TRANSFORMATION Resource Centre (TRC) Director Tsoeu Petlane says government’s decision to receive Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi’s report on Lesotho’s instability offers a window of opportunity to restore good governance and accountability in the country.
Mr Petlane made the remarks this week after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili finally received the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry report at the end of the bloc’s Double Troika summit held in Gaborone, Botswana on Tuesday.
SADC appointed Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana last July to lead a 10-member team of legal and security experts in the probe which was held between 31 August and 23 October 2015. The inquiry, which also investigated the killing of former Lesotho Defence Force commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his army colleagues, submitted its findings to the regional bloc last month.
Following the report’s submission, the government refused to receive the document, arguing that it was awaiting the outcome of a court challenge by Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi which sought to nullify the inquiry. However, the Dr Mosisili-led coalition government backed down on Tuesday after the Double Troika resolved to immediately suspend SADC activities in Lesotho.
After Lesotho agreed to receive the report, the suspension was revoked, with the government given the task of publishing the report by 1 February 2016 and preparing a road map for the implementation of constitutional, public sector and security sector reforms. SADC also mandated government to provide feedback on the report to the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation chairperson, Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi.
According to Mr Petlane, the government’s decision to receive the Phumaphi report had given Lesotho a window period to address its political and security challenges.
He said the government’s feedback to Mr Nyusi on the report would set the tone for future engagements.
“We can only wait and see what our government will do. Firstly we have to see if the government will acknowledge receiving the report in their feedback,” said Mr Petlane.
“It remains to be seen if our government will respond to SADC in the manner the bloc has stipulated by coming up with a roadmap to implement the recommendations or take the opposite route.”
He said government would show its sincerity in resolving the challenges outlined in the report by not editing the document before publishing it. According to the Public Inquiries Act, 1994 Section 8(3) the prime minister may withhold any portion of the Commission’s report if, in his or her opinion, national security, the privacy of an individual and or right of a person to a fair trial outweigh public interest.
“While it is within the premier’s powers to edit or revise the report, our expectation is that he will publish and present it to our representatives in Parliament in its unedited version,” Mr Petlane said.
“It would be better for the government to issue a public statement on where they stand as far as the report is concerned, rather than releasing a truncated version of the report.”
He also noted that addressing the causes of Lesotho’s perennial instability would require Basotho at all levels to be “as open and honest as possible”.
“I hope the government will not bring up the issue of national security in failing to address these issues since there are a lot of unanswered questions in our nation,” said Mr Petlane.
“I would advise government to err on the side of being open than to err on the side of keeping things from the public eye. SADC expects a lot of progress to come from this period and will be keenly monitoring the government’s implementation of the report’s recommendations.”
Going forward, he said the government could build on the tenets of the Coalition Agreement signed by leaders of the seven-party alliance in April 2015.
“The beautiful Coalition Agreement encapsulates some of the issues that were raised by SADC and the Phumaphi commission,” Mr Petlane said.
“The seven-party coalition has not been able to implement what they agreed on because they have mainly focused on putting out fires. They should activate what they set out to do in the Coalition Agreement since they have seven months ahead of them before they can submit a progress report to the SADC Summit in August.”
He said the government and the opposition bloc needed to agree on a framework for the latter to end their boycott of the National Assembly before the report is tabled in the august house.
“Parliament is the only platform for the opposition to officially engage the government and participate in the process of national rebuilding,” Mr Petlane noted.
“However, it is a double edged sword. The opposition has to commit to returning to the august house and the government has to commit to creating an environment conducive for their return. That is the challenge our leaders face, and that conversation needs to start now.”