Office of the First Lady under the spotlight



MASERU – Debate over the Office of First Lady has resurfaced with some experts insisting the Queen is the rightful owner of the title and not the Prime Minister’s wife.

Alternatively, they argued, the office should be abolished entirely as it duplicates the work of the Ministry of Social Development.

This, they say is because there is no statute that establishes offices of spouses of either the King or premier.

This, is according to a section of an Expert Report on Constitutional Reforms, drafted by Professor Hoolo ‘Nyane, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Limpopo and Adv. Masebelu Makhabole of the Ministry of Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights.

The report follows grassroots consultations on amendments to the constitution ahead of Lesotho’s multi-sectoral reforms programme implementation.

The report states that concerns raised by the public ranged from expenses in the day-to-day running of the office, to its functions that have overlapping features with those of the Ministry of Social Development, resulting in duplication of efforts.

“A general concern has been raised from public consultations about the Office of the First Lady. The concerns are that the office is expensive and must therefore be abolished; that the office belongs to the Queen not the spouse of the Prime Minister; that it duplicates the work of government departments like the Ministry of Social Development,” the report reads.

“The Constitution of Lesotho does not recognise either the wife of the King or the wife of the Prime Minister. Neither is there any statute that establishes the offices of the spouses of either the King or the Prime Minister.”

Under the law, the report further states, the spouse of the Prime Minister is only the “beneficiary of pensions of the husband” in terms of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (Retirement and Spouses Benefits) Act of 2011.

“As such, the Office of the First Lady is an informal designation granted to the spouse of the Prime Minister. The office is therefore not an official establishment either in the public service or in the broader constitutional design.”

Under this Act which was applied retrospectively to cover former PMs, DPMs and their spouses, upon retirement the First Lady enjoys an estimated 25 percent of her salary.

Lesotho’s First Lady currently enjoys benefits that include an estimated M45 000 monthly salary, chauffeur-driven luxury vehicle, a body-guard, a fully furnished office with staff ranging from a spokesperson, director and personal assistant, among others.

The Queen on the other hand does not have a special office but performs her social duties under the Office of the King.

While the experts concede that both the Queen and First Lady play vital roles in public life, they nevertheless recommend the abolishment of the office, or at the least that it be “granted to the wife of the Head of State” in this case being the Queen.

“The general view from the public is that either the office should be abolished or be granted to the wife of the Head of State, the King. The spouses of the King and the Prime Minister play vital roles in public life,” the experts say.

“They often undertake ‘soft’ but critical functions because of their status. Because of their public status, they are able to raise resources from private donors for purposes of helping the indigent and vulnerable members of society.”

However, the experts further argue that formalisation of both offices creates many constitutional questions including but not limited to “recognition under the constitution” and that their exercise of power “should be by popular will”, hence the suggestion that they should remain informal.

“Their offices should remain informal because rendering them formal may generate many constitutional questions such as, but not limited to: the principle of democracy (exercise of public power must derive from popular will) and where can they be placed in the broader design. As such it is better when the Constitution does not recognise them,” the experts assert.

Again, ‘Nyane and Makhobole note that the offices should also not be allocated public resources from the consolidated fund “without authorisation of the constitution or an Act of parliament”.

“Nevertheless, care should be taken not to allocate public resources to these offices because in terms of section 111 of the Constitution, no moneys can be withdrawn from the consolidated fund without authorisation of the Constitution or an Act of Parliament,” ‘Nyane and Makhobole maintain.

The Office of First Lady in Lesotho has been frowned upon as the public view it as an opportunity for the sitting premier to create economic opportunities for his wife, although its primary mandate has been to source donations and assist the poor and marginalised.

This is the case with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s wife who has been donating fully-furnished two-roomed houses under her ‘Maesaiah Thabane Trust Fund (MTTF) and pioneering initiatives such as cancer awareness and fighting stigma around infertility.

The Office of First Lady in Lesotho was first established under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, attracting widespread scorn as public opinion was that the title of First Lady should be conferred on the Queen.

When Premier Thabane first assumed government power in 2012, he abolished the office, instead creating a Special Projects office for his wife ‘MaEsaiah Thabane, which focused primarily on handing out food parcels and wheelchairs to the poor, while also training communities under self-sufficiency projects that included production of aloe jelly, soya beans and milk.

However, in 2014 the office was shut down at the height of political tensions between Thabane and his former DPM Mothetjoa Metsing.

But when Mosisili bounced back as premier between 2015 and 2017, the Office of First Lady was revived and occupied by his wife ‘Mathato.

When Mosisili was overthrown in 2017 and Thabane returned as premier, ‘Maesaiah immediately reprised her role as First Lady.

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