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Human Rights Commission by year end: Mahao

Pascalinah Kabi

LAW and Justice Minister Nqosa Mahao has given himself until the end of the year to oversee the establishment of a Human Rights Commission and the enactment of new laws governing the operations of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) and Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Outlining his priorities to the media on Friday, Prof Mahao, who was only appointed to the portfolio a fortnight ago, said he was ready to hit the ground running and ensure the Human Rights Commissions is established to safeguard the rights of citizens.

He said the country had been seized with the issue of establishing the Human Rights Commission since 2015 but it had not materialized. Now there was an urgent need to move on the issue and gazette the Human Rights Commission Bill into law by December this year.

“This (enactment of the bill) will enable us to establish the commission and also request parliament to allocate funds for the commission in the next financial year,” Prof Mahao said.
He said there was need to craft “relevant modern laws” to give the DCEO autonomy and free from the clutches of the executive.

“We need to strengthen our efforts in the fight against corruption to ensure funds allocated by treasury to different government departments are used for their purpose of efficient service delivery. The target is to pass the DCEO Bill into law by end of December this year.”

He also said the IEC must be governed by its own act to give it full autonomy in the discharge of its mandate. Currently the electoral body is regulated by the Electoral Act.

“The purpose is to ensure that the IEC is autonomous in running its affairs. It should only report directly to parliament. It is also not good for the IEC to manage the affairs of political parties. We will soon propose to cabinet to enact a political parties’ act.

“This is to ensure that there is a different office tasked with managing the affairs of political parties. We now have too many political parties. We have 35 registered parties and we are told that about 20 more have filed papers for registration with the IEC.

“It is improper for the IEC to simultaneously manage elections and the affairs of political parties. That is conflict of interest. It cannot manage entities and manage elections at the same time because attempts to raise issues of concern would be viewed as bias.”

The IEC is currently in limbo with no commissioners. It has not had commissioners since the expiry of the tenures of Mahapela Lehohla, ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Makase Nyaphisi in January 2019. The government refused to renew the trio’s contracts despite their willingness to continue in office.

The political parties are unable to advise the Council of State on the appointment of new commissioners due to a pending court case by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) and two others for the nullification of the appointment of Workplace Solutions as the human resources consultant in the recruitment of new IEC commissioners. They contend that Workplace Solutions was awarded the tender without following proper bidding processes in contravention of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2007. It has even been alleged that the firm did not have a tax clearance certificate to even qualify for bidding.

They also want the Constitutional Court to order the recruitment exercise of the new commissioners to be re-done with the active participation of civic groups through a public interviewing process.

The case is still pending in court and according to IEC officials, a by-election will not be held to fill the vacancy created by the death of All Basotho Convention (ABC) ‘Makhoroana constituency legislator, Lefu Hlomelang, in December 2019 until the case is finalised and IEC commissioners are appointed.

Commenting on the issue, Prof Mahao said the IEC was currently dysfunctional due to the absence of commissioners. He said the proposed IEC law must clearly provide for the appointments of IEC commissioners and ensure that the IEC’s work is not stalled at any point due to the absence of commissioners.

“We are in crisis at the IEC. We currently do not have commissioners and the work cannot go on. For example, the constitution dictates that we must demarcate the electoral constituencies periodically but that assignment cannot be concluded without commissioners.

“In addition, the contract of the director of elections is ending end of this month.

“We don’t know who has the powers to appoint a new director, renew contract of the outgoing director or appoint an acting director. I have asked the Office of the Attorney General to give me legal advice on this matter in face of the pending court cases regarding the appointment of new commissioners.

“I have also requested that the new IEC Bill must address such issues,” Prof Mahao said.

Prof Mahao said the Human Rights Commission, DCEO and IEC bills would be sent to the National Reforms Authority (NRA) for scrutiny to ensure they captured the views of Basotho on the constitutional and governance reforms they wanted adopted.

He said they hoped to have fully implemented the multi-sector reforms recommended by SADC before the 2022 elections.

“We were told to hit the ground running when we were appointed into office and it is my modus operandi (way of operating) to hit the ground running. I am results-orientated.

“My biggest assignment is to lobby all stakeholders. I have already contacted both state and non-state actors on these issues and we have agreed to hit the ground running. I trust that my set timelines will be met. I think the environment is also enabling. The fact that the government is under pressure to make meaningful changes before the next elections makes the environment enabling,” Prof Mahao said.

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