MASERU – The beleaguered Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane has snubbed the Transformation resource Centre (TRC)’s ultimatum to reopen parliament within five days. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of Thabane’s party, All Basotho Convention (ABC) which he founded in 2006, has turned against him and also wants him to reopen parliament.
The NEC has called for Thabane to step down in an attempt to resolve leadership crisis in the country that has disrupted government business in the past year. TRC’s director, Tsikoane Peshoane, told Public Eye this week that Thabane ignored the organization’s petition at his own peril.
“The government does not have capacity to respond to our demand. Even if they had wanted to respond, but they do not have capacity to do,” said Peshoane. TRC last week released a statement in which it requested Thabane to open parliament within five days, arguing that the legislature was prorogued at a time when it should be debating possible plans to deal with coronavirus and minimize its impacts on the already struggling economy.
The coronavirus will have economic effects for almost all countries. But for those who were already struggling before the outbreak of the virus in China last year, the pandemic may well be financially devastating. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic over coronavirus which causes an illness known as COVID-19.
The virus has spread to over 209 countries and territories, killing more than 83 000 people and infecting more than 1.4 million. Most people only experience minor flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus and recover within a few weeks. Over 308 000 people have recovered. However, the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear well.
It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, in some patients, particularly in the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Although the pandemic has spread across the globe and Africa, Lesotho has no confirmed case of COVID-19. There have been more than 1 700 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa – the highest in Africa – and has killed 13 people.
Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa and has declared national emergency over coronavirus. Thabane prorogued parliament on March 20, apparently preventing some dissenting members of parliament from toppling him but his government said the move was merely procedural given the state of emergency in the country and public health regulations prohibiting large public gatherings. On March 25, he announced 23-day lockdown which came into effect at midnight on March 29, to prevent the spread of the virus.
But his detractors claimed prorogation of parliament was a calculated move aimed at blocking efforts to replace the current coalition government with a new one. “We are mindful that this move jeopardises the initiatives already taken to enforce virus containment as the state of emergency under section 23(2) will only be in effect for 14 days. Extension requires approval by parliament,” TRC said last week.
It added that: “In this sense, the prime minister and government efforts and vigilance in protecting the nation while parliament hitherto is prorogued would be undermined by this phenomenon of uncalculated prorogation.” When contacted last week, Government Secretary (GS), Moahloli Mphaka, said he was not aware of the TRC petition but was quick to point out that prorogation had already been challenged in the courts.
Mphaka was referring to an application filed by the NEC of the Thabane-led ABC and the Basotho National Party (BNP) – key partner in the ruling coalition of four parties – challenging Thabane’s decision to prorogue parliament. The case proceeded in the Constitutional court this week and the judgment is expected to be handed down next Friday.
“We will wait to hear the court’s verdict on the matter. Even if government had responded to our petition, their response was still going to be overtaken by a constitutional court judgement,” Peshoane said on Tuesday. If Prime Minister Thabane heeded TRC’s call and reopened parliament, that would have rendered the court application academic or hypothetical.
Thabane was unreachable on his phone when Public Eye tried to contact him on Wednesday while his spokesperson Relebohile Moyeye’s phone rang unanswered. In its last week statement, TRC stated the parliament prorogation came as a shock “considering that hitherto there is still a need for stability in government and no appropriation bill has been published for this year’s budget”. It said it “foresees a situation where a contingency budget for disaster management is passed without consultation and debates, which in turn will compromise accountability on the use of funds”.
Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro told Public Eye last month that government had made available M700 million to help fight the outbreak of coronavirus. On top of the M700 million, Majoro said government would also set up a relief fund that would help businesses mitigate the financial impacts of the disease. TRC said upon convening, parliament should focus solely on budget allocation for disaster management, formulation of relief laws aimed at lessening the blow caused by the lockdown on the economy and on the livelihoods of many Basotho.
“With regards to allocation of a budget, the parliament ought to make provisions for swift procurement of lab equipment for effective testing equipment to prevent transmission of COVID-19. “In addition, parliament should formulate strategies to protect the economy from a shutdown considering that a lot of revenue government gets comes from trading at both a micro and macro level,” it said.