Opposition speaks out on government’s request to delay releasing Phumaphi report
THE opposition alliance says it would wait for government to release the SADC Commission of Inquiry report in the National Assembly next week.
The regional body had given Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government until 1 February to publish the report into the killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao and other security-related issues on Lesotho. The report was compiled by a 10-member team of legal and security experts led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, and is expected to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Lieutenant-General Mahao by his colleagues on 25 June last year. The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) insists Lt-Gen Mahao was resisting arrest when he was gunned down outside his Mokema farm. After the killing, Dr Mosisili asked for SADC’s help in probing the tragedy, culminating in the Phumaphi probe between 31 August and 23 October.
Justice Phumaphi submitted his team’s findings to SADC in December, but the report has not yet been released to the public after government had initially said it would only receive it when a case lodged before the High Court by LDF’s Lt-Col Hashatsi, had been finalised. Lt-Co Hashatsi has challenged the legitimacy of the probe and argues it violated terms of its establishment by hearing evidence outside Lesotho, among others. The case continues in the High Court tomorrow.
But after SADC threatened to suspend its activities in Lesotho unless the government took the report, Dr Mosisili finally received it on 18 January in Gaborone. The premier was given a 14-day deadline to publish the report.
However, the government has since asked SADC for permission to delay the release of the report until parliament reconvenes on 8 February after its festive-season break. The regional bloc agreed to the proposal and noted in a statement issued on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) summit held at the weekend in Ethiopia: “The Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Jacinto Filipe Nyusi, President of the Republic of Mozambique, convened a consultative meeting on the margins of the 26th AU Summit on 29th January 2016 in Addis Ababa.
“The meeting was chaired by the Chairperson of the Organ, and attended by representatives of the SADC Chairperson (president Ian Khama of Botswana is the new SADC chair) and the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho (Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing), and the SADC Executive Secretary (Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax). In line with decisions of the Double Troika Summit held on 18 January 2016, the meeting was informed that steps are underway to table the Report of the Commission of Inquiry to parliament. The meeting was, accordingly, informed that parliament will reconvene on 8th February 2016 to receive the report.
“The Chairperson of the Organ welcomed the steps taken by the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho; emphasised the need for transparency and information-sharing; and expressed SADC’s continued commitment to assist the Kingdom of Lesotho to overcome the challenges and achieve a lasting solution in order to attain sustainable peace and security.”
But according to the opposition, the government was only “buying time” by requesting to delay the release of the much-anticipated document. The alliance, comprising the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), has also said its Members of Parliament (MPs) would not be in the legislature on the day in question due to its boycott of the House, which started in July last year. The MPs say they would continue with the boycott until their leaders, who fled to South Africa in May last year fearing for their lives, are safely back home. Former prime minister and ABC leader Thomas Thabane, BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and RCL leader Keketso Rantšo have been living in exile in the Free State since their flight and have vowed never to return to Lesotho until their safety is guaranteed.
According to BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe, the opposition was skeptical about government’s commitment to releasing the report but would wait for 8 February.
“The opposition will wait for Ntate Mosisili and the government he is leading, to publish Phumaphi’s report as it is. If he decides to edit it, we will immediately hold a press conference and make sure we release the report in its original form,” Mr Mofomobe said.
“We have been following the issue of security and Lieutenant-General Mahao’s death very carefully. We are aware, as the opposition, that SADC agreed with Ntate Mosisili to remove 14 of the 78 pages of the report to respect Mahao’s family. The pages mostly talk about the postmortem of Lt-Gen Mahao.
“So because of this, the opposition will be expecting Ntate Mosisili to publish a 68-page report without fail. If the government decide to edit it further, then we will publish the original document.”
According to Mr Mofomobe, publishing the unedited report would be to ensure the nation knows exactly what happened to Lt-Gen Mahao, and why Lesotho is facing its current political and security challenges.
“What we are simply saying is Basotho should have a clear picture of what led Lesotho to its current political and security problems. The opposition also wants Basotho to make informed decisions when electing government leaders in future, as the report would show them the kind of people in power now,” Mr Mofomobe said.
He also warned SADC against “falling for government’s delaying tactics”.
“SADC has done a lot to help Lesotho regain peace and stability but it must also be very careful and not fall into government’s trap to delay the release of the report because this request to table it in parliament is just a delaying tactic. Ntate Mosisili is just buying time so that the High Court can rule on Lt-Col Hashatsi’s case. If the court rules in his favour, then we will hear the prime minister bragging that if our courts of law don’t mean anything to SADC, then they mean everything to Basotho,” Mr Mofomobe said.
ABC deputy leader Tlali Khasu echoed Mr Mofomobe’s sentiments and said the opposition would wait and see what happens on 8 February.
“SADC heard about our intention to publish the report if the government failed to do so by 1 February and immediately approached us not to do it and give the government a chance to deal with the matter,” Mr Khasu said.
“We said there is no problem; we will wait so we are not going to do anything stupid while waiting for this to happen.”
However, Mr Khasu said the opposition did not understand why the government is insisting on releasing the report in parliament.
“SADC did not say the report must be released to Members of Parliament but the nation. And we also understand that the report’s release is not dependent on the opening of the National Assembly, but still, we agreed to wait,” Mr Khasu said.
RCL deputy leader Dr Motloheloa Phooko also said it was unnecessary for the government to table the report in the National Assembly.
“I really don’t understand why Ntate Mosisili bothers himself about releasing the report in the august house. What will the MPs do about the report?” Dr Phooko asked.
According to Dr Phooko, the government must concern itself with the return of exiled opposition leaders if it is serious about stability in Lesotho.
“Instead of buying time regarding this report, Ntate Mosisili was supposed to speedily work on the return of our leaders who continue to live in exile because if they are not back here, and their security guaranteed, opposition MPs won’t go back to the National Assembly,” Dr Phooko said.