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Amend constitution to bar floor-crossing’

Staff Reporter

MASERU — The coalition government should consider amending the constitution to make it difficult for MPs to cross the floor to other political parties if it wants to remain stable.
This is one of the several recommendations by a consultant who was hired to study how the Thomas Thabane-led coalition government can be sustained.
Dr Rajen Prasad, a New Zealand MP, was hired as a consultant by the Commonwealth at the request of government secretary Motlatsi Ramafole.
Ramofole had written to the secretary general of the Commonwealth last September, requesting assistance “in strengthening the dialogue between coalition partners and the functioning of the coalition government”.
He wanted the Commonwealth to carry out a study on how the coalition government of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP) could be sustained.
Prasad carried out his study from February 5 to 12 with the assistance of Dr Tres-Ann Kremer, a political affairs officer in the Commonwealth secretariat.
The result of that study is a report titled Sustaining Coalition Government in the Kingdom of Lesotho which is dated April 13.
The Sunday Express has seen the report whose recommendations the government is said to be seriously considering.
One of the major points the report makes is that the current provision that allows MPs to cross the floor endangers the stability of the coalition government.
The constitution allows any of the 80 MPs elected from constituencies to cross the floor.
The other 40 MPs who are elected through proportional representation are barred from doing so.
The Thabane government has a majority of one seat in parliament, making it highly susceptible to being toppled if any of its MPs decides to leave the three parties that make up the collation.
The report says to avoid this the coalition must consider a constitutional amendment to limit the ability of MPs to switch allegiance.
“Provision could be enacted that require members (MPs) to seek a new mandate if they wish to change party affiliations,” the report says.
It says “reducing the ability of the members (MPs) to simply switch sides and destabilise the government would provide some certainty that parliaments would serve their full term and not be brought to an end prematurely”.
Prasad says during his study he got the impression that people supported the coalition government but they now want it to start making substantive changes.
He said people want to see cooperation and collaboration between the coalition partners to focus on “development of Lesotho based on inclusiveness, transparency and good order”.
He says the coalition government was ‘handicapped” by the constitutional requirement for parliament to be recalled two weeks after a general election.
This time limit, he says, could have forced the parties to rush into forming a coalition without clear policy agreements and concessions.
“This may explain the somewhat general nature of the current coalition agreement and its focus on how it intends to operate probably at the expense of a detailed policy programme based on the manifestos of the three partners and agreement on key appointments,” the report says.
It notes that the major focus of the agreement seems to have been the composition of the cabinet, ministerial responsibilities and appointments of other senior government officials like principal secretaries.
It further notes that the absence of a focus on policy programmes has created an impression that the “the coalition government is territorialised, is developing in silos based on the allocation of ministries to coalition parties”.
It says there is also an impression that it is taking too long to get started on the programme of “prosperity, inclusivity and transparency the electors voted for”.
Prasad says he found that senior coalition partners and other stakeholders were uncomfortable with the politicised nature of Lesotho’s public service.
He says the danger with a politicised civil service is that it affects the government’s effectiveness in implementing its policies.
He suggests that the government immediately start the process of depoliticising the civil service.
“A politicised public service has a systemic effect on every aspect of government, especially on the role of parliament, to hold the public service and the government to account,” the report says.
“In the Lesotho case, a change of government potentially causes serious upheaval of the public service and potentially blunts their effectiveness”.
In particular, the report expresses concern over the political appointment of principal secretaries.
“The alternative is a non-politicised public service that continues its service delivery work despite the process of the change of government, while also producing briefing advice to new ministers to assist them in coming to grips with their new portfolios as quickly as possible”.
“A politicised public service has to wait for new instructions from new ministers and this could take some time in a new system of government such as the new coalition in Lesotho”.
Other important recommendations include the following:
1. The government must set up a team to visit New Zealand to study the country’s experience of “coalition formation and how best practice could be incorporated into the Lesotho model”. The team should study the details of the transition government, the roles of the outgoing government, the incoming government and the public service.
2. The government secretary should be confirmed as the keeper of all decisions made by the coalition government that have implications for the public service. Currently the coalition partners meet “when required” but there are no mechanisms to record their decisions. Confirming the government secretary as the keeper of all records ensures that he is conversant with the decisions of the cabinet and the coalition partners.
3. The representative of the parliament must be included in the study tour to New Zealand to understand how a successful parliament operates in the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) environment. The representatives should also study the system New Zealand uses for casting party vote thus enabling parties to organise themselves to effectively conduct their parliamentary and out of parliament activities concurrently. During the tour the team should study the system of rules New Zealand uses to regulate coalition governments.
4. The government should improve its communication strategy. The communication needs to be timely, tailor made and multi-modal in order to reach the different constituencies in Lesotho.

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