Lesotho: MPs Reject Six Months State of Emergency

The leader of the National Assembly, Monyane Moleleki, has been forced to temporarily withdraw a motion to declare a six months state of emergency after opposition members questioned the wisdom behind the move.

Mr Moleleki, who is also the deputy prime minister, gave in to opposition parliamentarians who called for wider consultations before the motion could be deliberated in the house.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had earlier requested that the house approves a six months state of emergency as part of efforts to fight the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This after the last 14-day state of emergency ended on Tuesday.

"The current state of emergency ends today (Tuesday) but the danger we are facing against COVID-19 is more than we could ever imagine," Mr Thabane had said.

"For that reason, it would be advisable to continue the efforts to protect the people from the virus. According to section 23 of the Constitution of 1993, the power to extend the state of emergency against this disease lies with the parliament.

"I therefore request this august House to approve the extension of the state of emergency against COVID-19 for six months. This will help the government to take appropriate measures to fight the virus while we gradually lift the lockdown to restore normalcy."

And Mr Moleleki followed up on the prime minister's request by proposing a motion for the house to approve the six months state of emergency.

"I move a motion that this honourable house approves the state of emergency declared by the Right Honorable the Prime Minister in legal notice number 37 pursuant to section 23 of the Constitution and such declaration shall remain in force for a period of six months effective from the 29 April 2020," Mr Moleleki said.

He said the motion was important and advised the house against opposing it as the government had the option of effecting recurrent 14-day states of emergency for six months.

However, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane opposed the motion saying the government should instead use the Disaster Management Act to declare a state of disaster in the fight against the possible spread of COVID-19.

"I do not support this motion mainly because we have the Disaster Management Act which gives the prime minster the power to declare a disaster since the coronavirus is a disaster," Adv Rakuoane said.

He accused Mr Thabane of pushing a political agenda through the declaration of a state of emergency. He said the declaration of a state of emergency had political connotations given the recent deployment of the army around Maseru by Mr Thabane. The premier deployed the army on 18 April 2020 claiming the move was necessary to deal with what he called rogue elements bent on destabilising his government. The soldiers however, returned to their barracks later that day.

"The state of emergency has a lot of political connotations to it. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

"The declaration of a disaster, according to the Disaster Management Act, does not need the approval of this house and I fail to understand why the government is opting for the state of emergency while it has such a potent instrument in the name of the Disaster Management Act."

According to the Disaster Management Act, the prime minister only requires the advice of the Disaster Management Authority to declare a state of disaster.

The All Basotho Convention's Mokhotlong legislator, Tefo Mapesela, instead said parliament should defer the deliberations on the motion until members have had time to discuss it outside the house.

"Given the sensitivity of the issue, ... I refer to Standing Order Number 41 to defer the debate on this motion and allow consultations so that we may come to an agreement as the house," Mr Mapesela said.

Deputy speaker Teboho Lehloenya then gave the members a 30-minute break for consultations. Mr Moleleki withdrew the motion when the house re-convened promising to re-table it yesterday. However, that did not happen.

Main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu said the declaration of state of disaster was less susceptible to political manipulation unlike a state of emergency.

Mr Mokhothu suggested that Mr Thabane's declaration of the state of emergency and subsequent prorogation of parliament was more to dodge his political demise than to control the spread of COVID-19. Mr Thabane had prorogued parliament from 20 March to 19 June 2020. However, the decision was nullified by the courts.

Mr Mokhothu said the state of emergency had already abused by the prime minister to justified the prorogation of parliament.

He said the Disaster Management Act of 1997 was more appropriate because "it is not as prone to political manipulation as the state of emergency".

"It can be recalled that the state of emergency was used to prorogue parliament. The (prorogation) was odd especially when none of the affected countries had not prorogued their parliaments.

"Unlike the state of emergency, the Disaster Management Act does not need the use of armed forces to enforce restrictions... ," Mr Mokhothu said.

Mr Mokhothu said it was disappointing that after the 21 days of the state of emergency, the government had still not made any progress in implementing its promises to provide financial and food support to the citizens.

More From: Lesotho Times

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