THIS week Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla again takes the HOT SEAT to answer questions about factionalism in the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party and what he would say if he were to be nominated to become the next prime minister. He also talks about the controversy that erupted after ministers bought their official vehicles at book value from the government in 2006.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
SE: Let’s talk about the internal politics of the LCD. There has been talk of factionalism in the party but no one in the leadership has confirmed it. Are there factions in the ruling party?
Lehohla: We must make a distinction between factionalism and a healthy debate in the party. We must not confuse a group of people thinking about the future of the party with factions. The LCD is a well-organised party with clear structures. We strive to have a membership that strives for what the party stands for and what it is about. The issue of personality does arise but when that happens then you know that people have lost the vision of the party.
SE: Are there factions in the LCD then?
Lehohla: I would be wrong to say there are no people who think more about personalities than issues. They are there and those are the people who are prone to factionalism.
SE: Is the party worried about such people?
Lehohla: Do I look worried? No. I only feel sorry for people who miscalculate and then get hurt in the process.
SE: But factions normally flourish when a party does not encourage open debate about succession. Does the LCD encourage the succession debate?
Lehohla: I think we need to be clear what that means because part of the election process is a clear discussion about succession. The fact that we have elections every time is a clear indication that the party has a clear vision about succession.
But if people want to change that in a way that is not consistent with the party constitution then we have problems. When you have such people you know that it’s not about principles but personalities. You end up with mudslinging and people embark on a devious course.
There are clear channels for people to discuss the succession issue. We have the women’s league, the youth league and the national executive committee. These are platforms for people to discuss who should take over when the party leader goes.
SE: But the problem is that people don’t know when the leader is going to step down because there are no term limits.
Lehohla: People have asked about the term limits for the party leader and the prime minister. We don’t think there is anything wrong with the absence of the term limits because there are no elections for the prime minister. The prime minister is elected by parliament. Nobody runs for the office of the prime minister.
I also don’t think that it’s necessary to have term limits for the LCD leader. The LCD has elections every time. If you have such a healthy democracy within a party I don’t think it’s necessary to have term limits. The other issue is that we need stability and continuity.
So it is because of that reason that you then say to the leaders hang on in there to ensure the country is stable. This country has never known sustained peace since independence.
SE: What has the LCD achieved in the 12 years that it has been in government? What are the key areas of success that you can point at?
Lehohla: People tend to underestimate the work that we have done because they are quick to make value judgments. Look at the freedom of press that is now here. The radio stations heap insults on ministers every day. That kind of media freedom is unparalleled.
If you go to any corner of this country you will see a beautiful school. There are roads too. The health sector is running properly. This country would have been much better if it had been given a long time of stability. You cannot work when you are always fighting.
SE: But with all those things that you mention why then did the LCD struggle to win the 2007 elections? You lost almost all the seats in the capital Maseru.
Lehohla: We were not quite aware of the support that we had lost. But this is a learning process. The people in towns are prone to have attitudes against government even though they get a bigger share of the national resources than the people in the rural areas.
I must however say that the vehicles that we got at residual value could have contributed to us losing support. That might have contributed even though (opposition All Basotho Convention party leader) Mr Tom Thabane also benefited from the scheme.
SE: Was that necessary? Couldn’t ministers buy their own cars with their own salaries?
Lehohla: I don’t think ministers could afford especially if you look at what they are paid as salaries. I admit that it’s debatable whether they could afford to buy the cars or not but I really think they would not have afforded those cars. But the whole process was above board. It might not have been politically elegant but legally it was above board. I am glad that we as government listened to people’s concerns and it will not happen again.
SE: Ministers have two official cars but High Court judges are struggling to get cars. Recently we had reports that some judges had been forced to use public transport after their official cars broke down.
Lehohla: Why should that be the case when we have done all we can to make it possible for them to get their cars? We are trying our best even with the small envelope of resources that we have. The management of these resources is critical so that we don’t get the unnecessary publicity that we have had.
SE: When are you going to take a rest? When are you going to leave politics?
Lehohla: When the people of Mafeteng say they can no longer retain me as their MP. What is important to me is that we have people who understand the gravity of the responsibility on our shoulders as leaders. We are saying these people can only understand this when they sit down and look at where we have come from.
We need to appreciate that one way or the other we will leave power (to the younger generation). I am glad that we now have people who are coming through parliament and understand what it means to lead the people.
SE: Will you be willing to take over the party leadership if you were to be nominated? Do you see yourself being the prime minister of this country one day?
Lehohla: I think I would approach that nomination with a very humble and serious consideration. What would it mean to me? If the people say they have confidence in me then I would ask them what more I can do for this country that I have not done as the deputy prime minister.
I honestly don’t think that I would have any more significant thing to achieve in that position. In any case I would have to make a serious evaluation of my health and faculties. I would ask those people who nominate me what it is that they want me to do that I have not done already.
SE: The war over proportional representation seats rages on. Is there going to be a solution to this problem?
Lehohla: That issue was canvassed, discussed and dissected by all sorts of opinion at home and abroad. They stuck to their position. Finally we agreed to disagree. I don’t think much can be done about it. We just have to start working to change the legislation so that we don’t get into similar problems again.
SE: But the opposition is still not happy about the issue.
Lehohla: Nobody has suggested that they should be happy. Being unhappy will not solve the problem.
SE: So you are saying they should accept the status quo?
Lehohla: I have said we have agreed to disagree. They have stuck to their position and we have stuck to our position. Nothing can be done about that.
SE: You are an MP from a district where famo artists are killing each other every time. What are you doing about the killings?
Lehohla: These are some of the challenges that we face as a country. People are not valuing the lives of others. We believe part of the problem has to do with the lack of education. I don’t think that most of them have gone as far as Junior Certificate level. The key is education. The miracle bullet is education.