. . . as crunch upper house meeting set for Tuesday
THE Democratic Congress (DC) has waded into the battle for the presidency of the Senate, with the opposition party urging contenders for the post to give way to Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso who is seeking a new term.
The DC has also called for reforms in the administration of the Senate, accusing the government of making the upper house “a battleground for politicians”.
The former governing party has also accused All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane of nepotism in nominating his son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele, as a senator.
In their response, the governing parties say they have already committed to effecting comprehensive reforms of various sectors in the country including the legislature.
The ABC has also scoffed at the allegation of nepotism, saying Mr Hlaele had every right to be nominated for the Senate since he was also the party’s deputy secretary-general.
King Letsie III scheduled a special Senate meeting to elect the upper house’s president, vice-president and swearing-in members to Tuesday this week. This is according to a government gazette issued on Thursday and titled “Meeting of the Senate”.
Lesotho is a bicameral parliamentary system, with two legislative bodies or chambers. The first of these bodies is the National Assembly, which comprises elected members of parliament and proportional representative legislators.
The second of these bodies is the Senate, constituted by 22 principal chiefs and 11 members nominated by His Majesty, acting on the advice of the Council of State.
While the Senate’s powers appear limited, the body is, however very powerful as it can block legislation passed by the National Assembly.
The date for the special Senate meeting had been postponed three times before, at the 11th hour, amid allegations the delay was meant to allow the coalition government to weigh in on the candidate for the presidency.
It was initially scheduled for 21 June 2017, before being abruptly postponed to 29 June 2017. That date was also changed at the 11th hour to 4 July 2017 before being postponed again.
The special meeting is normally held a week after the National Assembly’s first meeting to enable the appointment of ministers and deputy ministers chosen from the upper house.
Dr Thabane was inaugurated on 16 June 2017, with 22 ministers and four deputy ministers sworn-in a week later from the National Assembly.
However, ministers for the portfolios of Home Affairs, Police and Public Safety, Tourism, Environment and Culture as well as Energy and Meteorology are yet to be appointed from the Senate.
Sources privy to the goings on in the upper house told the Sunday Express’s sister publication Lesotho Times that the postponement was also meant to give Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso time to canvass for enough votes to retain the position in light of expected stiff competition from other principal chiefs.
Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso told the publication he was indeed working to retain the post but was unaware of the reasons for the postponement. Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso is also the principal chief of Matsieng and King Letsie III’s younger brother.
Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief Khoabane Theko and Likhoele Principal Chief Lerotholi Seeiso are among the principal chiefs tipped to contest for the seat.
Chief Theko has since denied campaigning for the post, but accused the government of orchestrating the postponements claiming they had a “preferred candidate” for the Senate presidency without specifying the name.
DC spokesperson Serialong Qoo told this publication in an interview yesterday that the party’s view was for Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso to be re-elected unchallenged.
“We call upon all the other chiefs contesting for the Senate presidency to withdraw their candidature because the incumbent is a prince and therefore their senior,” he said.
“In any case, the Senate is a house of chiefs and not politicians.”
Mr Qoo said the Senate was being used for political gamesmanship by the governing parties, adding that the upper house’s operations needed to be reformed.
“We call for reforms in the administration of the Senate since politicians are turning the upper house into an arena for power battles.
“The Senate is now also being used by those in power to give jobs to their family members.”
He said they were keen to hear Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s reaction to Mr Hlaele’s nomination to the Senate. Mr Moleleki left the DC last November to found the AD after falling out with party leader and former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.
“When Ntate Moleleki left the DC he said the party leader (Dr Mosisili) was corrupt and nepotistic,” Mr Qoo said.
“We are now waiting to see how he will react now that the prime minister has nominated his son-in-law to be a senator. We are not really surprised because he did the same thing in 2012 by nominating another relative.”
Responding to Mr Qoo’s remarks, AD deputy spokesperson Matšana Masiphole said the DC was comparing apples with oranges.
“What the DC is saying is baseless because Ntate Hlaele is a politician in his own right, unlike Ntate Mosisili’s kids who had never been in politics before,” he said.
“There is nothing amiss about Ntate Thabane nominating the deputy secretary-general of his party to the Senate or even appointing him a minister if he chooses to do so.”
ABC Secretary-General Samonyane Ntsekele yesterday told this paper reforming the legislature and other key sectors of the country was already in the pipeline.
“As a country, we have realised the need for reforms across all sectors including the Senate,” he said.
“The identified loopholes in the Senate will be reformed, although we will be mindful of the fact that Lesotho is a monarchy.”
On the allegation of nepotism, Mr Ntsekele said Mr Hlaele had every right to be nominated since he was a member of the ABC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) member.
“Ntate Hlaele might be the prime minister’s son-in-law, but he is also an NEC member and my deputy in the party.
“So, he has a right to take up any position that is given to him.”
Prominent political analyst, Mafa Sejanamane, said the DC had no “moral standing” to lecture the government on the Senate nominations.
“We are about to enter the reforms process for various political sectors that will also encompass the Senate. The reforms are meant to ensure the legislature functions properly,” he said.
“The Senate is premised on having traditional leaders with some commoners who are nominated to the upper house for their skills.
Prof Sejanamane added: “The DC does not have the moral standing to complain about the people nominated for the Senate based on the calibre of people they brought into the upper house after attaining power in 2015.
“It was pure patronage. Some of them could hardly read.”