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Stripping PM of power not the solution



This week I watched as the National Assembly went through the Omnibus Reforms Bill. The National Assembly rejected certain clauses. My friends from the National Reforms Authority (NRA) were very upset and even encouraged the Senate not to pass the Bill. Some said the Senate should hold on to it, taking advantage of standing orders which allow them to hold on to it at least for 30 days.

If the Senate does that then it means the Bill will not pass during this Parliament’s term. The King was expected to dissolve Parliament at the end of this week. The National Assembly is not a rubber stamp of the NRA. They have constitutional powers to review Bills and change them. In my opinion stripping the Prime Minister (PM) of all powers is not the ideal solution, the Prime Minister has a democratic mandate to deliver.

The Prime Minister is the head of the government. It is the most powerful position in Lesotho politics. Prime Ministers are not specifically elected to the position; instead, the Prime Minister is typically the leader of the party that has the most seats in the National Assembly.

The prime minister controls the governing party and speaks for it; He advises the King on the appointments of senators, the Chief Justice, the Commissioner of Police, the head of intelligence, head of correctional services and commander of the army. He/she appoints and dismisses all members of cabinet.

As chair of Cabinet, the Prime Minister controls its agenda and greatly influences the activities and priorities of Parliament. In recent years, debate has emerged about limiting the powers of prime ministers because of the abuse of power that has happened in the past.

Some Basotho have argued that it is necessary to do so due to our recent history of a Prime Minister who abused his powers and tested every law of the land to his advantage. A Prime Minister that deliberately made the police to fight the army.

Let us admit it, former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane was one of the worst Prime Ministers Lesotho has ever had but it will be very unfortunate to limit the powers of the Prime Minister because of Thabane’s serious mistakes.

Basotho who think like this are similar to some congress men and women I know. As the movement went through several splits, they kept on reviewing their constitutions looking at their previous experiences.

When the Democratic Congress (DC) split with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, it was based on our previous experiences whereby the National Executive Committee (NEC) had more powers than the leader. Literally the leader had no powers, but in the Democratic Congress we consolidated the powers of the leader.

Like the congress movements the NRA has unfortunately used the Omnibus Bill to limit the powers of the Prime Minister just because Thabane had become a public embarrassment and electoral liability for the All Basotho Convention (ABC).

The NRA argues that at the core of the series of problems they identified is the excessive concentration of powers in the Prime Minister. They also argue that the power is so great that the Prime Minister can usually choose whomever they want to head up government institutions that control many aspects of Basotho’s lives.

I understand that the abuses of the Prime Minister’s power that took place during the administration of Thabane raised alarm for a number of Basotho. Various actions by the Prime Minister were seen as a threat to basic democratic principles, including the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and rights to privacy. And his abuses of power culminated in the police fighting the army.

While I agree that many of the country’s problems could be dealt with more effectively without necessarily stripping the Prime Minister of all the powers, we risk making a toothless Prime Minister who will be virtually useless.

While I was not totally against stripping the Prime Minister of few powers I have serious problems with forcing a Prime Minister to work with a police boss/intelligence boss/army commander he did not appoint.

I have a problem of making the position of the Accountant General independent and making him/her accountable to Parliament yet such a position is key in the day-to-day running of the government. I have a problem with a Prime Minister who cannot appoint the Central Bank Governor in order to control the monetary policy.

Our political system is not that bad. Parliament can still recall the Prime Minister if they think he has become dangerous to the nation. So a vote of confidence is an effective tool to hold the Prime Minister accountable.

We should be grateful that we were able to put pressure on Thabane. We did not have to wait until we could vote him out when he came up for re-election. Indeed five years would have been a long time to wait to get rid of a Prime Minister who was flaunting the public will and doing an enormous amount of policy damage.

My argument is that it is much easier to hold a Prime Minister accountable. A Prime Minister can be removed in two simpler ways. First, a majority party could become disenchanted with the current Prime Minister and simply choose a new leader of the party, who then becomes the Prime Minister.

In Thabane’s case, even though the current Prime Minister was not the leader of the party but the parliamentary caucus of the ABC chose him to lead the ABC in government. Second, there can be a “vote of no confidence” by parliament. Former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was removed from office through a vote of no confidence in his government in 2017.

So in parliamentary systems, prime ministers can be removed at any time if they abuse their power or pursue policies that are opposed to the will of the people. This is a much more effective form of accountability than an election every five years.

Who will remove the account general, governor, police commissioner, army commander, intelligence boss when they make the position of the Prime Minister dysfunctional, when they only account to Parliament that can be so divided on party positions?

When we attempt to fix things we only make it worse for the next person. The Omnibus Reforms Bill suggest that the King shall become the commander-in-chief. Mosisili and his government were blamed when army officers killed each other in the unfortunate incident of Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.

If a similar case happens in the future are we supposed to blame the King? The NRA refused to listen but then the King will find himself in soup. We would have set a trap for him and the people will revolt against the monarchy because they will not have options to remove him from office, like the Prime Minister. In my opinion the King does not need to come into this mess where the electorate will be tempted to remove him from office.

On the basis of the above reasons, it is hard to be optimistic about the outcome of reforms that have stripped the Prime Minister of all his powers. These reforms have failed to fix the real problem but rather rendered the position of the Prime Minister useless.

How will they perform their duties if they have no powers? A Prime Minister is elected by the people with a clear five-year mandate to deliver. If he fails he can be removed anytime, otherwise the people can still remove him through a vote during elections. How will Basotho remove a King who was not voted into office?

Ramahooana Matlosa

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