OUTSPOKEN All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislator and former minister Tefo Mapesela has criticised Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for his “unconstitutional” move to extend the state of emergency from 14 to 28 April 2020.
Mr Thabane initially declared the state of emergency on 30 March to 14 April 2020. The state of emergency was then used as a basis for declaring a nationwide lockdown as part of efforts to fight the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Mr Thabane subsequently extended the state of emergency from 14 to 28 April 2020 without the approval of parliament as required by the constitution.
He even wanted to extend by six months but the move was rejected by the opposition on 28 April 2020. The opposition parliamentarians called for wider consultations before the motion could be deliberated in the National Assembly.
During a recent session in the National Assembly, the Mokhotlong legislator said Mr Thabane was “out of order’ and had acted illegally when he extended state of emergency without the approval of parliament.
“The Right Honourable Prime Minister released a gazette that declared a state of emergency in accordance with the constitution,” Mr Mapesela said.
“The prime minister is only allowed by the constitution to declare a state of emergency for 14 days and thereafter it can only be extended with the approval of parliament. But there was another gazette that extended the state of emergency (without parliament’s approval).
“It is our appeal that the extension state of emergency and lockdown must be implemented within the confines of the law. It is unconstitutional (and) out of order for the prime minister to extend a state of emergency beyond 14 days on his own.”
The speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, acknowledged Mr Mapesela’s contributions and asked that “those who are responsible” be given the time to legalise the state of emergency and the lockdown. The lockdown was initially supposed to end on 21 April but it was extended to 5 May 2020.
“I heard you loud and clear. For our own sakes, I request that we give those who are responsible time to legalise the extensions of the state of emergency and the lockdown,” Mr Motanyane said.
Attorney General Haae Phoofolo also weighed in on the issue, saying the extension of the lockdown would be illegal if parliament did not consent to the extension of the state of emergency.
However, Mr Thabane and Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s attempts to extend the state of emergency were resisted on Tuesday by opposition members who questioned the wisdom behind the move.
“The current state of emergency ends today (Tuesday 28 April 2020) but the danger we are facing against COVID-19 is more than we could ever imagine,” Mr Thabane had said.
“For that reason, it would be advisable to continue the efforts to protect the people from the virus. According to section 23 of the Constitution of 1993, the power to extend the state of emergency against this disease lies with the parliament.
“I therefore request this august House to approve the extension of the state of emergency against COVID-19 for six months. This will help the government to take appropriate measures to fight the virus while we gradually lift the lockdown to restore normalcy.”
And Mr Moleleki followed up on the prime minister’s request by proposing a motion for the house to approve the six months state of emergency.
He said the motion was important and advised the house against opposing it as the government had the option of effecting recurrent 14-day states of emergency for six months.
However, Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane opposed the motion saying the government should instead use the Disaster Management Act to declare a state of disaster in the fight against the possible spread of COVID-19. According to the Disaster Management Act, the prime minister only requires the advice of the Disaster Management Authority to declare a state of disaster.
Adv Rakuoane accused Mr Thabane of pushing a political agenda through the declaration of a state of emergency. He said the declaration of a state of emergency had political connotations given the recent deployment of the army around Maseru by Mr Thabane.
The premier deployed the army on 18 April 2020 claiming the move was necessary to deal with what he called rogue elements bent on destabilising his government. The soldiers however, returned to their barracks later that day.
In the wake of spirited opposition from the opposition, Mr Mapesela suggested that parliament should defer the deliberations on the motion to extend the state of emergency until members have had time to discuss it outside the house.
Mr Moleleki subsequently withdrew the motion on Tuesday and he is yet to re-table it before the house.