THE four-party opposition says Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s disregard for the Council of State in agitating for elections was “tantamount to a coup d’état, adding they were waiting to see how the government would fund the 3 June 2017 elections given that there is no budgetary allocation for the polls.
The opposition bloc asserts the government cannot allocate funds for the snap elections given that Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane failed to table budgetary estimates for the 2017/8 financial year ahead of the no-confidence motion that toppled Dr Mosisili’s government.
They also cite Section 113 (b) of the constitution, which stipulates that: “no sums shall be so authorised to be withdrawn to meet expenditure on any head of expenditure in that financial year if no sums had been voted to meet expenditure on that head of expenditure in respect of the preceding financial year…”
However, Dr Mosisili’s Political and Economic Advisor, Dr Fako Likoti, has scoffed at the opposition alliance’s stance, saying it was unparliamentarily and exhibited a “serious deficit of knowledge about governance”.
King Letsie III dissolved parliament on 6 March after the passing of a no-confidence vote on the seven-party coalition government on 1 March 2017.
Dr Mosisili was toppled by a coalition consisting of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho after garnering the support of up to 74 MPs in the 120-member National Assembly, which just requires 61 seats to form government.
The opposition wanted to form government immediately after the passing of the no-confidence vote, having already nominated AD leader Monyane Moleleki to replace Dr Mosisili.
However, the premier advised His Majesty to dissolve parliament to facilitate the call for Lesotho’s third general elections in five years. Lesotho previously held snap polls in 2012 and 2015.
Despite the opposition bloc petitioning King Letsie III to reject the government’s advice and for the monarch to convene the Council of State, King Letsie III went on to dissolve parliament.
The Council of State advises the King on key constitutional functions including calling for elections. It consists of Dr Mosisili, National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai, High Court Justices ’Maseshophe Hlajoane and Lisebo Chaka–Makhooane, Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe, Lesotho Defence Force commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo, Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa, Law Society President Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, Principal Chief Mathealira Seeiso, ABC leader Thomas Thabane and BNP leader Thesele ’Maseribane.
Following the dissolution of parliament, the opposition bloc initially vowed to challenge it in the courts of law, but later changed tack saying they wanted to protect “the sanctity of the office of the King”.
Their new plan has been to threaten criminal prosecution against public servants who used public funds to facilitate the holding of elections without parliamentary approval.
AD spokesperson Teboho Lehloenya yesterday told the Sunday Express Dr Mosisili’s insistence on dissolving of parliament without the input of the Council of State was tantamount to a “coup d’état”.
He said Dr Mosisili lost his powers as a premier when he lost the no-confidence vote and thereby disregarded the constitution by agitating for the dissolution of parliament without the Council of State’s input.
“The prime minister lost his powers the minute we passed the no-confidence motion against him. He was not supposed to have solely advised for the dissolution of parliament,” Mr Lehloenya said.
“We take that action to have been equal to a coup d’état. We have already reported this issue as the first step of a coup to the SADC (Southern African Development Community) chairperson, (Swaziland’s King Mswati III) and the SADC Organ on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation (headed by Tanzania President John Magufuli).”
He said the opposition alliance was keen to see how the government would bankroll the elections without parliamentary approval. The four-party bloc has asserted that the 2016/2017 national budget had not made provisions for general elections, hence it was illegal for the government to make an advance expenditure for the polls.
“The second step of the coup is when the government goes ahead to allocate funds for a general election that was not budgeted for in the preceding financial year,” Mr Lehloenya said.
“What is also mindboggling about the outgoing government’s conduct is that the constitution provides for the use of public funds for up to one third of the preceding budget but there has not been any new budget presented to Parliament.”
Headlined “Authorisation of expenditure in advance of appropriation”, Section 113 provides that: “Parliament may make provision under which, if it appears to the Minister for the time being responsible for finance that the Appropriation Act for any financial year will not come into operation by the beginning of that financial year, he may authorise the withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund of moneys for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the government of Lesotho in respect of the period commencing with the beginning of that financial year and expiring four months thereafter or on the coming into operation of the Act, whichever is the earlier. . .”
Section 113 (a): “the moneys so authorised to be withdrawn in advance of the Appropriation Act for any financial year shall not exceed in total one-third of the sums included in the estimates of expenditure for the proceeding financial year that have been laid before the Assembly…”
He said the opposition alliance “strongly advised” the accountant-general and chief accounting officers of various government ministries against utilising public funds beyond the end of March. Lesotho’s financial years begin in April.
“The opposition recommends that public officers request their principals to issue them with written requests to approve the use of public funds to absolve themselves from being liable to prosecution when a new administration takes over,” said Mr Lehloenya.
Asked whether the opposition parties would contest in the elections given their determination to stop the government in its tracks, he said they were making preparations for the polls “as though all conditions are normal”.
“We want to see what course of action the government will take given that there is no parliamentary authorisation for the use of public funds,” Mr Lehloenya added.
When contacted by the Sunday Express, Ministry of Finance Principal Secretary Tom Mpeta curtly stated: “Please refer to Section 113 subsection (b) of the constitution.”
For his part, Dr Likoti dismissed the opposition’s stance, saying Mr Lehloenya should check his facts before making “unfounded” accusations against the prime minister.
He stressed that contrary to the opposition’s assertion, the Council of State only tendered its advice to the King “when it’s necessary”.
“Lehloenya is out of order by purporting that what has been done is a coup. Section 83 (4) (b) of the constitution is clear that in the event of the National Assembly passing no-confidence motion in the government, the prime minister can either resign or advice dissolution of parliament within three days. So, to say it is tantamount to a coup is very un-parliamentary. It is not expected of a person of that status to say such things,” Dr Likoti said.
Section 83 (4)(b) states that: “if the National Assembly passes a resolution of no confidence in the Government of Lesotho and the Prime Minister does not within three days thereafter either resign or advise a dissolution the King may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, dissolve Parliament . . .”
He also touched on the opposition’s stance that the outgoing government would be contravening the law by using public funds for elections, saying that it was a “fabrication intended to gain political mileage”.
Dr Likoti said the government was empowered to utilise pubic funds by the Public Financial Management and Accountability Act (2011).
“In its section 18, the Act under the heading ‘Authorisation of expenditure in advance of appropriation’, provides that: ‘if it appears to the Minister that an appropriation Act for any financial year will not come into operation from the beginning of financial year, the Minister may approve withdrawal from consolidated fund in accordance with section 113 of the Constitution” he said, adding the provision was guided by Section 113 of the constitution and allowed the government to utilise government funds until July 2017.
“The prime minister is right, and he has been proven right. We are not going to see any government shutdown in this country. It’s unfortunate that Lehloenya is making such unfortunate statements.
Dr Likoti added: “They (opposition) refused to pass a budget, and denied the elderly their pension increments and also denied Basotho the opportunity to benefit developmental projects like the construction of roads and bridges for their selfish reasons. They owe Basotho a lot and don’t deserve to be voted for in the upcoming elections for their misdeeds.”