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Don’t politicise senate


By Sofonea Shale

The Lesotho Parliament is referred to as bicameral system because it has two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate.  Though the Lesotho bicameralism has been adopted from the British style of Westminster governance, there is absolutely nothing that prevents Basotho from creativity in terms of improving their legislative authority.  When the allocation of Senate seats among coalition parties featured as one of the disagreement points for the failed coalition, some questions about Senate became more pronounced among them, is whether Senate is an avenue for extended political party presence in parliament and a gateway to the cabinet for the non-qualified politicians or second chamber established to serve a checker role? This article chooses to address these issues by pointing at the problem and speaking to politicians at this time about what they could do instead of politicising the Senate.

The role of second house of parliament is to provide objective scrutiny to the business of the lower house.  In the British system, the Lower House is directly elected by the people and is referred to as the House of Commons, the House of Representatives or the National Assembly.  The reference “House of Commons” signifies the people representatives because the Second House, the Upper House, The House of Lords or the Senate is the House whose membership is restricted.  In Lesotho the Senate is made of twenty two Principal Chiefs and eleven people nominated by the king acting on the advice of the Council of State while National Assembly is made of 120 members, 80 of whom are elected under constituencies while 40 are elected through party lists.  It is believed that in the National Assembly given the political diversity, partisanship, political inclinations and other motivations, legislative and policy objectivity may be lost in the heat of political debate. The purpose of the second House is to provide service to the National Assembly by reclaiming the necessary objectivity to the business of the House that while it represents electors, may be politically charged beyond expectations and indeed benefit of the very same electorate it represents. Though it may not be in the nature of chiefs to raise flag and say what the Lesotho Senate has done for this nation in serving this role, it may be a necessary exercise for the leadership of the Senate to commission a study to reflect on the role of the House say in the 20 years of return to constitutional rule.

In many occasions, a question has been asked, “Is Senate Necessary?” This question is very relevant in the democratic dispensation though it has been asked with ill intentions.  First, this question may be responded to fully, objectively and scientifically through the study referred to above. However one can challenge readers, researchers and those who prefer knowledge beyond political propaganda, to find out how the currently celebrated electoral model was born.  Some politicians currently in categories; opposition and government have had their fair share of   attempts to abort the Mixed Member Proportional. When the elected representatives in the National Assembly abused  their power, in other words used the people’s power they had against the benefit of the very people they  represent, by circumventing the Interim political Authority agreements where MMP was conceived,  the role of the Senate in the protection of the model was clear. It was through the service that Senate provided to the National Assembly that attempts on the MMP by the majority politicians in the lower house failed.

The National Assembly has gone through a number of changes in terms of number of members and the composition. It is logical that reforms could have been made on the Senate as well.  In this regard, consideration could be made of creating a platform for various sectors to be represented in the House.  The sectoral representation would enhance the checker role of the House. While the restructuring of Senate has been on political agenda, nothing has taken place.  There could be many reasons for this and it is not the intention of this article to dig into them.  It is simply a duty to note that on those several occasions, it has often been when politicians in power are called to order by chiefs and mainly members of that house.  In their charm offensive, politicians would not address the issues raised but question legitimacy of chiefs and threaten to restructure Senate to curtail the influence of chiefs.   Though some people may celebrate that restructuring never materialised, the danger remains latent.  Deferring the objective debate on restructuring Senate has made the House even more vulnerable at the height of collaborative political dispensation.

In the 1966 constitution the other 11 people nominated to the Senate would be the discretion of the King but this time the King on that business is advised by the Council of State.  This change is clearly democratic and provides necessary distribution and check of power in a democracy. However politicians in power are manipulating the system to the detriment of the Senate. There is a discernable trend that politicians in power have used the space for 11 nominees to advance their party political limitations which could not be accommodated in the National Assembly. Advising the King to nominate people to the Senate so that they may qualify to be members of cabinet does not only turn Senate into an extension of National Assembly but denies the House, the right to function as the house of reference in its entirety.    The nominated member of the House to serve as Minister normally and understandably so, does not have time for Senate business. This effectively means that the core business of the House is curtailed.  When the Coalition sat down to partition the 11 places in the Senate, this politicisation of the Senate reached climax, not that it has not been happening in the past, but why politicise the august House instead of changing the constitution?

