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Local govt polls postponed again

by Sunday Express
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Billy Ntaote

THE Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) plans to hold the local government polls in February or March 2017 have been derailed after the government did not issue the requisite election proclamation.

According to the IEC’s Deputy Director of Elections Mphasa Mokhochane, the government was supposed to have issued an election proclamation early last month to enable the holding of the polls at the stipulated time.

The postponement has also incensed the opposition alliance, which has accused the seven-party coalition government of deliberately delaying the local government elections beyond the agreed timeframes.

Initially scheduled for October 2016, the local government elections were postponed to the end of February or the beginning of March because they would have clashed with Lesotho’s 50th independence celebrations. Lesotho turned 50 on 4 October 2016 after having attained independence from Britain in 1966.

However, Mr Mokhochane said it was no longer possible for Basotho to elect new local government councillors in February or March 2017 due to the government’s failure to issue an election proclamation.

He said IEC officials held a meeting with leaders of political parties and government representatives on 20 December 2016 after realising no election proclamation had been made.

“During the meeting, it became apparent that the (February or March 2017) timeframe was no longer appropriate due to the delay in issuing the writ of elections or a proclamation announcing the election period which was supposed to have been released sometime in early December 2016,” said Mr Mokhochane.

“So, the IEC was given a mandate to meet with the Local Government minister (Dr Pontso Sekatle) this year to determine the month to hold the local government elections. Such a meeting is yet to take place, but preparations for the meeting are already in motion.”

He said the February or March date was also ruled out because political parties said they were not ready for the polls and needed time to prepare.

“We ended up postponing the polls beyond the end of February or beginning of March dates because the political parties said there were not prepared to head to the polls.

“On our part as the IEC, we also needed time to engage in the voter registration process even before the issuance of the proclamation.”

Mr Mokhochane said an intensive voter education programme was key to raising the people’s awareness about the elections.

“Elections are not supposed to be a surprise, and should be properly conducted with the general population being fully informed.”

He also touched on the IEC’s M54 million seized by the government last year to pay off arrears in its highly contentious vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited, saying it would be reimbursed in the next national budget set to be presented later this year.

After then Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla diverted the money budgeted for local government elections to pay off a government fleet short-term hire debt with the Bidvest Bank Limited, the IEC had accused the minister of acting outside her legal powers.

However, Dr Khaketla – who has since been reshuffled to the Foreign Affairs and International Relations portfolio — dismissed the allegation, saying parliament had appropriated M200 million for the local government elections that were due to be held last October. She said following the decision to postpone the elections to 2017, it became apparent the IEC would not utilise the M200 million.

The minister said she withdrew M54 million because it was the amount the IEC had indicated it would not expend within the 2016/17 financial year. Dr Khaketla also indicated that the money was withdrawn from the IEC’s votes of salaries and allowances fund and not the reserve meant to prepare for elections.

However, All Basotho Convention Secretary-General Samonyane Ntsekele accused the government of playing “deceitful delay tactics” when it tabled the Local Government Amendment Bill last October to extend councillors’ terms by up to a year.

He said “it was clear” the government intended to delay holding the polls by introducing the draft law which has since passed in the National Assembly.

The councillors’ term of office were extended beyond the original five years and are set to expire by the end of 2017.

Attempts to contact Dr Sekatle were fruitless yesterday, as her mobile phone rang unanswered.

 

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