NATIONAL REFORMS PROCESS IN TATTERS

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – The much-vaunted reforms on which Basotho have pinned hopes of stabilising the country appeared to be in tatters last night after opposition parties walked away from a Sadc brokered deal allowing exiled leaders to participate in the process.

In a flurry of letters to the Sadc, angry opposition leaders accused government of negotiating in “bad faith” after it purportedly failed to unequivocally offer Mothetjoa Metsing guarantees of a permanent stay of prosecution and ditching extradition proceedings launched in South Africa last year. The self-exiled Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader also lashed out at Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for refusing to halt criminal cases against him.

Metsing also underscored a stance adopted by his comrades at home earlier this week withdrawing from the National Leaders Forum (NFL) – envisaged to lay the foundation for wider multi-stakeholder talks - slated for Thursday and Friday next week. The reforms which seemed to be back on the track last week after all major parties signed up to participate in the leaders forum collapsed after Thabane told South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, government could not permanently shield Metsing from arrest and court processes.

Foreign minister Lesego Makgothi in recent interviews has also hinted government would go it alone if the opposition dithered, saying they were running out of patience despite key development partners’ calls for an all-inclusive process. According to Metsing, while the whole world wished to move forward, Thabane’s government was not listening to “what leaders like myself and the people of Lesotho are saying”.

“Following our recent meeting and discussions, I am most disappointed after reading a written response regarding the conditions of my return to Lesotho, as written by the Lesotho Prime Minister dated 08 August 2018,” Metsing said. “It appears that while the whole world wishes to move forward - in the best interests of Lesotho and Lesotho's future - the current Government is not listening to what leaders like myself and other leaders and the people of Lesotho are saying. The current Government appears to not be opening the doors for true inclusivity and a fair playing field for all.”

The LCD leader’s comments are contained in a letter dated August 15, 2017 and addressed to the Special Envoy of Sadc Facilitator to Lesotho, Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Metsing was reacting to Thabane’s letter to Ramaphosa last week in which the premier said while his government was willing to meet him halfway, it could not commit to issues that do not conform to the rule of law.

Metsing fled Lesotho a year ago and has been holed up in South Africa, following intelligence he received that he would be arrested on charges of corruption. In a letter dated August 8, 2018 to Ramaphosa, Thabane said he could only offer Metsing security for the duration of the NFL through to the end of the Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue on Reforms.

Government would ensure that court cases that are pending against the leader of the LCD “and similarly placed persons will not prevent them from fully participating, in good faith, in the very crucial processes leading to comprehensive national reforms”. According to the premier, “government does not have the leverage to interfere with court processes and decisions of independent departments and agencies”.

“Your excellency will appreciate that in a democratic dispensation where the rule of law is the order of the day, government does not have a lot of leverage to interfere with court processes and decisions of independent departments and agencies,” Thabane wrote.

“While committed to the principle of inclusivity in the reform process, the Government of Lesotho may not legally have authority to de facto grant immunity/moratorium from prosecution to individuals charged with criminal offences. It must be emphasized that such an act would also create precedence that will be binding on government in the future.”

Thabane further told Ramaphosa that with regard to Metsing’s extradition request lodged by the Lesotho government in South African courts, his coalition administration’s view was that “it is not necessary to withdraw the said application once he (Metsing) comes back home voluntarily as the application will have been taken over by events and will die a natural death” However, a bristling Metsing expressed disappointment at what he called government’s lack of commitment to an inclusive reforms process, adding Thabane’s coalition government was hell-bent on “continuing to blindly place their interests above those of Lesotho, thereby perpetuating a climate in which no reform process of integrity can take place”.

“Regarding the conditions for me and other exiled leaders’ return and participation as stated in the LCD letter dated 24 January 2018, I find the Prime Minister's letter dated 08 August in no manner propagates or paves the way for the right conditions for my return to Lesotho,” Metsing told Moseneke.

“I hereby absolutely and totally reject the Prime Minister's response dated 08 August 2018, which I have shared with fellow Opposition leaders in Parliament and leaders in exile.” Metsing also referred to the letter by official opposition leader Mathibeli Mokhothu to Ramaphosa in which he also expressed disquiet at Thabane’s stance.“I was reliably informed this afternoon that the combined Opposition in the Lesotho Parliament in a letter to President Ramaphosa dated 14 August 2018, has not only effectively rejected the Prime Minister's response dated 8 August 2018. They have also withdrawn commitments made to the Facilitator on 9 August and, they have also advised that they will not participate in the forthcoming National Leader's Forum,” Metsing said.

“We seem to be trapped in a cyclical behavioural pattern in which the majority want to move forward in the right manner, and the current Government is hindering the process. We need to break this cyclical behaviour if we want to move forward. “From a personal point of view, I wish to state upfront that everything that I think, say and attempt to do is focused on finding a best solution for Lesotho for a best future of Lesotho and ultimately, building a country that has sustainably growing economy and which steadily improves the quality of life of its people. That is what we all need to be focusing on as a collective, not individual party interests.”

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