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PM wades into land controversy

Bongiwe Zihlangu

MASERU — Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has advised local government minister Pontšo Sekatle to go back to the drawing board to establish if she had acted within the confines of the law when she allocated sites to senior government officials recently.
Mosisili said this during a two-hour meeting with opposition political party leaders in the lounge of his Qhobosheaneng office on Thursday.
Sekatle recently granted residential sites to nine government ministers, senior officials and judges at Arrival Centre and Maseru Central suburbs.
Beneficiaries include sports minister ‘Mathabiso Lepono, Mosisili’s son, Rethabile Mosisili, home affairs assistant minister Lineo Molise-Mabusela, justice minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, and former health principal secretary Karabo Mohlakoana.
Others are education minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla and two High Court judges, Justices ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane and Nthomeng Majara.
Sekatle told the Lesotho Times last week that the land allocations were done according to the law.
She said the beneficiaries had applied for land and the land allocation committee had given them land that had been properly surveyed and serviced as required by the law.
The minister said this process started as early as 2009 and there was nothing sinister about the allocations.
But the allocation of the sites to the top officials did not go down well with the opposition leaders, who raised the issue with Mosisili during the Thursday meeting.
Also in attendance were minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Motloheloa Phooko, education and training minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla, natural resource minister Monyane Moleleki and Sekatle.
Opposition leaders included Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) leader, Macaefa Billy, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader Thesele ‘Maseribane, All Basotho Convention’s Thomas Thabane, Popular Front for Democracy’s Leketho Rakuoane and BNP treasurer, Sekhohola Molelle.
‘Maseribane told the Sunday Express on Friday that when the opposition leaders raised concerns about the allocations Mosisili suggested that Sekatle should check if they were done according to the law.
This was after the opposition leaders said by allocating the sites to the senior government officials Sekatle had acted against the Land Act 2010 “which prohibits the minister from doing so”.
He said the leaders had argued that the allocations amount to selective disposal of government property.
“Minister Sekatle wanted to lose her cool but was abruptly cautioned by the PM to go back to the drawing board to re-establish if she had acted within the confines of the law when she allocated the land in question,” ‘Maseribane said.
“The education minister also tried to get out of hand but was quickly stopped in her tracks by minister Moleleki. Minister Phooko remained silent throughout the meeting.”
‘Maseribane said at the beginning of the meeting Mosisili was “nervous and seemed under pressure and unsure as to whether that meeting was a conducive platform to discuss such issues”.
He however said Mosisili relaxed soon after Moleleki interjected during the proceedings and noted that the meeting was indeed the proper platform for the two sides to discuss issues.
In a document listing their grievances which was sent to Mosisili two days before the meeting entitled “Talking points by Opposition Leaders: Definition of the Problem”, the leaders said challenges currently facing the country were the “symptom of a bigger picture”.
“The mass demonstration the country is experiencing now is the symptom of a bigger picture which has never been addressed properly by government,” the document reads.
The opposition leaders also said there was no transparency in the measures the government has implemented to reduce the impact of the global financial meltdown on the economy.
“In particular the public does not know what happened to the proposed stimuli of M600 million in 2009,” they noted.
The opposition also questioned the criterion used in allocating M100 million to the textile industry.
“What was the criterion used in allocating the M100 million to the textile industry? What about the M50 million for the youth projects?”
The leaders said they were also concerned that the M100 million excludes textile workers.
They also demanded to know what the 30 percent proposed in the 2010/2011 budget as subsidy for farmers “amounts to in real terms”.
“What percentage of the national budget does this make? Again, what happened to the M50 million Poultry Projects which were strongly canvassed?” the statement read.
They recommended that there be public dialogue on the management of the financial crisis in Lesotho to avoid “the situation which is prevailing in Swaziland”.
“Government is urged to facilitate the dialogue and stop grand standing,” they said.
Following the meeting, a statement signed by ‘Maseribane on behalf of the opposition and Moleleki for government, was issued in which both parties (government and opposition) agreed that it would be wise to hold more meetings of a similar nature “to share ideas and come up with solutions”.
“Among other things, it was agreed that the dialogue should continue in order to bring understanding between all sectors of government and the public,” the statement says.
‘Maseribane later said the opposition leaders were now waiting to be called for another meeting where they would be provided with “answers to our questions”.
Thabane said it should be clear to government that opposition leaders had not gone to the meeting to grovel but to demand answers as to why “this government is failing in the execution of its duties’.
“Any government is in danger of being replaced by the opposition if its performance is not up to scratch and does not deliver on its promises,” Thabane said.
Also of concern to the leaders is the altering of the number of students admitted at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and the cutting of funds “to orphans at high schools”.
“There is also the freezing of employment in the public sector and study leave for teachers and civil servants. We wonder whether the implications of this move were examined,” said the leaders in the document they sent to Mosisili.

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