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Coalition suffers hitches but not unravelling, analysts say

Boitumelo Koloi

MASERU — Lesotho’s coalition government is a delicate pact needing the “utmost care and nurturing” to survive in the light of recent controversies plaguing the tripartite, say analysts.

Analysts who spoke to the Sunday Express this week say Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition government comprising the premier’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP), is treading on “delicate” ground.

Thabane, LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing and BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane cobbled up their numbers to form the first coalition government in Lesotho, after the May 2012 poll produced a hung parliament, thus effectively ending former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s fifteen-year rule.

However, the tripartite has been plagued by serious disagreements ranging from who should preside over the bilateral M15 billion Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) project for the construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong and Kobong Power Station, to differences over how support staff to Lesotho’s foreign mission should be selected.

In an official memo in August, Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa differed sharply with Thabane over how support staff to Lesotho’s embassies should be appointed.

In the memo, Tsekoa suggested that the ABC seemed to lack the will to comply with public service laws over such appointments.

Tsekoa is foreign minister in Thabane’s cabinet under the LCD banner.

Then in September, another row broke when Thabane attempted to transfer the LHWP project from the LCD’s energy and water affairs minister Timothy Thahane’s office, to the prime minister’s office, even assigning Government Secretary Motlatsi Ramafole and Attorney Tšokolo Makhethe to facilitate the transfer.

The LCD however protested the move and in a letter gave Thabane a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the decision or risk the party reconsidering its position in the coalition government.

Dr Motlamelle Kapa, Head of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho, says coalition governments the world over “are by their very nature unstable”.

“Coalition governments are notorious for instability,” Kapa says.

Kapa maintains that for Lesotho’s coalition government to overcome the trials it now faces, there is need for clearly defined operational measures for partners in the coalition agreement.

“There is need to clearly stipulate demarcation lines for party political affiliation by the coalition partners especially on issues relating to the public service,” Kapa says.

“We could copy the system used in New Zealand wherein the civil service is run by an entity independent of the political government.”

The quagmire the coalition partners find themselves in, Kapa adds, results from the ministerial nature of the coalition government, wherein even ministers have powers to protect their turf if they feel threatened.

Kapa says the public service is supposed to be apolitical, but that in practice is still very political.

“That is why in a coalition government reminiscent with Lesotho, a minister will refer to what ought to be when they feel a threat in their turf,” Kapa says.

“Ideally, the public service is supposed to be run in line with the Public Service Commission’s precepts which discourage a partisan activity in the public service.”

Renowned local political analyst Lira Theko of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), views appointing support staff of foreign missions based on political party allegiance, as not only being contrary to the public service precepts but also “a major deterrent to government’s realisation of its goals”.

“If people are appointed based on their inclination to a political party, continuity will be compromised because issues that would have already been in the pipeline will not continue,” Theko said.

According to Theko, the coalition government, being a new concept to Lesotho, needs to be “treated with caution”.

Meanwhile Professor Kopano Makoa, Associate Professor in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), says depoliticisation of the civil service occurs on two fronts being “formal and informal depoliticisation”.

The former is seen in the public service provisions, where a non-partisan approach is requisite of the public servants, and the latter is the one which is practically impossible “since it would suggest that people have no political opinion by virtue of being civil servants”.

Makoa, on the other hand, says the coalition government has not yet faced its greatest threats as could render it at risk “except for the little operational hitches”.

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