IEC calls for transfer of Special Projects department
. . . argues that perception of vote buying tainting polls
THE Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has called on the Special Projects department in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s Office to be transferred to an outside agency for the duration of the elections campaign period “to eliminate any perception of unfair practice”.
The missive from the electoral body comes amid an acrimonious back and forth debacle between the IEC and Dr Thabane’s office, after the former ordered the premier to stop offering gifts to villagers around the country ahead of the 28 February 2015 snap election.
The order came shortly after the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) lodged a complaint with the commission, in a letter dated 16 December 2014, alleging that Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) and its coalition partner, the Basotho National Party, had breached electoral laws by using state resources for campaigning.
Dr Thabane had then warned the IEC not to “provoke” him, arguing that he was merely helping the needy.
In an escalation of the tiff, newly-appointed Principal Secretary for Cabinet Administration, Mothabathe Hlalele, accused the IEC – in an interview with the Lesotho Times – of “snooping” on the programmes being run by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr Hlalele said he was “perturbed” by the manner the IEC had been addressing complaints levelled against the Special Projects department in the premier’s office “by disgruntled politicians”.
“What is surprising is that we have been issuing food parcels to Basotho even before it was announced we were going for elections. But today there are attempts to stop the Prime Minister’s Office from performing its functions effectively,” Mr Hlalele said.
“They claim that we are buying votes when in actual fact we are providing much-needed food aid to the needy.”
However, in a response to Mr Hlalele’s allegations dated 16 January 2015, IEC Commissioner Makase Nyaphisi said the perception of vote buying, which was being made by the PM’s Office’s offering of gifts, had the potential of undermining “what already is a delicate electoral process”.
“The IEC would have no objection if the food parcels were being distributed through an appropriate government or non-government agency,” Dr Nyaphisi said.
“But the fact that the Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister’s wife are directly and publicly involved gives the programme an inescapable political taint.
“If the PM’s Office wishes to continue with the food hand out programme, we respectfully suggest it transfers the resources to an outside agency for the duration of the campaign.”
Dr Nyaphisi said it was normal and acceptable in any democracy for a government to provide aid to marginalised groups or depressed communities, adding that “governing political parties in all democracies often deliver resources to certain communities to boost their standing among voters”.
“But equally, in nations where the democratic process is sacrosanct, it is accepted that such programmes be suspended during election campaigns to eliminate any perception of unfair practice,” he said.
Contrary to allegations the IEC is “snooping” on the Prime Minister’s office, Dr Nyaphisi said, the IEC was working hard “to give Lesotho and Basotho a credible, transparent, free and fair election our nation needs and deserves”.
“The use of the word ‘snooping’ in the context of our detractor’s (Mr Hlalele) article reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of that word,” said Dr Nyaphisi.
“The information we received was not a result of investigating or looking around furtively in an attempt to discover what the Prime Minister’s Office is doing.
“The information came to the IEC through the Monitoring Committee, the legislative organ formed by the political parties to bring untoward activities which my taint the electoral process to IEC during the election period.”
Meanwhile, the premier’s wife Liabiloe ‘MaIsaiah Thabane, who headed the Special Projects department in her husband’s office, has since been barred from continuing with her activities, following a High Court ruling last Wednesday which instated Dr Thabane’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Alice Thabane, as the country’s official First Lady, pending the finalisation of their divorce case.
As a result of Justice Molefi Makara’s ruling, Liabiloe can no longer be able to perform “any functions and exercising any rights vested in the applicant (Lipolelo) as the First Spouse in terms of Act 10 of 2011.”