16 June 2018

Lesotho: We Have Stabilised the Country - Thabane

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane says his government has done well to ensure peace and stability since winning power in June last year.

But the biggest challenges facing his administration included reforming the judiciary to effectively administer justice as well as reviving the economy to create jobs and improve the welfare of all Basotho.

Dr Thabane said this in a wide-ranging interview with the Lesotho Times to mark his coalition's first full year in office after it won snap elections on June 3 2017.

The Prime Minister took the oath office on 16 June 2017 at the head of a four party coalition government, marking his second return to the coveted office from which he had been toppled by long term ruler Pakalitha Mosisili about two and a half years earlier. Dr Thabane had vowed to end the lawlessness that had gripped Lesotho under his predecessor as well as revive the economy and create jobs for Basotho.

Dr Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC) forged a coalition with Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD), the Thesele Maseribane-led Basotho National Party (BNP) and Keke Rantšo's Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) to form government, replacing Dr Mosisili's seven parties' coalition.

Reflecting on the achievements and challenges of his government one year on, in the interview this week, Dr Thabane said his government had made huge strides in restoring peace and stability which had been decimated during the tenure of the previous administration.

He nonetheless complained that his government's efforts at ensuring justice continued to be hamstrung by an "ineffective judiciary", adding there was a need for leadership change in the judiciary.

"Currently, there is peace and stability in the country. You can drive your car freely and no one will carjack you on our roads," Dr Thabane said, adding, that citizens could enjoy their civil liberties in complete freedom as long as they did not infringe on others' rights to enjoy theirs.

"You can do what you want and as long as it is lawful, nobody will bother you. Anyone who does anything unlawful gets arrested and goes to court."

He, however, said that the justice system was in a state of paralysis caused by staff shortages and poor leadership. He said the chief justice Nthomeng Majara had to make way for someone who will ensure that criminal suspects are speedily brought before the courts for trial.

"There is a serious need to restore the proper management of the High Court because we have realised that there is huge interruption in the administration of justice.

"We have realised that there is a serious lack of leadership in the administration of justice under the watch of the current Chief Justice and that is why we are negotiating her exit.

"We have to find a Chief Justice who will make sure that offenders appear before the courts of law without any limitations."

Dr Thabane is currently embroiled in a court dispute with Justice Majara who wants the Constitutional Court to stop him from advising His Majesty King Letsie III to appoint a tribunal to impeach her over her alleged misconduct.

Justice Majara, among other things, faces allegations that she splurged nearly M30 000 on renting a home owned by a colleague yet she is only allowed a housing allowance of M4 000 monthly. Attempts to impeach her have also been resisted by a number of international organisations that have condemned them as blatant interference with the judiciary.

But Dr Thabane insisted the top judge was not being targeted because of politics but as a result of her "incompetence".

Dr Thabane said despite her court case, his government was in negotiations to achieve Chief Justice Majara's exit. These talks were not politically influenced or meant to pave the way for a specific candidate to take over, he said.

"We do not have a specific candidate to fill the gap after the exit of the current Chief Justice. The candidate will emerge in due course. Before then, the most senior candidate will act until the suitable candidate is discussed and agreed on by all the coalition partners."

Dr Thabane said it was likely to take longer than initially expected to get foreign judges to help in the backlog of cases because Lesotho was not the only African country that had staff shortages and huge case backlogs.

"The countries we approached to assist us to clear our backlog of cases are facing the same problem. Maybe one or two countries could assist us but I do not want to give inaccurate information at this stage because some countries could not commit their judges to help us while they are also facing the same problem," Dr Thabane said.

He said the revival of the economy to create jobs and improve the general welfare of Basotho remained a big challenge for his government.

"The biggest challenge facing the coalition government is to improve the country's economy."

His comments on the state of the economy are in sync with those of Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro who recently told the Lesotho Times that the economic situation remained precarious as international investors' skepticism about the government's ability to last its five-year term had affected the country's ability to attract new investments.

The advent of the new government had brought to an end the impunity and instability manifested in the commission of serious crimes by senior military officials under the previous regime. These included the assassination of former army commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015 and he killing of many other ordinary civilians by the army.

And while the new government had ushered relative stability, Dr Majoro said investors remained doubtful of its ability to last the distance.

He said the government had its work cut out in restoring confidence and growth as it inherited a weak "post conflict" economy with only M1, 5 billion in reserves down from M3, 5 billion in the 2015/2016 financial year.

"In a sense you could call 2015/16 a period of conflict. It was a period of confusion and divisions in society and now we are under-going a post-conflict situation where trust is slowly being restored but it will not happen in an instant," Dr Majoro recently said.

Dr Thabane also weighed in on the subject of former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, saying the government had no intentions of harming the opposition leader who fled to South Africa last August, citing a government inspired plot to assassinate him.

He said Mr Metsing was only making unfounded claims to gain sympathy when he had actually fled to avoid prosecution for corruption.

"We have never asked for Metsing to leave the country and we don't even know where he went and how he went there. Seriously, Mr Metsing is looking for sympathy and he is in a state of self-pity. We are an open government. He should just come back and discuss issues that bother him and maybe we can find common ground. But when he is out of the country we won't be able to assist him."

"Do you think there is something bad that I can do to Mr Metsing? He decided to run away when the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) called him for questioning.

"The government will give him financial support to pay a lawyer of his choice to represent him in court. He is free to come any day and anytime. He is completely free to come home but he is not completely free to avoid the police."

Asked whether the government was doing enough to publicise the multi-sector reforms processes to ensure the involvement of all stakeholders, Dr Thabane said the media had to play its part to ensure the success of the reforms.

"The media is the biggest platform for popularising government business. It is a two-way traffic where government crafts policies and the media reports on these to the nation.

"And if the media is not aggressive in investigating and gathering information, we will have a situation where the newspapers will always give shallow reports without facts.

"The media must be aggressive in terms of investigative journalism, asking relevant questions of the government and holding government accountable."

Dr Thabane said unlike the previous government which stifled the media, his administration had freed the media to report on any issue.

He however, accused the media of sleeping on the job by failing to extensively research and provide in-depth reportage on issues of national importance.

"I have removed the oppression and the media has to freely report on important issues. But the way the media in Lesotho is sleeping, one would even think of getting a powerful traditional healer to at least wake the media from its deep slumber. It is disappointing to have sleepy media like Lesotho has.

"If the media doesn't push the government and the legislators to pass laws to protect the media, then there will not be any progress. The media organisations that should be responsible for putting us under pressure are not doing anything. If the media pressurises them to act then you will get to see legislators doing their job," Dr Thabane said.

He said as the prime minister, he would refrain from arrogance and ensure the media had the necessary support to do its job of enlightening the nation.

Lesotho

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