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D-Day for Thabane

  • premier to address nation on his departure

Pascalinah Kabi

EMBATTLED Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is today expected to address the nation about his future as pressure mounts for him to go.

Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka told the Sunday Express that Mr Thabane would either address the nation today or tomorrow on his future. South African special envoy to Lesotho Jeff Radebe had earlier told the media that the premier would address the nation yesterday. Mr Mphaka said that couldn’t happen as the people assisting the premier with his speech were not readily available.

He would not be drawn into disclosing the details of the premier’s expected statement. It is however widely expected that Mr Thabane will announce when he is leaving power. The premier had previously promised to retire end of July 2020 but pressure has since mounted on him to go much sooner.

His All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) have inked a deal to form a new coalition government excluding him. They had given him until yesterday to quit or face a humiliating vote of no confidence this week by when King Letsie 111 would have signed the constitutional amendment bill (number 9) into law.

The landmark bill clips a prime minister’s powers to dissolve parliament and order fresh elections whenever they lose a no confidence vote. It was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Tuesday. It could become law as soon as tomorrow after the King signs it.

Mr Radebe told the media at the end of his latest visit that the timeframe for Mr Thabane’s departure would now be determined by the speed with which Attorney General Haae Phoofolo and Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane presented the bill to the King for signature.

Mr Radebe was back in Lesotho barely two weeks after his 19 to 20 April visit.

It was not clear what prompted his latest visit but Mr Radebe hinted that South Africa had been alerted to the deteriorating security situation in Lesotho. He did meet with security chiefs this time round unlike during his first visit.  It had been rumoured that the army, or a faction of the army, had wanted to arrest police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli as part of Mr Thabane’s unrelenting efforts to fire the top cop. Mr Thabane has lost at least five different court cases in his bid to fire, suspend or forcibly retire the commissioner.

Commissioner Molibeli was meant to have been arrested during the army deployment of Saturday 18 April 2020 but it did not happen. Mr Molibeli later told the Lesotho Times his arrest had been averted after Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Mojalefa Letsoela refused to comply with an order to arrest him.

Mr Radebe said he had been pleased with his interactions with the security chiefs, describing them as highly professional.  He met with Lt-Gen Letsoela, Commissioner Molibeli, National Security Service Director Pheello Ralenkoane and Lesotho Correctional Service Commissioner Thabang Mothepu on Friday.

He said the meeting was extremely cordial and the security chiefs gave Mr Radebe and his team a lot of information “about what is happening from their perspective”.

He said they got an impression that the security chiefs were professional and executed their duties in terms of the law “without fear, favour or prejudice”.

“We believe that the people of Lesotho, in both political office and security services, can work together to ensure a peaceful transition so that the principal task of creating a better life for the people of Lesotho can proceed.

“I must emphasize that the security chiefs of Lesotho are very united in the manner in which they conduct their professional duties to serve the people and their country,” Mr Radebe said.

Mr Radebe’s trip was also said to have been caused by South Africa’s unhappiness over Mr Thabane’s recent remarks that he would not be pushed out of office by anyone. He would only leave at his own volition. The premier’s remarks in an interview with the Lesotho Times appeared to be a severe slight at Mr Radebe, who had just left Lesotho with a pledge that processes for the premier’s departure would start immediately.  Mr Thabane had then declared he won’t be pushed out of office by people “I don’t report to”.

Mr Thabane’s opponents had equally expressed unhappiness over Mr Radebe’s remarks at the end of his first visit. They said he had failed to capture the essence of their demand that Mr Thabane must resign forthwith.

ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa this week said the party had consequently given Mr Thabane until today to step down failing which he would face a humiliating no confidence vote in parliament.

Mr Radebe had also met the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC), Senate President ‘Mamonaheng Mokitimi, Senate Chief Whip and Thaba-Bosiu Principal Chief Khoabane Theko, Director of Public Prosecutions DPP Adv Hlalefang Motinyane, Mr Thabane as well as his coalition partners.

Mr Radebe said Mr Thabane’s departure now hinged on when King Letsie III appends his signature to the constitutional amendment bill, suggesting the premier could now leave much sooner than his avowed July date.

“A statement will be issued sometime today (Saturday) by the prime minister… The real timeline (for Mr Thabane’s exit) is dependent on when the Attorney General and the Speaker of the National Assembly transmit the information and the document (bill) for the attention of His Majesty the King which we expect to happen any minute from now,” Mr Radebe said.

Asked to categorically state if Lesotho should expect a new prime minister this week, Mr Radebe said “…It is for the officials of Lesotho to say.

“As I have indicated the office of the Attorney General has to make sure that this (bill) is transmitted as soon as possible for the attention of His Majesty the King”.

He said he had briefed Mr Thabane about his meetings with different stakeholders There was consensus that the processes leading to the signing of the constitutional amendment bill into law be expedited, he said.

He said Adv Phoofolo confirmed he had received copies of the bill and the parliamentary legal office “was in the process of clearing the copies for Adv Phoofolo to certify them”.

Mr Radebe said Adv Phoofolo had to prematurely leave their meeting yesterday morning to ensure that all the officials tasked with clearing the bill speeded up the process.

“If he (Adv Phoofolo) is able to meet them today, then the King will have the bill on his desk tomorrow (Sunday) or latest Monday. We are satisfied that when His Majesty has assented to the bill, it will pave the way for the prime minister to indicate his intention to vacate the office of prime minister.

“The office of the prime minister is going to brief the media and issue a statement to that effect today (sat).”

Mr Thabane did not address the nation though. Mr Mphaka subsequently told this publication that “the prime minister will issue the statement either tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday”. He said officers responsible for working on the statement were not readily available for the task.

Mr Thabane’s party had demanded that he quits soon after he was earlier this year accused of murdering his ex-wife Lipolelo to pave way for his current marriage to the much younger ‘Maesaiah.  The now outgoing First Lady has already been charged with the murder and is out on M1000 bail. Mr Thabane appeared in court but was not charged after telling the magistrate he was going to the Constitutional Court for any order prohibiting him from being charged with any offence as long as he remains a sitting premier.

The ABC/DC deal is expected to catapult Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to the much-coveted post of prime minister as soon as Mr Thabane quits.  He will be deputised by DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu.

DC deputy leader Motlalentoa Letsosa this week demanded Mr Thabane’s immediate departure to facilitate the formation of the new government without any further delays.

Despite all the pressure, Mr Thabane had cut a defiant posture, telling the Lesotho Times that he will only leave at his own volition. These remarks are said to have angered the South African government and on Wednesday Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki led a government delegation to Pretoria to douse the flames.

Mr Moleleki was accompanied on that trip by ministers Lesego Makgothi (Foreign Affairs and International Relations), Habofanoe Lehana (Law and Constitutional Affairs) and Adv Phoofolo.

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