Furore over Majoro’s appointments

As rights group submits the move undermines caretaker conventions

 

TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI and

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – In the wake of his controversial foreign mission appointments, rights lobby group Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) has reminded the Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro that political patronage appointments and cronyism have contributed to the political chaos that Lesotho is immersed in.

Over 20 fresh ambassadorial appointments have reportedly been made by the office of the prime minister immediately before he announced a state of emergency to facilitate recall of parliament to pass amendments to the country’s constitution to support the ongoing reforms process.

TRC says it regrets the appointment of these officials to foreign missions taking effect during the caretaker period, in a statement issued in Maseru this week. It, therefore, calls for the reversal of the appointments to the foreign missions with immediate effect.

According to the TRC, these appointments are taking effect during a period when the prime minister has just declared a state of emergency as a precursor for the Council of State to advise King Letsie to recall parliament. “As a matter of necessity, Dr Majoro is warned that when the future of the country is at stake, it is no time for paybacks – mostly during the caretaker period.

“We remind Dr Majoro that as a matter of convention, caretaker conventions seek to ensure that, among other things, the incumbent government does not make significant appointments,” the TRC states. It adds that “as a caretaker, Prime Minister Majoro should have ensured that the public sector remains, and is perceived to remain, apolitical.”

The group notes that, fortunately, Majoro’s administration, through the Minister of Justice and Law, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, after the approval of cabinet, had already tabled before parliament the now gazetted 10th Amendment to the Constitution. Under Section 83C (1) of the enacted Bill, it was recognised that “there shall be a caretaker government immediately after the dissolution of Parliament and the person who held the office of Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet immediately before dissolution, shall continue as a caretaker government until a new Prime Minister and cabinet is appointed in terms of the Constitution.”

As a matter of principle, even before the enactment of the 10th Amendment, the caretaker conventions carried normative force derived from constitutional practice and custom in the Commonwealth, according to TRC.

Inter alia, the politicisation of public service being a relentless trend in public administration of the country was the basis for the Prime Minister’s State of Emergency. “This also came at the backdrop of the Right Honourable having underscored the need to depoliticise the public sector on the 12th July 2022 in his National Address.”

The caretaker conventions’ central justification is that, once parliament has been dissolved and until the election result is known, the government is effectively governing without parliamentary oversight. In a democratic dispensation, these caretaker conventions ensure that no major decisions are made without accountability.

During this period, the government should desist from making significant appointments regard being had to the length of the appointment, the seniority of appointment, the importance of position, and whether the appointment is likely to be controversial, among a host of considerations.

As a general principle, the government should defer from making significant appointments during the caretaker period. Again, significant appointments decided before the caretaker period must commence before the caretaker period.

This simply means that the government should have deferred the decision to appoint before or during the caretaker period to fill a vacancy arising or created during the caretaker period.

TRC submits that any significant appointment which was to be effected should have been done before the caretaker period. If not, then such significant appointment should have been deferred to be made in accordance with the dictates of the constitution.   TRC condemns blatant misuse of prime ministerial powers to undermine caretaker conventions for patronage ends.

On the hindsight, the group also applauds the adoption and codification of caretaker conventions into the Constitution indicating: when the government enters caretaker period; what the government can do; and, essentially what caretaker government means. As a result, TRC recommends adoption and codification of the Guidelines on the Caretaker Conventions.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary government. Lesotho is also a Commonwealth state which became a member of the Commonwealth in 1966. In addition to the constitution, Lesotho as a commonwealth country adheres to a set of conventions developed over a long time from practice and custom.

Among these conventions are the caretaker conventions which carry normative force derived from constitutional practice and custom in Commonwealth countries. The conventions carry the essence of constitutional morality which underlies the fundamental principles and doctrines which should be considered in the administration of the state.

Warning on caretaker governments and finances

…As Alliance of Democrats also tears into PM

MASERU – Basotho’s long-awaited request that the national constitution be amended so that a caretaker government is restricted from making major decisions on behalf of the country have finally been addressed. The recommendation was enclosed in Plenary 2 Report of the national reforms.

The Alliance of Democrats (AD) has joined the chorus of dissatisfaction from several quarters condemning prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s recent ambassadorial appointment – against conventions guiding caretaker governments ahead of elections. As per the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution Act, 2022,

Section 83c (2), a caretaker government shall not implement any major policy initiatives, make appointments of major significance or enter into major contracts, agreements or undertakings. Section 3 of the constitution further reads “Notwithstanding subsection 2, if it is in the interest of the nation caretaker government shall consult with the Council of State”. The public has expressed concern that a caretaker government misuses public funds by agreeing to contracts or assignments that may have negative financial implications which the incoming Government could struggle to handle.

The AD has also called for the government to stop misusing public resources by making decisions that put the country in financial difficulties. The Majoro-led government, which is a caretaker government, is accused of misusing public funds by sending officials to international trips and assigning 23 people to diplomatic missions.

In an interview with this paper, Public Relations Officer of AD Thuso Litjobo said as per the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2021, the government has no authority to make such major decisions or even hire anyone on behalf of the country.

In 2021, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2021 was brought before the National Assembly but was never passed. Litjobo said such misuse of public funds by a government which may not even come back to power after the elections will leave a financial burden to the incoming government.

He said the caretaker government is assigning people to diplomatic missions, hiring others and sending others on international trips as a bribe to get votes in the coming elections. Hiring people based on their political affiliations will result in the incoming government being overwhelmed by an unnecessarily high wage bill and eventually the country will sink into more debt, he added.

“What is even worrying is that the caretaker government is making these decisions with high financial implications while the country is already having money problems. “This is not the first time a caretaker government has made major decisions with high financial implications. In 2017 the same thing happened with the then government which was led by the

Democratic Congress whereby it politically hired many officials at the ministry of local government and chieftainship, ministry of home affairs and sending others to international missions with the aim to buy votes. “We have also learned with dismay millions of Maloti that the government is planning to spent on Prime Minister Moeketsi

Majoro and his delegates’ trips to New York and Japan,” he said. Litjobo said he does not even know why the government has named the newly released Act the 10th Amendment to the Constitution Act, 2022 as it should be called the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Act, 2022.

Commenting on the reasons the amendment is the 10th not the 11th, the Minister of Law and Justice, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuane, said the previous 10th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2021, collapsed and was not passed by the National Assembly as it was facing a lot of court cases.

He, however, said contents that were enclosed in the private bill have not been changed hence the newly gazetted Act is called the 10th Amendment to the Constitution Act, 2022. The public is also concerned about financial decisions that the caretaker government it currently making.

’Mampoetsi Sekete, a youth from Maseru, said hiring people according to their political affiliation, especially by the caretaker government, means that corruption and nepotism will always be on top of the countries’ list as those hired will be compelled to return favours to those that afforded them employment opportunities. She said the hired people are also exposed to being used by those in power as their way to compensate for the opportunities they were offered.

Sekete said with these the country will be overwhelmed by unemployed graduates, a high wage bill and possible conflicts between governing parties towards the mandate they want to implement in countries they have missions in. Those people hired via politics would want to achieve a mandate for their parties that might at the time not even be in power.

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