Lesotho: Tempers Flare in Parly After Chief Theko Attacks Thabane

19 November 2019

Tempers flared in parliament this week when outspoken Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, accused Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his coalition partners of prioritising their entertainment in lavish foreign trips instead of driving the crucial multi-sector reforms process which has hitherto proceeded at a snail's pace.

The constitutional, security sector, judicial, media and governance reforms were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016 to foster long term stability in the Kingdom. But Lesotho has already missed SADC's May 2019 deadline for the full implementation of the reforms.

Chief Theko, who has consistently called for the ouster of Dr Thabane for allegedly fuelling divisions in his All Basotho Convention (ABC), drew the ire of Basotho National Party (BNP) leader and Communications minister, Thesele 'Maseribane, who begged to differ with the outspoken chief's perspectives.

The heated exchanges happened during a joint sitting of the senate and national assembly in Maseru on Tuesday. The two houses jointly met to receive input reports from the country's 10 districts about what ordinary people want to see included in the reforms. The reports were presented by the National Leaders' Forum (NLF), which comprises of leaders of political leaders, traditional and religious leaders. The NLF is partly tasked with establishing consensus on the reforms. A subcommittee of the NFL was involved in sourcing input from the districts.

The reforms process continues to move at a snail's pace. The NLF only met a fortnight ago to review reports from the in-district consultations that ended in May 2019. The consultations were conducted to ensure that Basotho of all backgrounds were afforded the opportunity to input the reforms. The NLF met while Dr Thabane was away in Canada for the Canada- Africa Business Forum.

Chief Theko said the only reason why the reforms were moving at a snail's pace was because the current coalition government was more focused on "entertaining themselves" as evidenced by the Prime Minister and his ministers and officials continuing to lavish themselves with cushy foreign trips.

"How many times have the South African people leading the reforms come into this country and found our leadership not ready? Is it the executive's blame that they are not taking this (reforms) issue seriously," Chief Theko asked rhetorically.

"You have a prime minister who will go to Canada for cannabis issues and you will have his deputy (Monyane Moleleki) going to the inauguration of the Botswana president, leaving behind the issues of reforms when the SADC facilitators are in this country.

"Let us face the truth and stop hiding behind non-issues. Let us have the deputy prime minister stand up and respond to this. What is the most important issue for him right now? Is it the governance issue and making sure that reforms are successful or is it for them to entertain themselves and go wherever they want to and not prioritising this (reforms) exercise? Let us not be deceived. It is this government that has delayed (the reforms) and no one else," Chief Theko said to a rapturous response from senators and opposition legislators who banged on their desks.

All the while, Mr Moleleki sat quietly between Chief 'Maseribane and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Motlohi Maliehe.

Chief Theko drew the ire of Chief 'Maseribane who interjected him and asked to respond on the government's behalf. Chief 'Maseribane said there was nothing wrong with government leaders going on investment and reciprocal foreign trips. For instance, Mr Moleleki attended the inauguration of Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi because the latter's government had attended Dr Thabane's June 2017 inauguration.

Chief 'Maseribane said it was not only the government that had caused delays. Even opposition leaders had delayed submitting their input reports for collation alongside the input from the districts.

The reports from the districts were compiled by a subcommittee of the NFL, the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) and a team of experts.

Some members of parliament and senators however, demanded raw copies of the reports from the districts, saying there were some "questionable" contents in the summarized reports given to them by the NFL and the LCN. They did not believe the summarized reports were fully representative of the views from the districts.

Chief Khoabane and other principal chiefs, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso (Matsieng), Peete Lesaoana Peete (Koeneng) and Joel Motšoeneng (Leribe) were among senators who demanded raw reports from the district consultations.

They questioned the authenticity of the reports they were given and suggested that the LCN and the NFL sub-committee could not have been objective when they summarised the views of Basotho gathered through the in-district consultations.

Chief 'Maseribane insisted it was unfair for only the government to be blamed yet the opposition was also party to the delays. But he spoke amid spirited interjections from opposition parliamentarians who refused to accept any blame for the delays.

The unrelenting Chief 'Maseribane insisted, "The record is very clear, I was there (at the recent National Leaders' Forum) representing the government and I was not embarrassed to stand and tell the whole world that the government requests more time to prepare itself".

"The opposition was represented by Ntate Rakuoane (Lekhetho) and it is on record that they said they cannot give their concept paper. Let us be honest, we (government) are now making amends (for the delays). Allow me to make a point that we are here to make amends and we are not here to point fingers at each other."

A defiant Teboho Sekata, the spokesman of the LCD, had been shouting and banging his desk demanding a chance to speak, prompting the chairperson of the joint sitting, Pelele Letsoela, of the Basotho Democratic National Party (BNDP) to plead with Chief 'Maseribane to allow Mr Sekata to speak.

Mr Letsoela's appeal however, fell on deaf ears as an equally defiant Chief 'Maseribane refused to sit down.

"I am also showing that I am able to stand my ground. I will speak only the truth. Yes the Canadian trip took place and yes the Botswana trip took place. A president was inaugurated in Botswana and there is nothing wrong with the Lesotho leadership going there because they (Botswana leaders) were here when the prime minister was inaugurated (in June 2017). I represented the government on the reforms so let me speak.

"These are my knees and you will not tell me to sit down. I am explaining an issue here," Chief Maseribane said while looking intently at Democratic Congress legislator, Khati Rapitso, and Basotho Congress Party leader, Thulo Mahlakeng.

The visibly irritated Chief Maseribane then charged towards Mr Rapitso and Advocate Mahlakeng. As he was approaching their table, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Lekhetho Rakuoane, defused the situation by extending his hand and pulling Chief Maseribane to the seat next to his.

Chief Maseribane then agreed to sit next to Advocate Rakuoane thus diffusing the potentially explosive situation. It was not immediately clear what Mr Rapitso and Advocate Mahlakeng had said to incense Chief Maseribane so much as their microphones were switched off. The Lesotho Times has since established that Chief Maseribane had been angered by one of the opposition legislators' claim that the government leaders were enriching themselves through the fledgling medical cannabis industry.

About an hour and 45 minutes later, the situation returned to normal and proceedings went on smoothly.

Before that, BNDP leader Mr Letsoela, who is not a legislator, had threatened to leave parliament if the lawmakers continued to be rowdy.

"Are you refusing to grant us an opportunity to make our presentations? We are only visitors here and I am begging you and let me tell you honourables, if you reject our request, we will take our things and leave. I am telling those that refusing to be guided by us when we are here to assist you that we will take our things and go," Mr Letsoela said.

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