Perhaps it should be said that advising King to nominate people to the Senate for them to be Ministers is not inherently bad because they are going to serve the people.  May be politicians should be told where the problem lies. Section 87(4) of the constitution provides that ministers can only be drawn from National Assembly and Senate.  This is wrong and should be changed. On several occasions it has been proven that parliament may not have necessary cabinet material. After all people who are elected to parliament are to be representatives and provide checks and balances on executive, so in other words it is even wrong in the first place to make parliamentarians ministers while they are supposed to check government.  Would you say this could perhaps be one of the reasons why Lesotho parliament is not so effective? Is it because each of the 120 MPs is the Minister in waiting and may not want to risk his or her opportunities by effectively checking government?

 Statement by NUL Staff on financial crises in Lesotho’s public Higher Education

We, the undersigned members of staff at the National University of Lesotho, wish to make the following Statement to the people of Lesotho regarding government funding of public higher education institutions.

Since 1990s this country has been ruled by governments who believed, or who had been made to believe, that government should not have a role in economic activity and provision of social services in health and education. Accordingly, public enterprises were sold, or privatised, under the cloak of turning them over to the public.

The application of this wisdom to the provision of health services and education has led to government’s withdrawal of funding to the country’s main hospital, and a very poor funding of public higher education institutions. In the health sector, under what is called Public Private Partnership (PPP), the policy led to a shut-down of Elizabeth II Hospital, and its ‘replacement’ by the ironically-named hospital, Tšepong Hospital, where hope, care and good service are not in abundant supply.

The source of these policies is a fundamentalist brand of neo-liberalism which has three elements. Firstly, the idea that everything is a business, or can be turned into a business, for the benefit of private individuals and groups. That includes provision of education and health. Second, that government should withdraw from providing social sector services, that is, provision of services in education and health. Third, that, instead of providing health and educational services, the state should contract and pay private investors to provide these services.

As the case of Tšepong Hospital shows, these contracts always favour private investors. All risk is shifted to government, and when things go wrong—as they have in the case of Tšepong—the losers are us, the public, whose taxes are spent on health services whose quality and quantity are so poor and yet the costs are so high for the tax-payers. A recent report shows that Tšepong slurps 40% of the Ministry of Health budget which enriches its shareholders while the poor public does not get requisite services.

It seems that successive Lesotho governments are hell-bent on adopting a variation of this culture in the provision of higher education. Currently, there is no public higher education institution in Lesotho which is not in a financial crisis. Recently, all of them—Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education, National University of Lesotho—have struggled to pay staff and other operating costs. Government funding of capital developments virtually came to a halt, years ago.

A common practice of the recent past was that, in drawing its budget for presentation to Cabinet, the Ministry of Education & Training (to which all public higher education institutions are answerable) asked public higher education institutions to draw their own budgets for discussion and inclusion in the Ministry’s budget.

Nowadays, the Ministry has adopted a practice of drawing, and presenting, its budget without consulting these institutions about their needs. This has led to an untenable situation where these public higher education institutions receive subventions far below their expenditure requirements.

Indeed, in the case of NUL, subvention has systematically been reduced. The subvention NUL received in 2013/2014 is below the 2003/2004 levels. This is despite the fact the students’ enrolments have grown and programmes of study expanded to address national challenges. Taken together, a decrease in subvention, on the one hand, and increasing enrolments, on the other, mean that NUL is now unable to meet costs that higher student populations necessitate.

NUL is unable to provide facilities appropriate for increased enrolments. It is not able to recruit staff in numbers appropriate for increased enrolments. And it is not able to retain staff. Staff salaries have remained stagnant for the last ten years. In all these years, the Ministry of Education has refused even to adjust the subvention for inflation, which means that, in fact, the value of staff salaries has fallen below what it was 10 years ago.

It remains unclear precisely what government want public higher educations to do without adequate funding; or what governments seek to achieve by their financial strangulation of public higher education institutions.

It is important that government states clearly, and publicly, just what their plans are for public higher education institutions.

At present, Ministers are quick to point fingers at what they regard as NUL’s failures. Topmost among these is the claim that NUL graduates are not suited for Lesotho’s labour market, and that is why, according to Ministers, many NUL graduates are unemployed. More recently, the University is accused of producing graduates who are incapable of self-employment and creating jobs for others.

These are accusations NUL staff have always been ready to engage if they can be put formally. For now, two things can be said. The first is that, government Ministers have never clarified the nature of the labour market which, they say, NUL graduates are unsuited for; neither have Ministers pointed to entrepreneurial opportunities that NUL needs to tune its graduates to. To identify the nature of the labour-market and entrepreneurial opportunities available in Lesotho requires resources which public higher education institutions are currently being starved of.

In our view, education is primarily a public good whose provision is government’s responsibility.

All thought, said and done, we should be careful not to reduce all acquisition of knowledge to requirements of the labour market.


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