Opposition MPs face expulsion
. . . as bloc accuses parly speaker of bias
THE tripartite opposition bloc has accused National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai of doing the government’s bidding in asking 13 Members of Parliament (MPs) to show cause why they should not be expelled from the august house for alleged absenteeism without her permission.
The bloc, which consists of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), says the timing of the move is suspect and ultimately meant to reduce the number of opposition MPs in the event of a no-confidence motion on the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led government.
On Friday, Ms Motsamai wrote letters to 13 opposition MPs requesting them to show cause why she should not fire them from the National Assembly for alleged absenteeism without her permission.
The MPs include the exiled opposition bloc leaders, former premier Thomas Thabane, Thesele ’Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the ABC, BNP and RCL respectively.
The trio sought refuge in South Africa on 11, 13 and 26 May 2015 respectively, allegedly after being alerted of a plot to kill them by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members — an accusation the army and government have vehemently denied.
Other MPs facing expulsion include the BNP’s Joang Molapo and Dr Nthabiseng Makoae and the ABC’s Samonyane Ntsekele, Leshoboro Mohlajoa, Tšoeu Molise, Majoro Mohapi, Chalane Phori, Mokherane Tsatsanyane, Motlohi Maliehe and Prince Maliehe.
The opposition’s 55 MPs started boycotting the august house on 23 June last year when it adjourned, protesting alleged lack of law and order which had resulted in their three leaders seeking refuge in South Africa the previous month.
In addition to the safe return of their leaders and all the other exiles, the MPs also demanded the prosecution of LDF members who killed former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao. Lt-Gen Mahao was fatally shot on 25 June 2015 by fellow LDF members who had come to arrest him on suspicion he had planned to lead a mutiny and remove the military command.
While most of the MPs have since returned to the National Assembly, some have intermittently fled the country citing threats to their lives and quietly returned over the course of this year.
In her letters to the MPs, Ms Motsamai gives them until Friday this week to motivate why they should not be expelled for allegedly being absent during a third of the total sessions of the house in a year without her permission.
A letter to one of the MPs in the Sunday Express’s possession is titled “Absence from the sittings of the National Assembly 2015-2015 . . .” and states that by 9 December 2015, the legislators had reached the “threshold of the prohibited absenteeism”.
Part of the letter reads: “To the extent relevant for the present purposes, section 60(1) (g) of the Constitution (as amended) provides that; ‘…a member of the National Assembly shall vacate his seat; (g) if, in any one year and without the written permission of the Speaker of the National Assembly he is absent from one-third of the total number of sittings of House of which he is a member…
“You may wish to know that by 9 December 2015 with your absence from the sittings of the House in 2015, you actually reached the threshold of the prohibited absenteeism of one-third of the total sittings of the House. As that happened, as it did, you had neither the required permission of the speaker, nor had you requested one, nor had afforded the speaker the opportunity given by law to examine your reasons for the absenteeism.”
Ms Motsamai says based on the period of absence, they were effectively no longer MPs.
“Thus, in consequence, your absenteeism dates back from 2015, and running through to 9 December 2015 brings into play the constitutional provisions above, and is, in my tentative view, detrimental to your holding of a parliamentary seat in the Ninth Parliament of Lesotho,” she argues.
“It is my view that, regard being had to all the foregoing, you have, by operation of law, vacated your seat as a member of the National Assembly effectively from 9 December 2015.”
The speaker also expresses an intention to inform the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of the “vacancy” of the seats after hearing the MPs’ responses.
“. . . I intend, in due course of time, to make an appropriate pronouncement and inform the IEC regarding what in my view is an existing vacancy in relation to the parliamentary seat you held.
“But before I could conclusively take the view that indeed, as a matter of law, you have vacated your parliamentary seat and, as such, proceed to pronounce on the matter, I considered that it is worthwhile that you should have an opportunity to make representations, showing cause, if any, why I cannot proceed in the manner intended.”
Ms Motsamai indicates she intends to “carefully consider” the MPs’ responses if they decide to do so.
“Such representations, if made, would be carefully considered, and an appropriate decision as to the way forward taken. Should you be minded to make representations, you should please do so in writing within seven days of the receipt hereof, addressed to me at the abovementioned address,” she adds.
However, Chief Molapo, who spoke on behalf of the 13 MPs, yesterday told this paper Ms Motsamai’s move was “purely political” and meant to weaken the opposition ahead of a no-confidence motion.
He said it was “suspicious” that the speaker’s decided to expel the MPs almost a year after the alleged offence.
“Her decision has nothing to do with any parliamentary disciplinary measures or the advancement of the house whatsoever,” said Chief Molapo, who is also BNP deputy leader.
“The motive for this decision is purely political and an unfair tactic to reduce our numbers in favour of the troubled government. It is a political process – it has nothing to do with parliament.
“They are using this as a strategy to downsize the opposition in parliament for fear of a looming vote of no confidence against the government.”
Ms Motsamai’s decision comes shortly after Chief Molapo and the RCL Secretary-General ’Mamolula Ntabe on Wednesday filed a motion for a vote of no confidence against National Assembly Deputy Speaker Montšuoe Lethoba. Should it succeed, the move would be the precursor to a vote of no confidence on Dr Mosisili and his coalition government.
Ms Motsamai dismissed a letter written to her by the Democratic Congress’s (DC) National Executive Committee (NEC), informing her of their resolution to withdraw the main-ruling party from the seven-member coalition government.
In her ruling, Ms Motsamai said it was unprocedural for the DC NEC to write a letter concerning the party to her. The correct procedure, she said, was for the letter to be submitted to her by the DC Parliamentary Caucus, as per the party’s constitution.
However, Chief Molapo said all these manoeuvres were meant to frustrate a looming vote of no confidence.
“The speaker is being used by the government to destabilise the opposition. She wants to fire us as the ring leaders from our respective parties because we are influential,” he said.
“It’s all meant to avoid the no confidence motion. How can the speaker with an intent to fire us also be the one who adjudicates on our responses? It goes to show that we are not being given a fair platform to counter argue this matter.”
Chief Molapo said they were nevertheless preparing their responses to Ms Motsamai.
“We want to put it on record that we are going to respond to her. We just hope she will deal with the merits of this matter fairly,” he added.
Also commenting on the development, Ms Rantšo said they were surprised by the speaker’s decision considering “the whole world” knew why the opposition leaders were in exile.
“It seems the speaker can just wake up and decide to throw us out of parliament pretending she doesn’t know the reasons for our absence,” the RCL leader said.
Ms Rantšo said the Southern African Development Community (SADC), through its facilitator to Lesotho, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, was working towards returning the exiled leaders.
“Let me remind her that we are MPs because we were voted for by Basotho, not her. SADC has intervened and work is in progress for us to return home. So it is baffling for the Madam Speaker to write such letters to us?” she said.
Efforts to contact Ms Motsamai yesterday were unsuccessful.