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Sekhamane speaks out

  • says “poor calibre of MPs have rendered parly ineffective”,
  • blames them for failing to hold executive to account over missing M6, 1 billion,
  • promises to ensure that 11th parliament passes outstanding reforms bills, plays its oversight role…

Bongiwe Zihlangu

NEWLY minted Speaker of the National Assembly, Tlohang Sekhamane, has blamed politics of patronage for the “poor calibre” of legislators over the years.

Mr Sekhamane said due to the poor calibre of some of the MPs, parliament had become “negligent and toothless to a point where it did not move even an inch” despite reports of either stolen or unaccounted for public funds, thus failing dismally to discharge its oversight function over the executive.

Echoing the meritocracy mantra of his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party, he said parliament could only deliver on its law-making and oversight mandate if the august house was comprised “only of people who are up for the task”.

He was speaking exclusively to the Lesotho Times in his first media interview since his election late last month.

“I very strongly believe that you should only give an important job to people who can do it,” Mr Sekhamane said.

“The way people are elected to parliament right now leaves a lot to be desired, vis-à-vis their ability to do what they have been elected to do. I think there’s a huge gap there.

“Just because somebody’s father was a good person in charge of burial societies or helping the elderly and so on, it doesn’t qualify that person to go to parliament. Some will say this man has a right to go to parliament because his grandfather was a great man who did so many things for the nation. Right now, many people get rewarded just like that. I don’t believe in that. I believe that the nation should move towards a space where everyone who is in parliament and is called an honourable member, truly deserves that title because of merit.

“Lately, I have seen an attempt in some quarters to sift through and try to pick people who are equal to the job. I think that should be encouraged,” Mr Sekhamane added.

This was probably in reference to the RFP’s stated policy of choosing its election candidates and all other office bearers on the basis of meritocracy not just popularity with party supporters.

The new speaker said due to its failure to choose meritorious candidates, the nation was now counting the cost of the MPs’ failures to pass important laws and to hold the executive accountable for public funds that had either been stolen or could not be accounted for.

He was referring to the M6, 1 billion government funds which Auditor General, Monica Besetsa, said could not be accounted for in the 2020/21 financial year. Ms Besetsa made the findings in her latest report on government revenues for the financial year which ended on 31 March 2021.

In his speech shortly after being sworn into office on 28 October 2022 at Setsoto Stadium, Maseru, RFP leader and Prime Minister Sam Matekane said the probe into the funds, which could not be accounted for by the previous Majoro-led government, must begin and the findings should be made public within 15 days of the completion of the probe.

Commenting on the issue, Mr Sekhamane said, “As a country, we have become very notorious for being careless people”.

“We have a careless parliament by the way. We’ve been told of a missing M6, 1 billion, we’ve also been told of the theft of more than M50 million (by finance ministry staffers). These are massive amounts but you don’t hear parliament pronouncing itself strongly on these matters.

“The thing is that we have four estates, namely, parliament, the executive, the judiciary and the media. As the legislative arm of state, parliament makes laws, the executive implements the same laws while judiciary interprets them. And the media plays a watchdog role over the other three arms of state. The media can only shout and tell the nation that money is being stolen. It cannot do anything else. But parliament is the only institution charged with the oversight function. It has teeth and should be using them to bite, to act against the theft and misappropriation of public funds. Yet it is not performing its oversight function,” Mr Sekhamane said, adding that this was due to the poor calibre of MPs.

He also bemoaned the fact the previous parliament had failed to pass constitutional amendments to pave way for the implementation of multi-sector reforms which were recommended by SADC in 2016.

He said during his tenure he would strive to ensure that MPs are capacitated and “guided in a manner that benefits Basotho”.

“Parliament must make laws and stop the theft of public funds. Right now, we are embarrassed that we were not able to pass the reforms bills. These things were expected of us by our people, SADC and our development partners. Everybody had expectations. It’s not an easy thing to pass laws. But then again, I have an appreciation of what needs to be done and how to talk to people so that they can deliver on their mandate.

“So, the 11th Parliament will make laws. Some of these laws are obsolete. There are many laws that have to passed or amended; laws to do with empowerment of women, to deal with gender-based violence. I’m determined to ensure that priority laws can actually pass in the 11th Parliament, without further ado,” Mr Sekhamane said.

He said as part of efforts to make parliament more effective, it would have to decentralise its activities from time to time and meet in various districts to hear the people’s concerns.

“There’s also the issue of parliament’s proximity to the people. Parliament is too far from the people.  This is the people’s parliament, and it must go to the people. Parliament must go to Mokhotlong, it must go to Qacha’s Nek. The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker go there. MPs should go to the people to say what they are doing. How that will be organised, I don’t know but it will be organised under my leadership. We can’t have people who sit in Maseru and make laws for people who are at Sehlabathebe. Parliament must go the people.”

He said it defied logic that some people had been MPs for five years or more “but still lack expertise in terms of parliamentary matters”.

“MPs should be learning a lot. We have a library at parliament building; we have access to SADC, the AU, the Commonwealth and other important bodies. Our people must benefit from such. When leaving parliament, MPs should not be the same as they were when they first came to parliament,” Mr Sekhamane said.

He said even if he was elected on an RFP ticket, he would exercise his responsibilities in a non-partisan manner to ensure that the 11th Parliament would be worth its weight in gold to the nation.

“I would like to say yesterday I was in another space and that was the political space. Today, I am in a different space, that of Speaker of the National Assembly. I’d be extremely worried if people were to perceive me as a member of a party or a section of society. I want my people to trust me to do a neutral job, without fear or favour to any side. I want MPs to trust me to provide guidance in terms of parliamentary processes to help the country and not any political party. I will strive to be a neutral Speaker and to facilitate the affairs of parliament in manner that benefits the people of this country,” Mr Sekhamane said.