Thabane defends Gupta decision
- I have not taken a penny from the Guptas
- I am a Prime Minister with executive authority and empowered by the constitution to take certain decisions
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has strongly defended his decision to issue diplomatic passports to members of South Africa’s controversial Gupta family and rejected demands by the opposition and his deputy to withdraw the documents.
Dr Thabane — whose All Basotho Convention (ABC) formed a coalition government with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) in June 2012 — said the diplomatic passports were essential in facilitating the businessmen’s work in securing investment for Lesotho.
The Sunday Express, in its August 10-16 2014 edition, reported that Dr Thabane had appointed three South Africa-based tycoons of Indian origin, among them Atul Kumar Gupta and his nephew Essa Omar Aziz, as special advisors and issued them with diplomatic passports.
The revelation sparked widespread debate among Basotho, with the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Congress (DC), and LCD condemning the appointments and demanding the withdrawal of the diplomatic passports, due to the Gupta family’s very close links with South African President Jacob Zuma, which have created concerns in South Africa.
However, Dr Thabane on Friday said he had nothing to apologise for regarding the appointments, as he had made them for the good of the country.
“I have appointed them to market the country (Lesotho) in countries where they have influence…. These people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC (South Africa’s ruling African National Congress) and we have good relations with the ANC… It’s no secret that we are good friends of the ANC,” said Dr Thabane.
“I was introduced to them by the ANC President (Jacob Zuma) and other ANC officials… I then appointed them to help scout for investment for my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho. They have undertaken to hunt for investors for us…….”
Dr Thabane said any suggestions that he had favoured the Guptas — who have made a fortune in South Africa through shrewd investment in mining, air travel, energy, technology and the media — in exchange for personal returns were totally wrong and unacceptable.
“I have not taken a penny from the Guptas. I am not corrupt. Check with all the banks the world over …. I have not received any money from them. ….I am merely using my office to get developments going for my country…,” said Dr Thabane.
The premier further said the Guptas had also indicated they wanted to invest in the mining sector in Lesotho and he was facilitating things for them.
“I will not bury my head and shy away from the Guptas… I won’t apologise to anyone for assisting them. Anyone who wants to come and invest…I will assist them…,” said Dr Thabane, adding he recently paid a visit to India and was eager for Indian businessmen and any other foreigners to invest in Lesotho.
The premier further defended the Guptas as “solid businesspeople with a good track record in both business and in assisting the ANC since the days of (Nelson) Mandela, while he was still in prison”.
The Guptas, he added, were also solid and good friends of the ANC, a party he said was also a good friend of Lesotho. Dr Thabane further said attempts to smear the Guptas with unnecessary controversy without considering the good they had brought through their business acumen in all the places they have operated, were unfortunate.
“What is wrong with making good friends with them?” asked Dr Thabane. “I have said to them come and invest, not into my pocket but for the benefit of my country…”
The prime minister noted the Guptas were also the first group of ordinary South African millionaires who had asked him for mining opportunities other than the usual big conglomerates such as Anglo, De Beers and others.
Dr Thabane further emphasised the diplomatic passports issued to the Guptas remained the property of Lesotho, to be returned when their job was done or when circumstances demanded.
“If you appoint people into such roles, you either give them diplomatic passports or national passports and they return them when the job is done… There is nothing untoward about it,” said the premier, adding he would use the Guptas effectively to source investment for the country.
However, Lesotho’s decision to give them diplomatic passports would appear to be a shot-in-the-arm for the Guptas if reports that they had previously unsuccessfully tried to get South African diplomatic passports are anything to go by.
Dr Thabane also dismissed criticism from his coalition government partner, LCD leader and Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Mothetjoa Metsing, that the decision was taken without consultation and should be withdrawn. Mr Metsing and Dr Thabane have not seen eye-to-eye since June this year when the DPM publicly accused the premier of not abiding by the spirit of consultation when making key decisions, such as his nine-month suspension of parliament in June this year, as enshrined in the Coalition Agreement on which the tripartite government was founded.
However, the premier is adamant he was within his rights to appoint the three advisors without consulting Mr Metsing and BNP leader Thesele ‘Maseribane.
“I acted within my mandate and this has nothing to do with Metsing. I am a Prime Minister with executive authority and am empowered by the constitution to take certain decisions. I also acted within the confines of my ministry… The DPM himself takes a number of decisions without consulting me…,” said Dr Thabane, who prorogued (suspended) parliament in June this year until February 2015 after Mr Metsing had walked out of their coalition pact to form a new alliance with the DC, led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Mr Metsing’s move had threatened to prematurely end Dr Thabane’s premiership, and three months before, opposition members of parliament (MPs) had given notice that they intended to pass a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister’s leadership and his government, after accusing the coalition of incompetence, among other alleged shortcomings.
However, after parliament was prorogued, Dr Thabane did not have to face the no-confidence vote, for as long as it remained out of session. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has since intervened to help the feuding parties resolve their problems and ensure stability in the Kingdom, which has experienced its fair share of upheavals in the past, including the 1998 disturbances which saw President Mandela deploying South African troops to restore order.
Through SADC interventions, led by Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Mr Metsing agreed to rescind his deal with the DC signed on 11 June, while Dr Thabane would take moves to end the prorogation of Parliament.
Mr Metsing’s party has since announced the cancellation of its deal with the DC “to prove our good faith that we keep our promises”. However, Dr Thabane’s ABC dismisses the move as a ruse meant to ensure the re-opening of Parliament, only for Mr Metsing and Dr Mosisili, who will command a clear majority, to then ambush Dr Thabane with a no-confidence vote.
On Friday, Dr Thabane said he would only re-open Parliament once the issues that caused its closure have been cleared.
“It was not closed for pleasure. It would be re-opened once issues that caused its closure are cleared… We are a parliamentary democracy and parliament will not remain shut forever…,” he said.
Before such re-opening, Dr Thabane said it was essential for all parties to agree that the role of Parliament was to make laws and pass the budget and not be used in underhand machinations to make reversals of decisions of the electorate through floor-crossings or no-confidence votes.
“People voted for a coalition and we have one… But if it’s not fulfilling its mandate, then let’s go to elections. We cannot keep changing what people have determined through the back door …,” he said.
Dr Thabane said he was not afraid of elections should they become necessary.
However, the constitution of Lesotho allows the prime minister to prorogue Parliament for nine months with the possibilities of renewing such prorogations till the next national elections. In the current scenario, the next general elections are set for 2017.
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