MASERU — Parliament has never been so empty.
Only 38 MPs were in attendance at the close of the National Assembly’s business on Friday at 11.45am with 30 from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)-National Independent Party (NIP) alliance and eight from the opposition.
There were only two cabinet ministers, Education Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla and Labour Minister Refiloe Masemene.
The only party leader in the House was the Marematlou Freedom Party’s Moeketse Malebo.
Khauhelo Raditapole, who was also present, is no longer the Basutoland African Congress (BAC) leader after she stepped down last month.
The Lesotho Workers Party’s Sello Maphalla was present but his boss Macaefa Billy was nowhere to be seen.
When parliamentary business started slightly after 9am the House was nearly empty with only about 50 MPs in attendance.
The National Assembly has 120 MPs.
Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla was present but soon after the LCD/NIP alliance rejected a motion to establish an ad hoc committee to investigate the block farming scandal he left at around 10:20 am.
A number of MPs also left.
However, parliamentary business proceeded because there was a quorum, which only requires 30 MPs according to the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
The deputy speaker of parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, said the ministers were absent because they had attended Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s sod-turning ceremony for the installation of electricity in homes in Qacha’s Nek.
“Other ministers are not in the House because they have accompanied the Honourable Prime Minister to Qacha’s Nek,” Motanyane said in response to one of the students from a Kolonyama school who were on a study tour of the parliament.
Maputsoe MP Nkhets’e Monyalotsa told the Sunday Express in an interview that this was the first time he had seen parliament with so many vacant seats since he was elected to the august House in 2007.
“I was surprised and wondered what was happening,” Monyalotsa said.
Monyalotsa said he was aware that the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) had sent a team of officers to parliament to help MPs to fill their tax returns but said he “could not believe that was the reason why members were not in the House during business”.
“I say this because I went to the LRA officers and filled the forms and I did not take even five minutes there,” he said.
Lithoteng MP Eliabe Mokhanoi, who the Sunday Express did not see at parliament, said MPs often do not attend the sessions on Fridays because of many commitments that include funeral preparations.
“On Fridays we often do not attend because of commitments such as preparing for burials of our relatives,” Mokhanoi said.
The LCD’s chief whip, Thabang Pheko, said MPs had attended parliamentary portfolio committee meetings.
“The social cluster had visitors today and its members were not in the house because they had a meeting with their visitors,” Pheko said.
That committee is made up of just fewer than 20 MPs.
However, three MPs who are members of the committee told this meeting that they were not aware of the meeting that Pheko was referring to.
Monyalotsa said he is in the HIV and Aids section of the social cluster, which also comprises health issues, and to his knowledge there was no meeting on Friday for the committee.
“I could have known of such a meeting and I could have attended it,” Monyalotsa said.
Libe Moremoholo, the MP for Likhetlane, also said the social cluster did not have any meeting on Friday.
“We hold our meetings on Tuesdays,” Moremoholo said.
“To the best of my recollection we were not going to have any meeting today.”
Maphalla also said the social cluster had not met on Friday.
The chief whip for the opposition, Rose Lenea, offered a different explanation why MPs were not in parliament saying some of them had attended meetings for the economy and natural resources committees.
However, the Sunday Express saw some members of the economy cluster attending the parliamentary session instead of the said cluster meeting.
The NIP’s Thapelo Mokone, Mphosong MP Thapelo Rakhoro and the Basotho National Party’s Ranthomeng Matete were in parliament.
Matete said he was not aware of the meeting that Lenea was talking about.
“You have to realise that on Fridays people do not attend parliamentary sessions because of many reasons such as preparing for burials of their relatives,” Matete said.