THERE was drama in parliament on Friday as government and opposition legislators traded insults as tempers boiled over during heated discussions on the amendment of the controversial 2018 wool and mohair regulations.
The drama began with a harsh exchange between Democratic Congress (DC) legislator Tumaole Lerafa and former Defence and national Security Minister, Sentje Lebona of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). The speaker of parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, expelled Mr Lerafa over the latter’s indecorous behaviour after he told Mr Lebona that “Ha ke monna oa ‘mao’ (loosely translated as “I am not your mother’s man”).
The opposition legislators subsequently engaged in a pushing and shoving physical contest with seven police officers who had some in to enforce Mr Motanyane’s order for Mr Lerafa to leave the house.
All hell broke loose after Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing Minister, Chalane Phori, informed the house that he was unable to table amendments to the 2018 wool and mohair regulations as he had promised he would earlier in the past week.
Mr Phori said he was unable to table the amendments because they were yet to be finalised and he was working flat out to ensure this would be accomplished without further delay.
His submissions sparked heated exchanges between some opposition and government legislators.
Mr Lerafa and Mr Lebona traded insults over the issue and it was then that Mr Motanyane expelled Mr Lerafa and ordered the Sergeant at Arms, Moshe Raleting, to escort the DC legislator from the house. Mr Raleting finally escorted Mr Lerafa from the house after spending some minutes persuading the reluctant legislator to comply with the speaker’s ruling.
But the MP did not even go far as he was later seen in the public gallery while fellow opposition legislators shouted at Mr Motanyane to expel Mr Lebona and Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Motlohi Maliehe, as well. The opposition legislators demanded that Mr Maliehe should be sent packing for referring to Mr Lerafa as a “thing”. This after Mr Maliehe had shouted “expel that thing”.
But instead of expelling Mr Maliehe, the speaker merely ordered the minister to withdraw his words, which Mr Maliehe promptly did. However, this did not sit well with the opposition legislators who immediately called back Mr Lerafa into the house.
Mr Lerafa returned to the house but Mr Motanyane insisted that Mr Raleting should kick him out of the parliament building.
This was despite Mr Lerafa addressing parliament and saying “I withdraw those words” which had caused him to be expelled in the first place.
But Mr Motanyane refused to back down and ordered Mr Raleting to immediately him.
This sparked loud protests from the opposition and at that point DC deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa, the DC’s Senqu legislator, Likeleli Tampane, Movement for Economic Change leader, Selibe Mochoboroane and National Independent Party leader Kimetso Mathaba all rose from their seats to prevent Mr Raleting from escorting Mr Lerafa out of the house.
Democratic Party of Lesotho leader Limpho Tau and Basotho National Party deputy leader and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Machesetsa Mofomobe, also started their own slanging match with Mr Tau telling the latter that “you and I only have two years in parliament, you will see”.
Mr Motanyane stepped in and cautioned the duo against their indecorous behaviour. He also repeated his call for Mr Lerafa to leave the house.
Mr Mochoboroane then stood on a point of order, saying no opposition MP would leave the house. Shortly afterwards seven police officers stormed the building to assist Mr Raleting to kick out Mr Lerafa.
They were however prevented from getting close to Mr Lerafa by other opposition MPs and that is when a pushing and shoving physical contest broke out between the two parties.
The opposition broke into songs as Mr Mochoboroane and others negotiated with Mr Raleting and two other police officers not to manhandle Mr Lerafa. Mr Motanyane then suspended the session and proceedings only resumed 30 minutes later.
“Honourable Members, when a member is told to leave the house, he or she doesn’t only leave the house but must leave the parliament premises,” Mr Motanyane said.
He warned that each MP had to own up to their own mistakes adding that Mr Lerafa should leave the house.
He also said he needed to set an example by expelling Mr Maliehe. “I have heard the words that were uttered (by Mr Maliehe). I plead that that member leaves the house.
“I need to set an example that when a member is told to leave the house, irrespective of their status as ministers, they must leave the house,” Mr Motanyane said to applause from the opposition legislators.
“I once again make a plea that some of you are still very young and you must be on your best behaviour in your chosen political career. You should know that now that you have chosen a career in politics, you will never be employed elsewhere because people will say ‘he is from politics, how can I control him’. I am advising you,” Mr Motanyane said.
Mr Lerafa then left the house and thereafter the house went back to discussing the wool and mohair regulations which triggered the fracas.
Prior to the chaos, Mr Phori had stood on a point order to inform parliament that he was unable to present the gazette on Friday as he had promised because the parliamentary council was yet to compete its work on the amendments to the wool and mohair regulations.
“The point of order that I am rising on is that I had said that the gazette would be tabled in this house today. I worked with parliamentary staffers to ensure that it is tabled today (Friday) but they said they were not yet done with the gazette.
“I therefore wish to inform parliament that that the regulations are not yet compete and we are working with the parliamentary council to ensure that they are completed,” Mr Phori said.
This irked the DC’s legislator for Malingoaneng, Serialong Qoo, who demanded that Mr Phori leaves the house and finalise the drafting of the new wool and mohair regulations.
“We still don’t know the date that the gazette will be tabled in this house. Is the government going to continue to keep quiet on this issue when you know that you are going to close parliament for the Christmas break,” Mr Qoo asked.
On his part, Qalo legislator, Thabang Kholumo, said they were worried by the delay in tabling the new wool and mohair regulations.
“We (MPs) continue to receive salaries and live comfortably when farmers, whose livelihoods are dependent on the sale of their wool and mohair, are suffering. Let us agree that the parliamentary council must respect this house because as it is the parliamentary council has held us hostage,” Mr Kholumo said.
Ms Tampane said Mr Phori’s failure to table the regulations “has caused a lot of confusion and we ask that the honorable minister gives this house a timeframe for the tabling of the gazette”.
“We should suspend the business of the house to allow the minister to go and get the gazette so that it is tabled in this house,” Ms Tampane said.
Ms Tampane then accused Mr Phori of insulting her.
“Mr Phori says he is going to give me back my mother and my mother is dead. Phori insulted me. How would you, Phori feel if I were to say the same words to you? Phori insulted me Ntate Speaker,” Ms Tampane said.
Mr Phori however, denied insulting Ms Tampane and this prompted the opposition to hoist placards asking the “police (to) leave us to fight for the rights of the people”.
Other placards called on Mr Phori to repeal the wool and mohair regulations. The opposition also broke into a song saying the nation was mercilessly suffering because of the wool and mohair regulations.
Last month, parliament found that the wool and mohair regulations have impoverished thousands of Basotho and called on the government to immediately repeal the controversial regulations.
An ad hoc parliamentary committee comprising of 17 legislators, drawn from the governing parties and the opposition, urged the government to ensure that all farmers are paid their arrears for the wool and mohair they delivered to the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC).
The regulations also bar farmers from selling their produce from outside Lesotho and from May 2018 when the regulations were gazetted until August 2019, farmers could only sell their produce through the LWC in Thaba Bosiu which enjoyed a monopoly in the wool and mohair industry.