commission to spearhead national dialogue towards the implementation of multisector reforms, amid strong protests by opposition legislators who eventually walked out to protest what were they said was government arbitrariness and lack of consultation on the bill.
The bill seeks to provide for the establishment of the National Reforms Commission whose mandate is to facilitate a national dialogue on the constitution and other related issues with the purpose of ensuring integrated constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, security and public service reforms.
The envisaged commission, which shall be composed of six commissioners and led by a chairperson who shall be a retired judge or eminent person, will operate for an initial period of 18 months and this can be extended for another 12 months to enable it to complete its mandate.
Among other things, the functions of the commission are to “examine the consistence and compatibility of the provisions of the (national) constitution in relation to democracy, rule of law, good governance, national defence and security, parliamentary and political systems.
“It shall collect and analyse information relevant for constitutional, parliamentary, judicial service, public service and defence and security reforms from any member of the public, religious organisations, civil society organisations, youth or women’s associations or groups or any other group that the commission may consider for purposes of constitutional reforms.”
The commission will also “review and prepare a draft bill to the constitution and any legislation as well as prepare and submit a report on its findings to the Prime Minister”.
Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister, Lebohang Hlaele, presented the bill which was immediately opposed by opposition legislators who accused government of arbitrariness for suspending the Standing Order 51 (5) which would have enabled the bill to be scrutinised beforehand by parliamentarians.
Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, stood on a point of order saying the bill was against the pledge signed by the major political parties on the eve of the 3 June, 2017 snap elections in which they pledged to uphold an all-inclusive and participatory reforms process.
Advocate Rakuoane argued that if the government proceeded to present the bill, then it would be undermining the civil society organisations that were also signatory to the reforms pledge signed in April 2017. He said their input had not been considered in drafting the bill.
Thabana Morena constituency legislator, Selibe Mochoboroane, also stood on a point of order, saying the bill was being railroaded through parliament in violation of the reforms pledge which had indicated that reform process should begin with the national dialogue which would produce the road map and agenda for reforms.
“The government should have begun by the first step of the National dialogue that will pave the way for the reform process and the road map,” Mr Mochoboroane argued.
“The reforms should be for the good of our people and not for the government and they shall be informed by the National Dialogue. We can’t allow the tabling of the bill to commence as this will be starting on the wrong footing.”
Shortly afterwards, parliament was suspended as the Speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, said he was not aware of the reforms pledge which was signed by the political parties.
“I was not aware of the pledge. It is the first time that I am hearing of it, but what I know for sure is that these reforms should be Basotho’s reforms. It is therefore incumbent for me to suspend this House and convene a meeting with government.”
When proceedings resumed almost 30 minutes later, Mr Motanyane ruled that there was nothing wrong with the presentation of the bill as it was procedural as all members had a chance to learn about it.
It was at then that the opposition walked out of parliament in protest leaving Hloahloeng constituency legislator, Ntlhoi Motsamai (of the Democratic Congress), who argued that government action was “unacceptable”.
“We need political accommodation and this process should be inclusive and have multi-level stakeholders which is not the case as of now,” she said.
The walk out was followed by a press conference where the opposition announced that it would boycott the reforms process as long the National Dialogue was not held.
“We are not going to be part of this process so long as it is not informed by the National Dialogue which shall be inclusive and benefit the whole nation,” DC leader and former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, said.
“The National Dialogue shall inform a need for a commission and what the bill shall be called and all other processes. The set-up of a commission has to be the subject of agreement at the National Dialogue.”
The opposition stance was supported by civil society organisations who expressed their objections in a letter to Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane.
In its letter yesterday, the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) stated that “civil society learns with dismay that the government is intending to table a bill aimed at creating a commission to carry out reforms and that tabling would be followed by suspension of Standing Order 51 (5) to enable the Bill to be discussed without being referred to the (parliamentary portfolio) committee.”
The LCN further proposed that if the government was indeed committed to the reforms process, it should “promptly halt the legislative process and defer the bill until such time that stakeholders’ inputs on the government roadmap would have been received and multi-stakeholder conference convened”.