Parliament set to be recalled over Omnibus Bill

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Parliament will soon be recalled to pass the 11th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2022, commonly known as Omnibus Bill, Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro announced last night. Addressing the nation on national television last night, Majoro said the recalled parliament would also pass the National Assembly Electoral Amendment Bill.

The five-year term of parliament ended at midnight on July 13, and it was adjourned sine die until His Majesty King Letsie III dissolved it on July 14. In a legal notice no. 63 of 2022 dated July 19, the King proclaimed October 7, 2022, as the day on which general elections to elect new Members of Parliament (MPs), will be held.

Majoro said the national elections are expected to be held under a new constitutional regime resulting from a reform process but with the Omnibus Bill having not been passed, this was almost impossible. “The government has been making consultations with different stakeholders after parliament was dissolved without having passed these two important bills. There seems to be a consensus that parliament should be recalled,” he said. “We are therefore going to advise the Council of State to advise His Majesty to recall parliament,” he added.

The constitution states that if, after the dissolution of parliament and before the holding of a general election of members of the national assembly the King is advised by the Council of State that, owing to a state of war or of a state of emergency in Lesotho, it is necessary to recall parliament, the King shall recall the parliament that has been dissolved. Such recalled parliament, according to the constitution, shall be deemed to be the parliament for the time being and the members of the dissolved parliament shall be deemed to be the members of the recalled parliament. Recalling of parliament does not stop elections from being held at the date proclaimed by the King.

“… but the general election of members of the National Assembly shall proceed and the recalled Parliament shall, if not sooner dissolved, stand dissolved on the day immediately preceding the day fixed for such general election or, if more than one such day, the first of such days.” Majoro also indicated that the government was under pressure from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other development partners to pass the Omnibus Bill. He stressed that parliament can only be recalled when there is war or a state of emergency. The constitution explains how a state of emergency can be declared.

Section 23 of the constitution, titled: Declaration of emergency, states that in time of war or “other public emergency which threatens the life of the nation”, the prime minister may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, declare a state of emergency. A public emergency as a threat to the life of the nation is defined by the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

This is an emergency that: (a) affects the whole of the population, and either the whole or part of the territory of the state; and, (b) threatens the physical integrity of the population, the political independence or the territorial integrity of the State or the existence or basic functioning of institutions that are indispensable in ensuring and protecting the rights recognised in the covenant. The Omnibus Bill, according to Professor Hoolo ’Nyane, head of department, public and environmental law department, University of Limpopo in South Africa, is not perfect but promises to arrest some of the long-standing constitutional problems.

These include the excessive powers of the prime minister, a judiciary that is controlled by the executive, politicised security agencies and a weak parliament. It was drafted by the National Reforms Authority (NRA) – an institution established by an Act of parliament in 2019 to manage, coordinate, and lead the reform process. NRA’s term expired at the end of April this year and the government decided not to renew its mandate.

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