Continued from last week . . .
In signing the inclusive Reforms Process Pledge before the June 3, 2017 elections, the Lesotho political parties together with international observers, envisaged that no party shall renege on this important National Programme. All 29 political parties in Lesotho, College of Chiefs, Christian Council of Lesotho, Independent Electoral Commission and Lesotho NGOs; together with the Regional and International Partners; the SADC, Commonwealth, European Union, United States, South Africa, and People’s Republic of China agreed to ensure that the process shall be inclusive and it will be the first agenda for the new government.
They pledged to give the highest priority on implementing reforms on Constitutional, Parliamentary, Security sector, Judicial, and Public Service through the convening of National dialogue that would be inclusive for all stakeholders representing the Basotho nation and all political parties.
They went further to state that “we further commit ourselves to convening, as one of the first priority of the new government and without undue delay, an independent forum/national dialogue that would debate and agree on a consensus basis on how to move forward with the reforms, and such an outcome be protected by legislation”. The above was clearly stated in the signed accord.
The government’s violation of the accord was first announced by one Cabinet Administrator, Makhetha Motsoari, at the forum convened by local journalists. He was cited by the Lesotho Times edition of December 14-20, 2017 where he declared that the government had approved and adopted the reforms roadmap.
This was done without any engagement whatsoever of the political parties or other stakeholders representing Basotho. The approved road map was not even shared with any of the parties above, apart from the government itself.
While Motsoari talked about the inclusive process, the question was why exclude all relevant stakeholders when drafting the road map? The second violation was an attempt by the government to suspend Standing Orders No.51 (5) (to be moved without notice under Standing Order No. 32 (3)).
The suspension prevented public participation and discussion in portfolio committees. It was only after the opposition objected to this process that the Speaker appeared to be ignorant about the previously signed pledge between parties.
The third violation was committed when the Speaker directed that the Bill be tabled. It was this action that precipitated the massive walk out from parliament by the opposition.
The National Reform Commission Bill was so undemocratically drafted and reflected clear dictatorial tendencies of the Thomas Thabane-led government. The Bill, with most of its sections, defeated conventional democratic values and norms. Nowhere in modern democracy do you find the Prime Minister and his Ministers appoint Commissioners for such a national venture such as National Reforms.
The Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN) and Development for Peace Education were adamant that the government should withdraw the Bill and Parliament portfolio committee should veto the bill as it undermined the accord and the spirit of inclusiveness.
They argued that the government was jumping the gun by taking its National Reforms Commission Bill to parliament without engaging stakeholders, including the opposition parties.
They want the government to abandon the Bill until National dialogue has been convened as agreed before elections. This violation of the accord infuriated the opposition and civil society organisations. For the NGOs, this was a serious violation of the accord signed prior to the June 3, 2017 election.
Agreements of this nature are binding, no matter under what circumstances. More especially when such an accord involves the future of a nation.
The NGOs and the opposition were correct to oppose this unilateral move by the government. The process that the government took was flawed and lacked public participation. To derive legitimacy in this process, the National Reforms Dialogue must be a prerequisite for all and sundry to be involved.
What the government did by presenting the Reforms Commission Bill without first going through the National Dialogue process, is not only unjustified, but makes Lesotho’s Leadership a laughing stock before the international community and at home.
It would be wise for the government to abandon this exclusionary bill and convene a national dialogue that will guide the process as initially agreed by all parties.