By Sofonea Shale
THE much anticipated opening of the 9th Parliament came and went but may not have fulfilled the expectations of many in the rank and file of the big political parties. While the function of the opening ceremony was so that His Majesty King Letsie III can present his intensions for His government, many were expecting a change of loyalties and alteration in the power configurations in parliament.
This may not be an issue at least for the opening because the main thing on the day was what His Majesty said about His government. What has become an interesting part of this debate about what the King instructed His government to do is the question of whether it is His Majesty’s government to the detriment of the opposition? People take the opposition to be the opposite of government just like boy is to a girl and if this is true, where does it leave the opposition when the government becomes His Majesty’s? Is there anything that His Majesty might not have said yet be meaning to say in His speech? Can the constitution adequately explain such hidden mysteries? Though this article will attempt to respond to these questions, it will not provide any definitive and conclusive submission. Rather, it will take the normal thought provoking approach.
The constitution of Lesotho mainly describes how government should rule and the various sections give meaning to the Section 1(1) which provides that Lesotho shall be a sovereign democratic kingdom. This connotes the embracement of democratic principles such as civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. However, the allegiance Basotho pay to the customs, which leads to the hybrid system of governance of elected democracy and hereditary monarchy, provides an interesting challenge for the model that balances the two. The model Basotho adopted is that there shall be the King as Head of State. The executive authority of Lesotho is vested in the King but he shall not exercise it directly but through authorities and officers so designated as enshrined in Section 86 of the constitution. This is why the King is advised by the Prime Minister to appoint people and officers for certain responsibilities.
By the design and architecture of the Lesotho constitution, His Majesty’s government cannot err in advising Him, if it does the courts would be requested to intervene. If one goes through the constitution, it only refers to the opposition on the formation of the Council of State. So the constitution alone may not provide an adequate response to the questions earlier asked.
In fact, the question of the opposition is not the only issue where the written Lesotho constitution cannot adequately provide adequate understanding. In this and other columns in the sister publication, the application of Section 87 of the constitution has been exposed. During that debate, when it was argued that the constitution is more than a law but a governance document which may not be justifiably applied by lawyers to the neglect of political scientists, some perceived that as a usual professional arrogance whereas the reality is that constitution is a summary of what governance ought to be.
When His Majesty says in the Speech from the Throne “My government shall do this……” He is not only telling the nation what His government is planning to do, but turning the same into an instruction. Logically, if the King instructs government to do what it has advised Him that it is what it intends to do, the government has no reason not to implement. The King may not say verbatim that His government has got no right to deviate from what He instructs but that will be exactly what He will be meaning.
Though the King might not have said that His Speech is a basis on which Basotho should hold government accountable, he meant exactly that. The King might not have said in His Speech that government would be guilty of non-delivery and for misrepresenting the King if it does not deliver but he meant exactly that. This is why for those who are serious about engaging government, this moment is significant. But where does that this leave the opposition?
His Majesty has got no other infrastructure to monitor His Government, but the opposition that is paid with public funds. The King, in terms of Section 92 of the constitution, has the right to be consulted by the Prime Minister and ministers on all matters relating to government and He can demand progress brief or information on any matter of the business of government. But who does not know politicians? They need checks and balances.
By implication, when His Majesty said: “My government shall do the following ….” He actually meant “My Opposition make sure that it happens….” In the similar manner that He instructed the government to be diligent, the King instructed the opposition to be robust and active in ensuring that government delivers.
Though there is no law on the opposition except the Members’ Salaries Act which defines the Official Leader of the Opposition and their benefits, there is an implied constitutional work of the opposition. This means there is a need for an elaborate law on the opposition which should also formally provide audience of His Majesty to the opposition. There is no way that the King can be briefed only by His Majesty’s government when His Majesty’s opposition is not accorded the opportunity to account for its loyal engagement.
When the same Act provides that a status of an official leader of the opposition is given to a member of the National Assembly who does not only command second majority to government but only when such a majority makes at least 25 percent of the total membership, that means a lot. Why 25 percent? Because that 25 percent is the quorum for the National Assembly to conduct official business. In other words, the provision is such that a person offered such benefits should be capable of sustaining parliamentary business even if the government is not present.
It is therefore inherent in the conceptualisation of the governance architecture of Lesotho that the opposition is His Majesty’s opposition which reliably helps Him to ensure that His instruction to His Government is not send to the dogs on account of corruption, unauthorised diversion of funds, abuse of power etc.
Though the King might not have put it in words, His Speech on opening parliament was an instruction to both His Government and His Opposition. If the two parties take this message as it is supposed to be, the net beneficiaries will be taxpayers who pay for both parties dearly.