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Opposition issues reforms threat

…we will boycott national day of prayer and other processes until our leaders return home

Pascalinah Kabi

THE much-postponed national multi-sector reforms process which was meant to have kicked off last week is once again in danger of collapse after the opposition said they will not take part until their exiled leaders are granted safe passage back into the country to lead them in the process.

Lesotho has until May 2019 to fully implement constitutional and security sector reforms after a Southern African Development Community (SADC) ultimatum that was issued at last month’s SADC Double Troika Summit in Luanda, Angola.

It had been anticipated that the reforms process would finally get underway after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane officially launched the National Reforms Agenda in the National Assembly.

The launch of the National Reforms Agenda was the first step in a series of processes and activities that are expected to culminate in the implementation of the multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the SADC in 2016.

The next step was meant to be the holding of a National Day of Prayer at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru and other venues around the country in a move that the government secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, said was aimed at “seeking providence as we embark on our journey to the Lesotho we want”.

The national prayer was eventually postponed to 1 June this week as the government continues to prepare the logistics for the success of the event.

However, the opposition has also said it will not only boycott the prayers but the entire reforms process until the opposition leaders who are in exile are given safety guarantees to enable them to return home to lead their parties in the reforms process.

Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing and his deputy Tšeliso Mokhosi fled the country last year, alleging that their lives were in danger. The government has however, denied the claims and insists that Mr Metsing fled the country to avoid prosecution for corruption.

Last week, Mr Metsing told our Lesotho Times publication about his desire to return to lead his party in the reforms process. He however, questioned the government’s sincerity about facilitating his safe return, saying he did not understand how could be safe when the government had also applied for his extradition from South Africa.

Addressing a recent press briefing by several opposition parties, the leader of the opposition in parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the opposition would not participate in the national prayers and any of the reforms processes until exiled leaders returned home.

Mr Mokhothu said the current situation where their leaders are in exile was exactly like the situation in 2016 which prevented the reforms process from kicking off when the-then opposition leaders, Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Thesele Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Keke Rantšo of the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) were all in exile.

The trio had fled the country in 2015 and they only returned in February 2017 to mastermind the no confidence vote that brought a premature end to the then seven parties’ coalition government that was led by Democratic Congress leader, Pakalitha Mosisili.

In his recent address, Mr Mokhothu said the current situation was the same as it was when the-then seven parties’ administration failed to implement the reforms agenda due to the absence of the then opposition leaders.

“We failed to implement the reforms because of Thabane, Maseribane and Keketso’s absence as we were told that the reforms should be transparent and inclusive,” Mr Mokhothu said.

“We are faced with the same situation now as four of our leaders are in exile. We will not take part in the National Day of Prayer because government is trying to sidestep us into participating in the reforms without our leaders,” Mr Mokhothu said.

Mr Mokhothu, who is also deputy leader of the DC, only returned from exile in March this year after eight months of self-imposed in exile in South Africa.

Upon his arrival in Maseru, Mr Mokhothu, immediately told party supporters that he only returned to the country after lengthy negotiations with SADC who assured him of his safety after talks with the government.

He also said that his return would enable the opposition to “test the waters” ahead of the possible return of fellow exiled leaders who include Mr Metsing.

During the recent press briefing, Mr Mokhothu warned the government against taking the issue of the exiled leaders for granted, saying they were just as important to the reforms as the trio of Thabane, Maseribane and Rantšo were.

He said the exiled leaders’ participation was necessary to ensure the reforms was all-inclusive and had the buy-in of all Basotho.

“The principles that were agreed upon must be adhered to. Why can’t it be taken seriously when the former deputy prime minister (Mr Metsing) of this country is not here? They (the government) made demands when they were in the opposition and we went as far as retiring former army commander Tlali Kamoli,” Mr Mokhothu said.

The opposition’s stance adds more hurdles to the reforms process which is already way behind schedule.

Dr Thabane was initially supposed to address parliament on the 7th of May and the national prayers were supposed to have been held on the 13th of May.

Other activities that are also behind schedule include the launch of the National Dialogue Planning Committee (16 May) and the convening of the National Leaders Forum which were supposed to have done on 16 and 24 May respectively.

Meanwhile, political analyst Kopano Makoa says the reforms processes will go ahead despite the ‘political games’ between the government and opposition.

The former National University of Lesotho lecturer said the reforms were no just the business of Basotho as they also involved SADC and the international community.

“The reforms are no longer the business of the government and Basotho but they are now bigger than us. SADC is now pressurising Lesotho to implement the reforms and Lesotho will do just that because this is no longer the agenda of the government,” Prof Makoa said.

He said in addition to SADC, the reforms process was also being monitored by the African Union (AU) and international donors who have previously threatened to withdraw development assistance if the reforms are not implemented.

He said the peace and stability in the country were as a result of the presence of the SADC standby forces in Lesotho and that the reforms should be implemented now because “SADC didn’t say all people must be here (in Lesotho to participate)”.

Prof Makoa said the opposition was misleading the nation by saying it failed to implement the reforms process due to the absence of the Dr Thabane, Chief Maseribane and Ms Rantšo as they established committees to work on the reforms agenda.

“The government drives reforms not the opposition. Parliament will decide whether or not to adapt the reforms and the opposition will still participate in the reforms if they choose not to do so now. It is a simple case where they will vote in parliament when the proposed reforms are submitted for adoption into law,” Prof Makoa said.

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