MASERU – It’s a cold Tuesday morning, those in the city are recovering from the cold days which had been worsened by the recent snowfall. It has just clocked 10 o’clock in the morning and most working people have long settled in their places of work and it gets serious.
In progress at the ’Manthabiseng National Convention Centre is the 13th Ordinary Meeting of one of the highest decision making bodies in the country, the National Reforms Authority (NRA). The authority is meeting to validate numerous constitutional amendments and Bills in preparation for their submission to parliament to be passed into laws. The NRA is a 59-member body, a large chunk of which are politicians from 35 political parties.
The body was established to succeed the National Dialogue Planning Committee (NDPC) so as to implement, manage, coordinate, and lead the implementation of the multi-sectoral reforms recommended by the South African Development Community (SADC). SADC in 2016 recommended reforms on seven thematic areas in a bid to find lasting peace and stability for a country rocked by political disturbances.
Despite its weight, Tuesday’s meeting followed a pattern of the normal (day-to-day) sittings of the authority which are characterised by late coming wherein meeting in most instances waited until those present can at least form a quorum so as to effectively make resolutions. Only five members had entered the venue at the expected start time of 10 o’clock in the morning, but the real business only started an hour later (11 o’clock) and when the function eventually starts, Chairperson Chief Pelele Letsoela addresses three issues in his opening remarks.
He tells members that arrangements are being made for the rest of them to get vaccinated after some of them were unable to get their jabs when the Ministry of Health made arrangements for them to vaccinate. Letsoela said a few members were present with the majority being the secretariat. He, however, said there are still unvaccinated members and undertook to work with the NRA Chief Executive to arrange with the ministry for their vaccination. Also, Letsoela raised concern about the rate of absenteeism at some of the authority’s meetings and stated that it is a serious concern to their work.
He noted that there were two occasions when members’ absenteeism was among motions to be discussed and a resolution was made that rules and guiding regulations with regard to the failure to report for duty be implemented. While no action has to date been taken against members who disappeared and continue to disappear during meetings, Chief Letsoela said members should be aware of the existing guidelines with regard to members who disappear from work. He said the responsible committee is determined to revisit the guidelines and ensure their implementation.
In the meantime, members are to ask for permission from the chairperson before absenting themselves and their absence should not exceed two days. He also noted that absenteeism on account of sickness should be accompanied by a sick note. The chairperson also announced that government has agreed to pay members’ gratuity at 25 percent at the end of their job. This followed request by members and duly placing it before government.
He read an August 17 letter from law, justice and constitutional affairs minister, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, which states that government has acceded to the request. He told the sitting that the minister said the government will work on a legal instrument to effect the gratuities in due course but that such gratuities will apply to only members who are not getting government salaries.
This particular issue raised prompted debate among members with some saying the fact that their current salaries have not been gazetted might cause challenges when the ministry prepares a legal instrument about gratuities. In fact, some suggested that they be paid the gratuities for the time already spent while they await a decision on the extension of their mandate.
Metsing said “as it stands we get paid by just a gentleman’s agreement and that is likely to cause problems because Auditor General will query an attempt to gazette the gratuity.” They subsequently agreed that the issues of salaries and gratuities should not be discussed in the presence of other people, including the media. Letsoela concurred and said “Ha re se keng ra tsosa libata masene pele re ekeletsoa nako” (roughly translated to mean let’s not make them wiser before we get an extension).
The NRA’s mandate expires at the end of the month but the recent SADC Summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, recommended a six months’ extension running from October 30 until April 30, 2022. No reason was given for the extension but the Summit urged Lesotho to expedite completion of the reforms. The Summit communiqué states, “Summit also urged the Kingdom of Lesotho to expedite completion of the ongoing reforms, and to continue with peace, transitional justice and reconciliation process to engender national unity, and bring about national healing and cohesion.”
On the day (Tuesday) some of the constitutional amendments looked into were floor crossing, appointment of the prime minister and other government ministers, appointment of permanent principal secretaries, establishment of the anti-corruption commission and national security council, to mention a few. It has also been proposed that floor crossing can only happen three years after elections in a bid to bring stability to governments and that in effecting the crossing, the Speaker of parliament will give a 15-day notice to parliamentarians who wish to cross the floor.
It is said those who wish to cross before the three-year period or after the Speaker has made the announcement will need to voluntarily vacate their seat so a by-election can be held in their constituencies. Proportional Representation (PR) members shall not be allowed to cross. However, one of the members, Sebonomoea Ratabane Ramainoanoe, expressed concern that the amendments seem not to have complied with a decision in the Plenary II report which states that possibilities of Members of Parliament (MP) not being members of the executive be explored.
On the appointment of a prime minister, he/she shall remain to be a leader that enjoys a majority but in the case where there is no outright winner, MPs will meet to elect the name of the prime minister so it can be submitted to the Council of state. A proposal has also been made that the number of ministers and deputies should not exceed 12 percent of the total number of members of parliament. Apart from the establishment of the new institutions there are plans to boost autonomy of institutions like the office of the Auditor General with a recommendation that it should be accountable to parliament.