PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane says that Thursday evening’s last minute passage of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) Bill of 2019 by the National Assembly is a huge milestone towards the implementation of decisions of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The NRA Bill initially hit a snag in parliament on Monday after the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) ganged up with the opposition to frustrate the government’s attempts to fast-track the passage of the bill.
The pro-Mahao legislators and the opposition insisted that the bill should not be fast-tracked and it should go through the normal parliamentary committee processes where it would be scrutinised before being accepted, amended or outrightly rejected. The government was outvoted on the issue and it only took the last minute intervention of the head of the SADC facilitation, Retired South African Justice Dikgang Moseneke, for parliament to be re-opened and the bill approved ahead of the SADC heads of state summit which began on Friday and ended yesterday in Tanzania.
Despite the infighting over the bill which is aimed at creating an independent body to oversee the implementation of the multi-sector reforms that were recommended by SADC in 2016, Dr Thabane on Friday told the SADC Double Troika that the passage of the bill the country had reached another milestone with the enactment of legislation establishing the National Reforms Authority.
“An agreement has been reached by all parties on the structure (National Reforms Authority) that will drive the reform process,” Dr Thabane said.
“The legislation establishing the National Reforms Authority has just been passed by the National Assembly and the National Reforms Authority will carry on the reforms process in a transparent and independent manner without any interference by the government and any other stakeholders.
“It is worth noting that this (passage of the act) was achieved ahead of schedule. According to the roadmap, the structure that will drive the reform process was supposed to be adopted by second plenary session of the multi-stakeholder national dialogue which will be held in the coming months.”
He listed the approval and implementation of the National Dialogue Stabilisation Project, the convening of the National Leaders’ Forum, the establishment of the national dialogue planning committee, the holding of the first plenary of the multi-stakeholder national dialogue and in-district consultations in all 10 districts and diaspora consultations in South Africa some of the milestones along the path to the implementation of the reforms.
“Preparations for the security sector reforms are at an advanced stage and the SADC Security Sector reform experts have begun their work in Lesotho.
“While commendable progress has been achieved, the reforms process in Lesotho has been a very daunting undertaking. The enormity and complexity of the task greatly surpassed our anticipation. While all stakeholders are unanimous on the need for reforms they were widely opposed on the actual process of implementing the reforms.”
He said that the stakeholders had expressed the need to first bridge the deep political divide and cultivate ownership of the process hence the subsequent extensive consultations.
Dr Thabane said it was expected that after a laborious process of consultations the process of legislating the reforms and the implementation of the actual reforms would be less onerous. He said the process was now in full swing and “has reached an irreversible stage”.
“I also stand here before this SADC Troika Summit and declare that this vehicle that we are driving towards reforms and lasting peace in Lesotho has no reserve gear. We are on a one way highway to reforms with no off ramps.
“We have now reached a new phase in the political and security journey that we are embarked on. The political and security situation has stabilised. We are now at the stage where we need to embark on the process of nation-building and reconciliation.”
He also appealed to the Troika Summit to approve the deployment of the SADC Mediation and Conflict Resolution Structure to Lesotho. If approved, the new organ, which is said to be much cheaper, will replace the SADC Oversight Committee which was deemed to be more expensive to maintain in Lesotho as an early warning mechanism.
Meanwhile, Basotho National Party (BNP) deputy leader Joang Molapo’s desperate attempt to sway parliament into amending the National Reforms Authority (NRA) Bill to allow for equal representation of political parties and civil organisations failed on Thursday.
Chief Molapo, who is also the Minister of Tourism, Environment and Cultural Affairs, had argued that political parties were given more seats in the authority even though some of the parties had less following than civic organisations.
Chief Molapo gave an example of the wool and mohair industry which had over 40 000 farmers, a number he said was much higher than that of some of the political parties.
Political parties have 35 seats while civic organisations have only 21 seats in the authority.
“We have wool and mohair sector that has over 40 000 members, a membership that is way higher than that of some of the political parties registered with the IEC. We also have faith-based organisations whose membership runs higher than that of some of the political parties. Why can’t we have an equal representation of political parties and civil organisations,” Chief Molapo asked.
On his part, Berea Member of Parliament Motlatsi Maqelepo warned the National Assembly should not be used a rubber stamp and that they should be allowed to debate and amend the bill. Mr Maqelepo was reacting to Law and Public Safety Cluster Chairperson, Lekhetho Mosito, who said that the contents of the bill had already been decided by the National Leaders Forum.
Irked by this statement, Mr Maqelepo said, “parliament should not be used as a rubber stamp, we need to be allowed to look into this whole bill in its entirety and make decisions of our own”.
“We cannot be told that the leaders have made decisions and that we therefore have to pass the bill. It does not work like that, parliament should not be used as a rubber stamp.”
The bill was however, passed without amendments despite concerns by legislators from both sides of the political divide. The draft act will now be debated in the Senate and once approved, His Majesty King Letsie III will append his signature to operationalise the act.