31 December 2017

Lesotho: Reforms to Top Govt's 2018 Agenda

THE envisaged multi-sectoral reforms will top the government's priority list for 2018 and will be implemented "whether the opposition likes it or not".

This is according to Communications Minister Joang Molapo, who also asserted that the government would not be "held hostage" by the opposition's "irresponsible" demands for their participatin in the implementation of reforms.

In response, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) spokesperson, Teboho Sekata says the government is "dreaming" if they think they can implement the reforms without the opposition.

The National Assembly is expected to reconvene on 17 January 2018 to debate on the modalities of implementing a slew of security sector, constitutional, legislative, media and judiciary sector reforms among others to stem the perennial instability in the Mountain Kingdom.

Cabinet has approved a draft roadmap meant to kick-start a multi-stakeholder process to agree on the implementation of the reforms.

However, the opposition parties have vowed to boycott the reforms, having accused the government of persecuting their leaders and meddling in the affairs of the judiciary.

LCD leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, has already stated that he and other opposition leaders in exile will boycott the reforms process unless the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) which recommended the reforms process guarantees their security.

Mr Metsing penned a letter to the government stating that he would not return to Lesotho for the proposed Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Reforms because he viewed the government's invitation for his participation as merely a ploy to "lure" him to his death.

Mr Metsing, his LCD deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi and Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, fled to South Africa separately in August this year.

The trio skipped the country citing tip-offs from "trusted sources" about plots to assassinate them and alleged persecution by the government.

However, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led four-party coalition government has since rubbished the allegations, saying they would not achieve anything in persecuting the opposition.

Mr Metsing is facing extradition by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) after he ignored a call to appear in court earlier this month to answer for a corruption charge.

The DC, which is the largest opposition party, has also threatened to boycott the reforms process after accusing the government of meddling in the judiciary with its call for Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara to either resign or face an impeachment tribunal for alleged corruption over her controversial M27 000 per month house rental deal.

The chief justice is legally entitled to a M4 000 monthly housing allowance. The M27 000 being paid for her rented house is thus about seven times more than her legally allowable limit.

The DC has described the call for Justice Majara to resign as a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary hence their threat to boycott the reforms.

In an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times, Chief Molapo said the reforms would not be derailed by the opposition's "tactics and games".

"We are not going to be held back by a few people who have chosen to skip the country just because they do not want to adhere to the rule of law," he said.

"Some of them, like Ntate Mokhothu, don't even know why they fled. Even if you were to ask him why he fled the country, I can assure you that he doesn't have the answer to that. He just wanted sympathy over nothing."

Chief Molapo indicated that the government wanted the reforms to be inclusive, but would proceed if there was no buy-in from the opposition.

"We want the reforms to be inclusive. But we can't be held back by the opposition just because their leaders have decided to flee and are enjoying their stay in a foreign country.

"We are going to work on the reforms with or without them."

He said the call to the exiled leaders to participate in the reforms process did not preclude them from prosecution for crimes that they were implicated.

The DCEO had been probing Mr Metsing over suspicious deposits that were made into his bank accounts three years ago. The investigation was launched in light of suspicious deposits into Mr Metsing's bank accounts between 2013 and 2014.

Mr Metsing allegedly received M328 000 and M118 000 between April 2013 and June 2013. A deposit of M524 964 into one of his accounts was also not explained.

This was after the controversial allocation of a M120 million tender to a company known as Big Bravo Construction Company for the construction of roads in the Ha-Matala and Ha-Leqele villages of Maseru.

Big Bravo Construction was engaged for the upgrading of Matala Phase One and Matala to Ha Leqele Bus Stop roads in 2014.

The company is alleged to have won the tender at Mr Metsing's instigation. It nonetheless was accused of doing shoddy work and leaving road works uncompleted about two months before the contract ended in 2015.

The company was awarded the M120 million tender in what competitors alleged could have been a fraudulent process.

The alleged dubious deposits into Mr Metsing's bank accounts happened at a time when Mr Metsing was local government minister and deputy prime minister in the tripartite coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in 2014.

For his part, Mr Mokhosi was charged with Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng's murder along with four police officers. He has since fled the country claiming an "assassination plot" after being granted bail.

"Ntate Metsing and Mokhosi know very well that they have cases to answer to, and even if we have extended to them an olive branch for their return with promises of their security, it doesn't mean they are acquitted. They will still face the police and the courts of law as it should be."

Mr Sekata was equally bellicose in his response, saying the government will not make progress without the opposition.

"Talk is cheap and I think this is just one of their wild dreams," he said. "Let them dream on, it's okay to dream, but they are just lying when they say they will implement the reforms without the right numbers. "They don't command a two thirds majority of parliamentary seats and this means they can't implement the reforms without us."

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