MASERU – Prime Minister Thomas Thabane yesterday broke his silence on challenges bedeviling the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), expressing disquiet about the manner IEC commissioners were axed.
“People cannot just be kicked out like dogs, especially such esteemed people who hold important positions in our country,” Thabane told Public Eye in a telephone interview.
Last week, the Council of State confirmed the immediate departure of the three commissioners; chairperson Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Dr Makase Nyaphisi and Advocate ’Mamosebi Pholo after resolving not to renew their contracts.
Justice Lehohla on Thursday last week told Public Eye that Thabane was not amused with the way the commissioners had been jettisoned, hinting the premier was still happy with their work.
“We are from a meeting with the Prime Minister now and he seems surprised by all these things happening in the IEC,” Justice Lehohla said last week.
Thabane yesterday confirmed meeting the commissioners but said he did not have an interest in anyone becoming a commissioner of IEC.
“I just want to see everything done within the confines of the law. People must learn to respect law, that is why I am saying people should not be kicked out like dogs. I have said more on this issue in camera and I will still speak in camera,” he said.
Yesterday, Justice Lehohla indicated he had discussed the issue of the commissioners’ contracts widely in the media already.
He indicated the matter was under judicial consideration and he was therefore barred from discussing it further.
On Monday this week, government released a statement announcing that at its meeting on May 22, the Council of State had decided to start the process of appointing new commissioners, “after the tenure of the three incumbents came to its end earlier in the year”.
The statement further noted that in keeping with established practice, and in accordance with Section 66(4) of the Constitution, national political leaders were expected within this week to meet and publish an invitation for submission of names of suitable candidates from which the final three will be recommended to the King on the advice of the Council of State.
“This preliminary process of submission of names is prescribed to close after 30 days from the date of issuance of notice.
“The leaders are at liberty to decide their own procedures towards completion of the process to enable them to select the mandatory five names required to be forwarded to the Council of State for it to advise His Majesty the King on the final trio to be appointed,” the statement read.
When asked about this issue, the Prime Minister seemed oblivious to the goings-on.
“Who in particular wrote that statement? You will have to give me time to get an update on these issues so that I can give a well-informed comment. Nobody has said anything about it to me.
“But it must be clear that I am not interested in anyone being anywhere. I can win elections irrespective of who is the commissioner of IEC. I know how to campaign and that is the only thing I rely on to win elections,” Thabane said.
His obliviousness was defended by the Government Secretary (GS) Moahloli Mphaka.
“The names of the three commissioners are forwarded by the Council of State to His Majesty to appoint. This has nothing to do with the Prime Minister. I would understand if you said you asked the secretary of the Council of State,” Mphaka said.
“This is strictly a matter of law. Mr Lehohla must stop dragging the Prime Minister’s name in this. How does he get Prime Minister in this when he knows for a fact that His Majesty appoints commissioners on the advice of the Council of State?” he added.
He referred this reporter to the fourth amendment to the Constitution Act of 2001, section 66.
The section states that there shall be an Independent Electoral Commission consisting of a chairman and two members, who shall be appointed by the King acting in on the advice of the Council of State.
The law further states that in its advice to the King, the Council of State shall submit to him the names of three persons selected from a list of not less than five.
For the purpose of enabling the Council of State to select the names of persons to be submitted to the King, the law states that: “The Council shall request all registered political parties in accordance with a procedure agreed by them jointly propose to the Council, within a period of 30 days from the specified by the Council, a list of not less than five names”.
Mphaka said the law “does not make mention of the Prime Minister” and suggested that it was ill-advised to drag him into the matter.
“If Mr Lehohla feels aggrieved by the decision of the Council of State and wants to be IEC commissioner for life, he must go to court and leave Prime Minister out of this. As a former Chief Justice, I expect him to be good at interpreting statutes,” he said.
The incoming commission will be the fifth since the second amendment to the constitution in 1997 established an independent election management body, abolishing the civil service office of the Chief Electoral Officer which used to manage elections.