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National Leaders Forum achieves common ground

Pascalinah Kabi

THE recent National Leaders Forum has been hailed as a breakthrough for the much-anticipated multi-sector reforms, with Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki saying the forum marked the beginning of a “new chapter that offers a glimmer of hope to our people”.

According to the government’s roadmap for the reforms, the “National Leaders’ Forum will involve leaders of the political parties to forge a political consensus on the reforms and national reconciliation”.

The two-day forum, which was held in Maseru, ended on Friday with the signing of the Lesotho National Leaders Forum Declaration on Comprehensive Reforms.

Thirty-four political parties including those in the government and opposition attended the forum. Most notably the major opposition parties, the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) also took part in the proceedings. Their participation followed intense negotiations involving the government and the SADC facilitation team headed by former South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. The opposition had threatened to boycott the reforms process to press the government to accede to its demands which included safety guarantees for its exiled leaders including LCD leader, Mothetjoa Metsing to be allowed back in the country. Mr Metsing has since been given the safety assurances to enable him to return to the country from South Africa where he has been holed up since last August.

The DC was represented by among others, its leader and former prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili while the LCD was represented by its deputy spokesperson, Atesi Ratsele, and other party officials.

And on Friday, the signatories to the Lesotho National Leaders Forum Declaration pledged to discourage all acts and conduct that may impede or stall the reforms process. They also agreed that the signing of the declaration was a significant and critical step towards an inclusive, participatory, democratic, transparent and comprehensive reforms process.

Part of the declaration states that “the parties agree that disputes that may arise among the parties shall be referred to the (SADC) facilitator whose decisions shall be binding on all parties”.

“The parties shall refrain from making public statements that could compromise or place the national dialogue at risk.”

The forum further agreed that the National Dialogue Planning Committee shall be composed of representatives of the government and opposition parties (three representatives each), political parties that do not have representatives in parliament (two representatives) and six representatives from other stakeholders like the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations, people with disabilities, media, youth, academia and business.

Speaking at the end of the forum, Mr Moleleki said the forum was a confidence-building measure marking the beginning of a long and arduous journey towards the implementation of the reforms.

“Our meeting has made an unreserved commitment and resolve to address issues that may impede progress towards the envisaged national reforms. We are confident that as we traverse this terrain of reforms with them (SADC facilitation team) their fidelity to their mandate and guiding principles shall never wane,” Mr Moleleki said.

Mr Moleleki said the journey towards the reforms was bound to be a long difficult, adding, “But if we focus on the goal of securing a better life for every Mosotho and building a secure, stable and economically prosperous country, we will not falter”.

Without strong political will and determination, the Lesotho we want and indeed the Lesotho we deserve will remain a utopia,” Mr Moleleki said.

On his part, Justice Moseneke thanked the leaders for the constructive engagements. He said the compromise and leadership they displayed during the forum gave hope to Basotho and signified a determination to put the interests of the Basotho first.

“I am certain that this forum has provided an opportunity for all Basotho stakeholders to freely present and articulate their positions on the various aspects of the reforms process in order to focus on the set priorities of amongst others, the constitutional and security sector reforms and to determine the agenda and agree on participants in the multi-stakeholders’ dialogue due to be held at the end of October 2018.

“I hope that the next phase will enable the putting in place of the implementation calendar and programme with clear milestones for the implementation of priority activities on the reforms roadmap and national dialogue while congnisant that the SAMPIL and SADC Oversight Committee tenures end in November 2018.

“The people of Lesotho have a yearning for leadership to address their challenges of addressing poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. I am therefore assured that the convening of the forum will build confidence among all Basotho who remain indispensable in their common pursuit of solutions to their country’s problems,” Justice Moseneke said.

He assured the leaders of his commitment to assisting Basotho in their quest to find sustainable solutions to the challenges confronting them in accordance with the mandate given to him by the SADC heads of state.

“We know that when this Kingdom rises, the whole of Africa will rise,” Justice Moseneke said.

Speaking on behalf of the opposition, the Official Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the opposition was fully committed to the reforms and had always taken them seriously.

Mr Mokhothu said the road to the National Leaders Forum was bumpy with a number of hiccups that needed to be cleared, adding that the SADC facilitation team worked day and night to ensure that the forum takes place.

“The opposition is fully committed to these reforms and we take them seriously. We always have and we will always do. The security reforms will usher the much-needed stability in our country while the parliamentary, public sector and judicial reforms can be a vital tool to promote good governance by changing the rules to promote more accountability, transparency and participation.

“A constitution defines and protects citizens’ rights from governmental abuse. It also limits and balances government powers vice versa other players and institutions, thereby safeguarding the minority rights. The more inclusive participatory and transparent that this process is, the more likely that the political order will be seen as legitimate.

“We can therefore conclude that the reform process must be governed through public consultation and negotiations. This has become popular method for countries to account for past institutional failures, reconstruct political structures after political challenges and ensure better governance for the future,” Mr Mokhothu said.

He said fostering national dialogue and creating reform coalitions would ensure an inclusive and transparent reform process.

“For this process to take root, Lesotho must remove several impediments. All exiled opposition leaders must be unconditionally allowed back in the country together with all Basotho who sought refuge outside the country,” Mr Mokhothu said.

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