MASERU – Parliament re-opens today after a two-month break which opposition politicians believe had been inordinately long, alleging government had kept the House shut to thwart a possible rebellion.
The opposition charge Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government had moved at breakneck speed to close parliament indefinitely amid mounting murmurs of discontent on both sides of the political aisle towards the coalition administration.
Government, the opposition said, became jittery when some of its own MPs tabled a motion calling for voting on confidence motions to be done by secret ballot.
Official opposition leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, while admitting the adjournment was not illegal, insisted however closing parliament sine die had blunted the MPs ability to check government excesses.
PFD leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane said while no legal remedy was available to MPs in such circumstances, the adjournment had breached universal parliamentary “practices and traditions”.
He added: “Even if these traditions are not in the standing orders…such an adjournment is tantamount to abuse of the sine die clause”.
A legislative body adjourns sine die when it adjourns without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.
“Therefore, what we are worried about are the political implications of the adjournment of parliament sine die at an awkward period. After the allocation of the budget and following the Easter break, there is a period within which parliament should have resumed. It (did) not happen. This means parliament has not carried out its work, unlike the Senate which opened on a specific date and is executing its duties,” Rakuoane said.
“But with the National Assembly, we (were) denied a specific date on which to resume duty after the Easter break. We therefore think it is an abuse of the sine die clause. It’s neither illegal nor unprocedural. We are just worried about the politics of the whole thing,” he said shortly before an announcement ending the hiatus was made.
Rakuoane said government had peddled what he termed the false narrative that the prolonged adjournment was intended to allow MPs time to participate in ongoing grassroots consultative meetings on reforms.
Instead, Rakuoane said the traditional Easter break had presented government with the excuse to give fuming MPs a cooling off period while it regrouped.
In March, ABC MP Sam Rapapa submitted the motion that spooked Thabane into thinking a rebellion was in the offing.
Rapapa’s motion came amidst fierce infighting in the senior coalition partner in government triggered by a court challenge to the legitimacy of the election of a new committee elected at the party’s February 1 to 2 elective conference.
Rakuoane said while the opposition submitted its motion around the same time as Rapapa, theirs was intended to amend clauses of the constitution ranging from “sections 82, 83 and probably 90” but this was “unfortunately interpreted to mean that we were pursuing a no-confidence vote”.
“As the opposition (PFD and LCD) filed a motion seeking to amend some sections of the constitution. Mr Samuel Rapapa of the ABC, on the other hand, is the one who suggested something close to a no confidence vote, wherein he proposed that votes of no confidence should be carried out by way of a secret ballot,” Rakuoane said.
“But myself and the LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing were only looking at constitutional provisions which have implications on the powers of the PM. We targeted sections 82, 82 and probably 90.
“But the motion that came from the opposition was primarily a proposal that prorogation be regulated, perhaps to a specific period not exceeding three months as the status quo is twelve months.”
Rakuoane added that it was important to amend section 83 of the constitution on the dissolution of parliament “looking at it from the perspective of protecting parliament”.
According to the PFD leader, it was imperative that parliament was not dissolved on a whim paving the way for costly elections.
“We feel that the time has come for us to protect parliament in terms of its life which is a constitutionally prescribed five years.
“And obviously some people think that by so doing we are therefore saying that we aim to topple the PM, having disarmed him with the weapon of dissolving parliament.
“That’s not true because we feel that the PM’s choice is not as important as the cost of elections, always holding them before the end of five years. It is just not ethical to be disrupting parliament.
“It also affects the quality of MPs we have and their turnover. When you call elections, so many people who came to parliament as new MPs are still novices who know nothing about the house’s procedure after two years.”
Rakuoane added: “It therefore says that there is not much quality work that goes into parliament with new people coming in every two years. It is the same with presiding officers because nobody can guarantee that we will have the same people post elections.
“Parliament has become such a playground and we feel that it is time to protect it. The five years of the life of parliament means MPs’ skills are developed, not to mention its stability.
“We are merely saying let’s protect parliament, although some people interpret it to mean that we want to remove the PM. In any case, for those sections to be amended we would need a two-thirds majority.
“Even if we worked with the disgruntled ABC element, we would still be short of 10 which we would need from government,” Rakuoane said.
“So, seriously speaking the motion we are supporting needs consensus and that we must sit down together with government to thrash it out. Our understanding is it is government itself that will cause a no-confidence vote.
“And it is also our understanding that government should co-operate. There could be discussions on the formation of a government of national unity (GNU). As the opposition, we are calling for positive, productive discussions; not something as disruptive as a no-confidence vote.”
Since the “unusual” adjournment of parliament, the opposition had been unable to hold government accountable for its countless transgressions, Mokhothu said.
These include failure by 11 government ministries to pay service providers for fuel, which he claimed had led to ambulances transporting critical referral patients to Bloemfontein getting stuck at fuel depots.
Ministries including health, police, defence and prisons, Mokhothu said, offered essential services hence they should not be without fuel at any time.
“Remember that no matter how bad things get, the ministries of health, police, defence and prisons, are all essential services whose functions should not be disrupted at any point within the 24-hour clock.
“But I saw critical patients bound for Bloemfontein in ambulances parked at the fuel depot unable to refuel because government has not paid its bills.
“Parliament’s closure affects good governance and undermines accountability. On the other hand, it creates room for corruption to take place willy-nilly. This says people will not be taken to account.
“Now fields are barren from north to south. The minister of agriculture must tell us why and what he plans to do for the winter cropping season. We don’t want to be picking corpses of hunger in Lesotho. But who do we ask if parliament is closed?”