Bare knuckled fight ensues over communications regulations
MASERU – The Lesotho chapter of the media advocacy group, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Lesotho), has dared communications minister, Tšoinyana Rapapa, to push for enactment of the two communications regulations rejected by parliament this week.
The Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill of 2021 and the Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Mobile Device Registration) Regulations of 2021, failed to receive support in the National Assembly after being disallowed by a resolution of the august House’s portfolio committee responsible for information.
The regulations are being made pursuant to Section 55 of the Communications Act of 2012. Section 55 states: “The minister may, by notice published in the Gazette, and after consultation with the authority, make regulations for the carrying into effect of the provisions of this Act.”
Approved by parliament, the regulatory directives will make it mandatory for all citizens to register their mobile devices and pay an annual fee of M30 for owning a device. These two pieces of legislation were rejected by the parliamentary committee on the Prime Minister’s Ministries and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information Cluster that recommended that they be reformulated and relevant stakeholders be consulted.
MISA says they have been insulted enough by Rapapa by lying before parliament that he consulted them during the formulation of the Bill. MISA says they only learned about the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill of 2021 on March 31 when it was tabled before parliament by former Minister of Communications, Keketso Sello, without the Ministry of Communications or the Lesotho Communications Authority consulting them for their input or say on the Bill.
However, before the National Assembly on Monday, Rapapa said before the House that he had consulted MISA and asked the House to pass the Bill with amendments. He said he does not agree with the report by the portfolio committee that recommends that the Bill should be returned to the ministry for reformulation, alleging that the ministry did not consult, further stipulating that charges are very high and must be reviewed and that computer crime and cyber security Bills should be separated.
“I do not agree with the report. I recommend that the bill be passed with amendments. Amendments will be on the issues the report shows concern on. The recommendations should be included in the bill as amendments. “It is not true that consultations were not made. When the Bill was tabled before parliament in March, all stakeholders were given an opportunity to have a say. I even personally had a meeting with MISA Lesotho about the two bills; we consulted the police and the National Security Services(NSS).
“The way I see it, if we accept the report by the committee, we will only be holding back the process of finalising the bill. The Lesotho Communications Authority even made an advertisement in one of the local newspapers that all those who want to have their opinions enclosed in the bill should submit them in writing not later than 30th September 2021. “According to views that we have received so far, as the ministry we believe they can be enclosed in the bill as amendments,” Rapapa said in parliament.
MISA Lesotho chairman, Nkoale Oetsi Tšoana, told a press conference that the formulation of the Bill without proper consultations is against Section 20 of the constitution – which clearly stipulates that the LCA or government is obliged to consult people and get their views during formulation of laws and policies that affect the nation. Tšoana said normally when both institutions formulate laws, policies or regulations that concern the media sector, they consult all relevant stakeholders, MISA included.
He cited the example of the Internet Broadcasting Rules of 2020 that government planned to formulate. He said, however, that with the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill, all relevant and necessary consultations were skipped. He said what is even more worrying is that the NRA is in the process of formulating the same Bill, with Rapapa circumventing that process to push his own Bill.
The MISA Lesotho chairman said they suspected Rapapa’s speed is driven by a sinister agenda to enactment this particular law in order to “target the media and certain politicians”. Tšoana further noted that while they were still in shock regarding the Computer Crime and Cyber Security Bill that was tabled without their knowledge, Rapapa has gazetted the Communications (Subscriber Identity Module and Mobile Registration) Regulations of 2021 and even tabled the them before parliament on June 3 – also without consulting MISA.
He said on discovering these, they contacted the government for intervention but were only given a chance to have a say on the computer crime and cyber security bill by the Portfolio Committee on the Prime Minister’s Ministries, Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information Cluster. He said they met with the committee and addressed their grievances about the bill, which include exclusion of the media sector.
He further noted that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro even contacted them on hearing their dissatisfaction about the bills and even advised them that they still can have an input in the Sim and Mobile Device Registration Regulations 2021 even though the Bill has already been passed. He advised them to prepare a document specifying which areas they want amended in the bill and address the document to minister of communications and copy him.
With these stated, the Parliament Portfolio Committee recommended that the Bill be revisited as it has excluded views and opinions of the national security agencies, media houses and telecommunication agencies.
The computer crime and cyber security bill is, among others, meant to establish two bodies that will be responsible for management of cyber security in Lesotho, provide legal framework for the prevention of cybercrime and impose penalties thereof and provide for mutual legal assistance relating to investigation of cybercrimes, among others.
The Parliament took the committee’s recommendations and asked that the bill return to the ministry so that proper consultations would be made. MISA Lesotho is happy the bill has been dismissed, citing that the bill has sparked outrage among the Basotho, especially stakeholders who had not been consulted when the ministry was rushing to push the bill.
“MISA Lesotho has learned with contentment about a recommendation by a parliament’s portfolio committee to withdraw the Computer Crime and Cybersecurity Bill of 2021 from the National Assembly, and allow for the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology to go back and revisit the controversial bill. “This is the same bill that MISA Lesotho, in a media statement issued on March 31st 2021, expressed deep concern over lack of consultations made by the ministry with stakeholders before the bill was tabled in parliament by then Communications Minister Keketso Sello on March 23rd,” said MISA.
The report, presented before the National Assembly on Tuesday September 14 by the parliament portfolio committee chaired by Lehloka Hlalele, observed that the security agencies, namely; the Lesotho Defence Force, Lesotho Mounted Police Service, National Security Services and Lesotho Correctional Services were excluded in the formulation of the Computer Crime and Cybersecurity Bill, 2021. The Committee further noted that media houses and telecommunications agencies are very crucial in compilation of the Bill therefore they should be consulted as well. “All Security Agencies should be an integral part of the cybersecurity management and should be represented in the National Cybersecurity Advisory Council.
The Bill deals with two major sets of crimes, computer crimes and crimes of cyber security. The two sets of crime are comprehensive enough to constitute two legal frameworks and a combination of two sets of crimes may lead to a law that is vague and difficult to implement,” reads the committee’s report. “Based on the observations and concerns, the committee recommends that the minister responsible for communications be afforded an opportunity to withdraw the said Computer Crime and Cybersecurity Bill, 2021, for the ministry to revisit the Bill.”