Parties divided over reforms transition office



MASERU – When the National Reforms Authority (NRA)’s mandate expired in May 2022, the National Reforms Transition Office (NRTO) was constituted to essentially oversee the reforms process to completion. Political parties are divided over NRTO’s existence. NRA secretariat remained in office as NRTO and was tasked with providing support to the Ministry of Justice, Law and Parliamentary Affairs as well as the relevant Parliamentary Portfolio Committee seized with the passage of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

They are also to develop enabling legislation necessary for operationalizing the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill while also developing other pieces of legislation that do not emanate from the Omnibus Bill but political parties are divided over the existence of the office.

Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane said in an interview this week that it was necessary to have the office in place because reforms are an ongoing process. He said he personally lobbied Cabinet for the establishment of the office while he was still the Minister of Justice so that it can provide technical and administrative support to the ministry with regards to reforms.

Rakuoane said no additional staff was hired but only those who were part of the NRA moved to NRTO, emphasising that the office is not exercising any power but is offering support  “The office had to remain because the understanding was that we are continuing with reforms. I initially asked for a six months’ extension until a new authority has been established,” Rakuoane said.

Public Eye sought clarity as to whether NRTO was consulting stakeholders in its mandate considering the nature of its work but Rakuoane explained that all the office did was to facilitate without necessarily implementing.

“It is a flexible office that government can use even to monitor the process because even experts were still supported, it is basically the Secretariat of NRA waiting to go to the new reforms body,” he added.  Basotho National Party (BNP) Machesetsa Mofomobe said his party is not aware of such an office and have never been consulted by it. “We are not aware of such an office and have not been consulted by it. I suspect that they know that the Omnibus Bill can only be passed in Parliament not anywhere else.”

Democratic Congress (DC) Mathibeli Mokhothu also said his office has never had engagements with NRTO but said he knows about it.  He referred this paper to Advocate Rakuoane who he said knows the details better. Former Deputy Chief Executive Officer at NRA, Ts’iu Khatibe is now the Chief Executive Officer Reforms. He says National Reforms Transition Office (NRTO) was formed by cabinet and is charged mainly with supporting the Ministry of Justice, Law and Parliamentary affairs for the successful passing of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

Katibe said his office is also tasked with the development and implementation of a work plan for implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation mandate as well as developing National Security Policy and Strategy, to assess the degree of implementation of the national security sector reforms in Lesotho.

Khatibe further said NRTO is working with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to undertake security sector expenditure review, supervising consultants undertaking the Security Sector reforms monitoring and evaluation strategy and coordinating the reforms costing exercise while proposing reforms sequencing based on the outcome of the costing exercise. The 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill contains reforms related legislations that were deliberated upon by NRA and submitted to parliament for approval.  Parliament still has not endorsed reforms related laws after the initial endorsement was nullified by the Constitutional Court in September 2022.

Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane ruled that the 10th parliament which passed the Omnibus Bill was erroneously called resulting in the nullification of all business that happened before it. All the laws were due for royal assent but fell off as a result of that judgment. That parliament was called by the then Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro through a declaration of a state of emergency but Activist Kananelo Boloetsoe successfully challenged the recall in parliament.  

Ever since then, the government and opposition have been at loggerheads on how to implement the reforms process. In February, opposition parties accused government of making appointments of key positions in government institutions and departments such as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) Director General (DG) and the Auditor General (AG), including its decision to dismiss Principal Secretaries (PS).

They wanted the government to stop the process until the reforms process has been completed arguing that the appointments are “a violation of the intended depoliticisation and professionalisation of the public service.” They also sought the government’s commitment to a moratorium on appointments pending finalisation of the reforms. As a result, no substantial progress has been made on reforms to date.

The current government announced its approach to reforms in a series of consultations with various stakeholders to the reforms process including opposition parties. In its engagement with the media, Deputy Prime Minister Justice Nthomeng Majara revealed that the government wished to take a piecemeal approach in dealing with the contents of the 11th amendment to the constitution and was selling the idea to other stakeholders so as to make progress.

The government thought it was wise to divide the 11th amendment into three parts: provisions that needs a simple majority; followed by provisions that need a two thirds majority; and, later those requiring a two thirds majority and a referendum, she said.

Dividing the bill into subparts, she said, would make it easier for bills requiring a simple majority to be adopted and passed, thus making the much-needed process.

“We have all seen that Parliament had already passed the bills or amendments as it is and even presented it to His Majesty for royal assent but the problem was going to be those provisions that still need a referendum yet His Majesty has already assented,” Justice Majara said.

The 10th parliament had already adopted reforms related legislation as contained in the 11th amendment to the constitution after it was recalled but the court ruled that the recall was unconstitutional thereby nullifying all business carried out during the recall.

According to Majara, the 10th parliament’s adoption and presentation of the 11th amendment to the constitution for a Royal assent was flawed.

The presentation of the bill (11th amendment to the constitution) to His Majesty King Letsie III in its state meant signing into law even provisionsthat required a referendum in violation of theconstitution’s article 84b.It states that the King may, on the advice of the Prime Minister, order that a referendum be conducted to obtain the opinion of the electors on any matter considered to be of national interest and that Parliament may make provision for the conduct of a referendum.

However, that was not to be as MPs blocked the discussion of the 11th amendment to the constitution on August 14, 2023 when parliament was recalled from the winter break to deliberate on the reforms.  On that day, some MPs said they needed time to study the contents of the bill. Media Institute for Southern Africa Lesotho (MISA), Political party YES and activist Kananelo Boloetse had also challenged parliament’s resuscitation of the 10th amendment to the constitution. They asked the Constitutional Court to declare the resuscitation unconstitutional but the court dismissed their challenge.

Boloetse has appealed the decision and the Appeal Court will pronounce itself on the matter next Friday while parliament has also had to wait for the courts’ decisions on the matter before discussing reforms further.  The reforms process first experienced a major setback in September last year when the High Court (sitting as the Constitutional Court) nullified the 11th amendment to the constitution after it was passed by the recalled 10th parliament as that parliament sought to effect some key changes to the constitution before the country’s 2022 general elections.

The recall was later found to be outside the requirements of the law following a constitutional challenge to the purported state of emergency that resulted in the recall of parliament. As a result, all the business of parliament conducted upon its recall also fell off. But even without the constitutional challenge, some of the provisions would have passed and signed into law without a referendum making the laws susceptible to legal challenges in future.

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