MASERU – In a sensational revelation that could harden simmering tensions in the fractious All Basotho Convention (ABC), party bosses this week said they had thwarted a plot by rebel MPs to vote against the national budget in a bid to topple government.
Saxonian Ntsekele, Secretary general of the National Executive Committee (NEC) that is clinging on to power after losing a watershed poll this month, confirmed the plot, but added the rebellious cabal had been whipped into line.
Ntsekele admitted some MPs had threatened to ratchet up pressure on their leader Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and government by threatening to vote against next financial year’s budget.
But Fako Moshoeshoe, ABC MP for Mabote who is also chairperson of the ABC caucus in Parliament vehemently denied the rebellion.
The threat – which could in theory topple Thabane and even bring down the government – has not been made publicly, but was briefed to Public Eye by insiders who confirmed that there was a plan to vote against the budget.
According to insiders, the disgruntled MPs felt Thabane and the losing NEC were blocking the victors from assuming office, hence the threat to vote against government, triggering a governmental crisis.
In a Westminster system of government like Lesotho’s, budget votes are considered affirmations of confidence in government, and a defeat could fatally weaken Prime Minister’s position and would also possibly prompt a motion of no confidence.
Parliament will re-open next Friday, with finance minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro expected to deliver his 2019/2020 budget speech soon after that. This will be Majoro’s third address since he was appointed finance minister in 2017.
When confronted with this information, Ntsekele told Public Eye on Tuesday this week that indeed there were some party MPs who were plotting to vote against the budget but “their plan was exposed and those MPs were called to order”.
Ntsekele who is also minister of water said: “We are aware of such plotting. Those MPs were called to order and some of them have apologised.”
He, however, would not disclose the names of those MPs who allegedly admitted plotting against their party, and said to have recanted and apologised.
Asked if he was certain that there will be no ABC MPs voting against the budget Ntsekele said: “I cannot commit myself. Like I have said, some have apologised but I cannot confirm whether their apologies were truly genuine.”
He indicated that despite apologising, those MPs may still “follow their conscience” to vote and not toe the party line.
These allegations were rebutted by Moshoeshoe on Wednesday.
“I would have known as a chairperson if there were MPs who wanted to vote against the budget but later backtracked and apologised. Who did they apologise to? How does Ntsekele know about this issue when he has nothing to do with MPs? I think he is just pushing propaganda,” he said.
But yesterday some of the MPs insisted that they would vote against the budget, contradicting Ntsekele.
“Let us wait until parliament is re-opened on March 1 and see what will happen. We are not going to argue with Ntsekele. Actions speak louder than words,” the MPs said.
These latest remarks apparently annoyed Ntsekele. He told Public Eye yesterday that he cannot keep reacting to claims made by anonymous MPs.
“I am saying these MPs apologised. Anyone who still insists that they did not apologise must take their mask off so that we can engage with each other fairly,” he said.
On Thursday Ntsekele called a press conference which was supposed to be addressed by Thabane. All ABC MPs were invited to the presser which was cancelled at the 11th hour.
Ntsekele said it was cancelled because Thabane had an emergency he had to attend to while some MPs said it was cancelled because most of them would have boycotted it.
Machesetsa Mofomobe, deputy minister of home affairs and spokesperson of the Basotho National Party (BNP) on Monday confirmed the rebellion.
Mofomobe said he was informed of the plan by an ABC MP who tried in vain to beseech him to support the idea.
ABC, BNP, Alliance of Democrats (AD) led by Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) form the country’s current third coalition government, stitched together in June 2017 after snap election held on June 3.
AD spokesman Thuso Litjobo who is also an MP said his party only learnt about “the rumours” that there was a conspiracy to vote against the budget on social media.
“None of our MPs have been approached by the said lobbyists,” Litjobo said.
He further warned that voting against the budget was tantamount to an attempt to unseat the government and vowed that AD MPs would never collapse their own government.
Teboho Sekata, spokesperson of opposition party Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), told this paper on Tuesday that opposition parties were mulling to block the budget but said no ABC MPs were part of this plan.
“We will vote against that budget if it does not address striking teachers’ demands. We cannot continue acting like its business as usual yet teachers are on strike and they made their demands to government very long time ago.
“I am not even aware that there some government MPs who wanted to vote against the budget,” he added.
The ABC is growing more and more divided after its elective congress that was held on February 1 and 2 in Maseru. Ahead of the conference, the party was tearing itself apart through factional battles over who was to deputise Thabane.
Some wanted National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao to take over from Public Works and Transport Minister Prince Maliehe, while another bloc wanted Finance Minister Majoro, and yet more pitched for Motlohi Maliehe.
Prince Maliehe was the fourth candidate.
It was an intense battle that nearly saw Mahao expelled from the party for suing it but in the end, Prince Maliehe, Motlohi Maliehe and Majoro did not have enough support, paving the way for Mahao to the top them.
But it was in the boardroom that the battles continued and the outgoing NEC decided to lock Mahao and the whole incoming NEC out of office claiming that the elective conference was still ongoing until officially closed by the party’s leader Thabane.
On Monday last week Thabane wrote to reassure party members that the conference would officially be closed and reins handed over to the incoming NEC as soon as complaints related to leadership elections had been dealt with.
On the same day, Trade and Industry Minister Habofanoe Lehana, Mining Minister Keketso Sello and Mohapi Mohapinyane – an MP for Rothe – lodged an application in the High Court challenging the election results.
The trio wanted the court to nullify the results and order fresh polls on the grounds that there were serious irregularities which had affected the credibility of the elections.
Having called Mahao a rug that must never be elected to lead ABC, Thabane has sparked speculation that he is sympathetic to the cause of the party’s old guard which seems unable to accept Mahao and his colleagues’ poll victory.
The high court interdicted in the interim the incoming NEC from exercising its authority.
Incoming secretary general Lebohang Hlaele and incoming deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti were sacked from cabinet on Monday in a surprise second cabinet reshuffle in less than a month.
Hloale was minister of law and constitutional affairs while Doti was minister of social development. Both of them were allegedly firmly in the camp of Mahao in the run-up to the elective conference.