National leaders’ forum kicks off

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU –Talks to cobble together a roadmap for long-awaited national reforms aimed at ending political instability which were on the verge of collapse on Wednesday began yesterday after diplomats persuaded leaders on opposing sides to soften entrenched positions.

The two-day National Leaders Forum chaperoned by Sadc facilitators appeared doomed early this week when the government coalition differed sharply with an opposition alliance on the fate of self-exiled opposition leader Mothetjoa Metsing. Politicians on both sides of the divide had dug in their heels despite a stinging rebuke from Sadc leaders who at their weekend meeting in Windhoek had threatened unspecified action against leaders who scuttled the Forum and wider talks geared at reforming the country’s key democratic institutions.

A strongly-worded communique released at the end of the regional leaders’ Summit in Namibia at the weekend expressed the Sadc’s disappointment with the slow pace of the reforms and demanded that the Leaders Forum should not be derailed. “Summit resolved not to entertain any further delays in the implementation of Reforms and National Dialogue and called upon SADC Member States to take necessary measures against those with intentions to delay or threaten to derail the Reforms and the National dialogue processes,” read the communique.

This hardline stance followed opposition parties’ withdrawal last week from all processes related to the reforms in a show of disquiet at government’s refusal to end prosecution of former deputy Prime Minister Metsing for alleged corruption. Metsing who has been holed up in South Africa since fleeing the country last year, wants government to guarantee his safety and also drop an extradition request made to Pretoria last December.

His colleagues in opposition ranks had last week repudiated a pledge to attend the Leaders Forum in a meeting with Sadc emissary to Lesotho, Justice Dikgang Moseneke of South Africa. They had claimed government had hoodwinked them into agreeing to attend the talks about talks after it seemed to agree to their set of demands which included release of murder accused, former army commander Tlali Kamoli and ending Metsing’s problems with the law, thus help wind up his self-imposed exile.

In a flurry of correspondence to Sadc leaders, angry opposition leaders accused government of negotiating in “bad faith”. “Summit noted with concern that, despite a number of SADC initiatives in the Kingdom of Lesotho, progress on the implementation of the reforms roadmap, and national dialogue remains very slow.

“Summit urged the Kingdom of Lesotho and all stakeholders to ensure that the National Leaders Forum, scheduled for 23 to 24 August 2018 takes place as planned, and called upon all stakeholders, including those who reside outside to participate,” read the statement.

“Summit urged the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to put in place a program with clear milestones for the implementation of priority activities on the Reforms Roadmap and National Dialogue, while recognizing that the SAPMIL and Oversight Committee tenures end in November 2018, a report of which, is to be submitted to the Chairperson, of the Organ by 30th October 2018.”

The unyielding Sadc mood coupled with its refusal to extend its expeditionary force’s stay in Lesotho beyond November, observers said may have been the catalyst for the opposing groups’ change of mood, making the talks abut talks possible. Speaking at the opening ceremony at a local hotel, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said Lesotho had reached a point of no return and that it was time to “forge ahead in one accord”.

“As political parties and leaders, we owe it to our country to truly get back together. The National Leaders Forum should not be a one-time event. Should need arise during the reform process, the event should be convened to address all political bottlenecks that may hinder progress.” The premier stressed the need for Basotho “to collectively come up with home-grown solutions” to the myriad problems hobbling economic growth.

“We need a new Lesotho that is characterised by stability and security, where politics serve every Mosotho as an open field for free debate and equitable participation in national issues,” Thabane said. Leader of the opposition in Parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu undertook that the opposition was committed to supporting the reforms as they would help create a Lesotho devoid of political intrigue and institutions that are prone to abuse by politicians.

He added: “The political witch-hunt that we politicians sometimes do to each other must come to an end, so as to usher in a new era of peace and stability in this country.” “The reason is simple: the security reforms will usher the much-needed stability in our country, while the parliamentary, public sector together with judicial reforms, can be a vital tool to promote good governance by changing the rules to promote accountability, transparency and participation,” Mokhothu said.

The constitution he said defines and protects citizens’ right governmental abuse, while also limiting and regulating governmental power visa-vis other players and institutions, thereby safeguarding minority rights. “The more inclusive, participatory and transparent that this process is, the more likely will the political order be seen as legitimate.

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