MASERU — Sharp differences over the allocation of diplomatic posts to 10 foreign missions saddled the government for much of this year with the two dominant parties in the coalition disagreeing on the criteria of appointments to foreign missions, the Lesotho Times has established.
The row over the postings pitted Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), who wanted a lion’s share of the postings for his party and Foreign Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), who pushed more for depoliticisation of the appointments.
A series of memorandums between the two obtained this week reveal spirited disagreements between the two men over the appointments of the diplomats with Tsekoa going as far as telling Thabane that the PM’s proposed appointment procedure would “undermine the very foundations of the coalition government”.
Thabane had wanted the ABC to appoint more of its people to the foreign missions in line with the coalition government’s founding agreement which sought to allocate influential positions in accordance with the number of parliamentary seats commanded by each of the three coalition government partners.
Still Tsekoa voiced serious concerns with Thabane’s approach.
He argued that even if this approach was deemed to be correct, the Prime Minister was disadvantaging the most junior coalition partner, the Basotho National Party (BNP), which Tsekoa argued should be allocated the diplomatic posts at Lesotho’s mission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In a memo to Tsekoa dated March 4 2013, Thabane, through his Minister in the Prime Minister’s office Molobeli Soulo, cited Kuala Lumpur as one of the posts allocated to his ABC. Tsekoa refuted that in his response dated 19 April 2013 insisting that, “Kuala Lumpur is supposed to have been allocated to the BNP”.
Barely two weeks later (April 30 2013), Thabane countered Tsekoa insisting that vacant head of mission positions (High Commissioners) and any junior staff should “reflect the nature and form of our tripartite coalition”.
Accordingly, Thabane’s April 30 2013 memo, which he signed himself said the ABC should appoint staff to a majority five of the ten missions, namely Pretoria, Geneva, Rome, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi with the LCD appointing diplomats of its choice to four posts in New York, Brussels, Berlin and Beijing while the BNP got one post; London.
The BNP, which was not pleased with its allotted one post, has since been granted an extra one, Kuwait, after The LCD fought in its corner.
But the biggest bone of contention between Thabane and Tsekoa centred on the appointment of junior staff to these missions.
Thabane made it clear to Tsekoa that selection of persons to hold positions in these missions, from the head of mission to all diplomatic and support staff, “is the prerogative of the coalition partner concerned”.
“Where vacancies in these missions occur, they should be declared to the relevant coalition partner who will advise the names of their nominated candidates for processing by your ministry . . . in accordance with established practice,” wrote Thabane.
“For avoidance of doubt, where diplomatic staff currently on post reach the end of their approved tour of duty, they should be recalled for placement as above,” Thabane further adviced Tsekoa. “Only at the express written approval of the affected coalition partner should any staff on post be extended beyond their tour of duty.”
Thabane said the coalition partners would have to finalise the allocation of any further diplomatic posts outside the 10 mentioned above.
But Tsekoa furiously differed with Thabane’s position on the appointment procedure for junior positions below the level of High Commissioner.
In a blunt memo to Thabane dated August 7, 2013, Tsekoa said coalition partners should only appoint their preferred candidates to posts of heads of mission only. He argued that appointments below heads of mission were outside the mandate of the coalition partners as they belonged to the Public Service Commission and were governed by sections 20 to 26 of the Public Service Regulations of 2008.
Tsekoa said allocating staffing at any one mission to a single member of the coalition would not only be retrogressive but also “suicidal to the very concept of coalition governance”. Not only would such a staffing procedure offend the greater need to depoliticise the civil service, it would also compromise accountability, discipline and the need for coherent government.
Tsekoa directly challenged Thabane to lead the process of depoliticising the public service.
“You are the best placed person to break the vicious cycle of politicising the public service in the Kingdom. If such politicisation is not confronted and weeded out now, it may never be,” said Tsekoa, arguing that juniors at the diplomatic missions must be made “on merit from a pool of public servants/private sector workers/unemployed”.
Tsekoa urged Thabane to implement a report conducted by the Commonwealth, called the Prasad report, which urged the depoliticisation of the public service.
Thabane’s seems to have finally prevailed in the entire row with appointments, including those of juniors, being made largely according to his criteria.
The row over the diplomatic posts is the second major hurdle to have threatened the coalition government after the controversy surrounding Thabane’s bid to remove Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane of the LCD from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Polihali Dam (Mokhotlong) and the Kobong Power Station projects worth about M15bn.
Thabane had assigned Government Secretary Motlatsi Ramafole and Attorney General Ts’okolo Makhethe to facilitate the process of transferring the water projects and Principal Secretary Emmanuel Lesoma from the LCD-headed ministry to the Prime Minister’s office.
The LCD would have none of this and warned Thabane his decision had placed the coalition on the brink.
Thabane later announced that the issue had been blown out of context as he had only sought to implement a smooth reporting structure to him because “talks around the project have advanced to the level of heads of states”.
The project is being jointly implemented with South Africa.