Chief Letsoela hits back at CJ Sakoane



MASERU – The National Reforms Authority (NRA)’s former chairperson, Chief Pelele Letsoela, has hit back at Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane for his comment describing the NRA’s composition as flawed for having politicians as a majority of its membership. He (Letsoela) also blamed Parliament for failing to play an oversight role on NRA to ensure that Basotho’s views are properly captured in the Plenary II report.  

Letsoela said this week in an exclusive interview with Public Eye that statements suggesting that there was anything wrong with the composition of NRA are misleading including the argument that reforms were hijacked. He was responding to statements that came out of a symposium by Human Rights organisation, Transformation Resource Center (TRC) on Thursday last week.

The symposium was aimed at mapping a way forward on the reforms process following the Court of Appeal’s judgment that blocked the 11th parliament from resuscitating the Omnibus Bill at the stage it was when the 10th Parliament dissolved.

Letsoela said NRA was established by Parliament pursuant to section 70 (2) of the Constitution and, by so doing, delegated its powers to the NRA.  In its own wisdom, he said, NRA started with constitutional reforms. “You may know that a reforms process is a long journey and we come a long way from when government officials visited New Zealand in 2012 to learn about coalition governments. There were experts engaged in 2015 who then came up with a roadmap and shape of how reforms can be carried out. That roadmap was only publicised in 2017,” he said.

Subsequently, he said, the NRA was formed because all the government did was to facilitate the process. “Now, remarks that NRA was flawed are misleading because it is Parliament that formed NRA in line with section 70 of the Constitution. There was nothing wrong with NRA and its conduct, the Constitution permits parliament to delegate its functions,” he added.

The problem arose when parliament failed in its oversight over NRA, Letsoela said, adding that while section 6 (5) of the NRA Act says its resolutions are final, NRA was accountable to the two Houses of Parliament whose role was to oversee what came out of NRA and help correct it in line with Plenary II decisions.  “Parliament did not do that but it chose to do away with contents of what came out of the NRA resulting in Boloetse’s cases. That is the problem,” Letsoela said.

While NRA membership was dominated by politicians, he conceded, it did not work based on political interests but used a two thirds majority to make resolutions and they made sure that chairpersons of the committee were not politicians save for only five committees. “What is surprising is that the Chief Justice had asked to meet members of NRA the other time and they had a draft for judicial reforms and their submissions were taken as they are save for just a few alterations,” Letsoela said.     

Last week, Chief Justice and experts who spoke at a Constitutional Reforms symposium organised by Human Rights outfit, Transformation Resource Center (TRC) cast doubt on NRA effectiveness in overseeing the reforms process or implementing plenary II decisions.

Key to their concerns was the fact that NRA was not a constituent assembly. A constituent assembly is a group of elected representatives with the power to make or change a country’s constitution. In his remarks, Justice Sakoane had said NRA was flawed in that it was dominated by politicians. He said “the membership of NRA was politically dominated, politicians are politicians and will always behave like politicians and maximize on political power.”

As a result, he said there were a lot of misguided ideas that came out of the NRA thereby polluting the whole reforms process. They include recommendations such as that rape and murder suspects should not be eligible for bail. That resolution is misguided as it not only takes the jurisdiction of the courts away but is also against the bill of rights. According to Justice Sakoane, experts would have been aware of the implications and such a recommendation would not have made its way. Such misguided ideas polluted the reforms process, he said. 

The courts’ nullification of the Omnibus Bill, he said, provides an opportunity for a fresh start.  “The amendment you are talking about is dead; I did not want us to talk about something dead but I wanted us to talk about where we are going.” Justice Sakoane believes that reforms may be resuscitated through a new process. That process must be well-thought-out, led by experts and must be based on the will of Basotho as contained in the Plenary II report, he said.

The top Judge cited contents of the plenary II such as those touching on: the powers of the prime minister, the bill of rights, prorogation and dissolution of parliament, public funds, decentralization, the office of the First Lady, political conflict resolution mechanism, office of the king, formation of government and coalitions, preamble of the constitution, land, age of majority, chieftainship, religion and religious rights, application of traditional law and official languages and said the Omnibus Bill would never deliver what plenary II wanted.

In his presentation Justice Sakoane submitted that the Omnibus Bill would not achieve what Plenary II report entailed, adding that the challenge was that reforms had been hijacked by those with interests. “I know for sure that reforms belong to Basotho but were hijacked along the way by those with power; clearly this process has been hijacked.”  He added: “The problem here is because this process is donor-driven, that is the main problem. Did Basotho, through Plenary II, say listen to donors? I was not there when Basotho gave this mandate but I know preambles of many constitutions say ‘We the People’ this is the only law created by the people and should reflect their wishes.”  NRA was a 59-member body with politicians from 35 political parties commanding the lion’s share of its composition. It was established to succeed the National Dialogue Committee (NDPC) so as to implement, manage, coordinate, and lead the implementation of the multi-sectoral reforms recommended by South African Development Community (SADC).

Its tenure expired in May 2022 having been extended by six months. Its members had gone to court to challenge the government’s refusal to grant another extension but High Court Judge Polo Banyane ruled that the extension was not permissible beyond the period specified in the NRA Act.

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