MASERU — Local Government Minister Pontšo Sekatle says threats by opposition leaders to boycott the forthcoming local government elections if the ministry does not amend the Local Government Elections Act are misdirected.
Sekatle said although she has heard the opposition complaining about certain clauses in the law “not one opposition party leader has approached the ministry to suggest fundamental charges and amendments to the law”.
“And they have the right to do so,” Sekatle said.
Lesotho’s main opposition leaders last week threatened to boycott the local government elections if the ministry does not amend the law to ensure that they are “free and fair”.
They said the law must be amended to ensure that the playing field is level for all participants.
Although much of their demands are vague the opposition leaders say they want the minister to change a clause that allows her to reserve some council seats for female candidates.
All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader, Tom Thabane, said he was concerned that while the national elections are using the Mixed Member Proportional representation election system the local government elections are still run under the First Past the Post system.
He said this creates confusion.
Marematlou Freedom Party’s Moeketse Malebo described the quota system for women in the law as “sexist”.
Basotho National Party leader Metsing Lekhanya said there were 13 areas that needed to be amended in law but he did not elaborate on which clause he specifically meant.
Sekatle however insisted that these complaints lacked merit and that the issue of the differences in electoral models in the national and local government elections had never been raised at any forum.
“They are addressing these matters in newspapers when they should be giving their concerns to us,” Sekatle said of the complaints.
“They have never come to tell us that they wanted certain issues changed in the law.”
Sekatle said last November she made some amendments to the law and they were pushed through parliament but the opposition did not suggest further amendments that they are now demanding as a condition for their participation in the elections.
“The opposition parties have people in parliament who have the right to suggest changes to laws and make them. They should have suggested those amendments if they wanted to.
“But no one made those suggestions,” she added.
She said the government had never made an undertaking to harmonise the national and local government elections.
“But even so, that did not stop the opposition from suggesting it if they wanted that to happen. They could have suggested the amendments when we proposed other amendments to the Bill last year.”
Sekatle said the opposition did not suggest changes to the clause that reserves seats for women councillors.
“They could have suggested changes to that clause too when I tabled the other amendments but they never did.”
Even then, Sekatle said, the reservation of seats for women was never meant to be permanent.
“It was an amendment made in 2004 because we wanted to meet the threshold set by SADC but it was never meant to be permanent.
“The plan was to build capacity for women but in the third round of elections that requirement will fall off. Already we are on 54 percent woman representation among the councillors.”
Sekatle said the ministry had also amended the Local Government Act (1997).
One of the main changes to the law is that the term of office for a mayor or council chairperson will be reduced from five years to one year.
This means that a mayor or chairperson will be appointed annually.
The same amendment will apply to the deputy mayor and vice-chairperson as well.
“It was felt that in the past there had been many disputes between the mayor or chairperson and the councillors who would have elected them. This yearly term is meant to deal with that issue. A mayor or chairperson is eligible for re-election.”
The amendments also propose to establish the position of a director general in the Local Government Ministry who will report to the principal secretary of the ministry.
The director general will manage and supervise chief executive officers of councils as well as co-ordinate the implementation of the Local Government Services Act 2008.