(MENAFN- The Post)
MASERU – A delegation from Lesotho came under fierce attack at a SADC meeting in Pretoria on Tuesday for failing to pass the Reforms Bill. The dressing down happened at the Ordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
In the Lesotho delegation that faced the heat were the Minister of Defence Halebonoe Setsabi, Police Minister Lepota Sekola, Minister of Foreign Affairs 'Matsepo Molise-Ramakoae and Army Commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela.
At one point the meeting had to be adjourned for the Lesotho delegation to call back to Maseru to find out if there was any progress on the promise to recall parliament to pass the reforms Bill.
These sensational details of the heated meeting were revealed to thepost by several people who were in the meeting. A source said the Lesotho delegation appeared taken aback by SADC's aggressive and uncompromising position. The source said at one point SADC threatened to kick the delegation out of the meeting.
The delegation, the sources said, left the meeting with two ultimatums it was instructed to deliver to the government. The first is that the reforms should be passed before the October elections without fail. The second, the source said, was that Lesotho will face serious consequences if the reforms are not passed.
“They said Lesotho will be barred from future SADC meetings unless the reforms are passed,” the source said.
“They said Lesotho should not bother attending the SADC Heads of State meeting next month if the reforms Bill is not passed”.
The Principal Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Thabo Motoko, confirmed that SADC was livid about Lesotho's failure to pass the reforms.
“SADC, like other organisations that assisted us, was angry with us. It was very angry,” Motoko said.
He refuted claims that SADC threatened to kick the delegation out of the meeting. He however said Lesotho promised SADC that it will do everything in its power to pass the reforms before the elections.
Last night, Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu and leaders of all political parties in parliament were locked in a crisis meeting at the old State House in an attempt to build consensus on the proposal to reopen parliament to pass the Bill.
The meeting, which started at 7pm, came as pressure mounts on Lesotho to pass the reforms Bill which failed to pass last Wednesday when parliament was dissolved while still dealing with amendments suggested by the Senate.
Their mad rush to beat the 12pm deadline however came to naught, triggering a crisis that has embarrassed Lesotho locally, regionally and internationally. The Senate sent some of the amendments to parliament at around 11:35pm on Wednesday after a marathon debate punctuated with garrulous disagreement on what to include in the final Bill.
Other amendments arrived at parliament a few minutes before the deadline. thepost has been told that those amendments were sent by email and parliament struggled to open them.
As the MPs trooped out of parliament in the wee hours of the morning it became apparent that their failure would set off a major crisis. Some openly debated if the situation could still be salvaged by recalling parliament to pass the amendments. The real impact of their spectacular failure is still being felt amid angry reactions from SADC leaders and diplomats.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's envoy to Lesotho, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who has been pushing the reforms, was said to have been enraged after hearing of the fiasco in parliament last Thursday morning. So was President Ramaphosa who was forced to cancel his trip to Lesotho to celebrate the reforms.
On Thursday morning parliament's public relations office and the government were scrambling to inform diplomats and the media about the cancellation.
But that was only the smaller part of the crisis that had been triggered the previous night. Government officials and MPs were fielding calls from some diplomats, including those from SADC, on how they would deal with the situation.
Although there is a consensus that parliament has to be recalled to pass the Bill, there is no agreement on how that can be done. Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane has said the government is considering advising the king to recall parliament for a few days under the State of Emergency clause in the constitution.
The trouble, however, is that the failure to pass a Bill is not classified as an emergency under the constitution. The clause deals with emergencies like war or natural disasters. thepost understands that Attorney General Advocate Rapelang Motsieloa has been asked to give an opinion on the legality of recalling parliament.
Some MPs are said to have reached out to their counterparts in the United Kingdom's parliament for advice on how they would handle a similar situation. Apart from facing the wrath of SADC and possible censure, Lesotho also has to deal with a backlash from other quarters.
At its meeting this week, Cabinet was informed that the United States was threatening to pull the plug on the M4.5 billion Compact unless Lesotho passes the reforms before the election. The compact was granted on the condition that Lesotho passed the reforms.
A group of Senators met the European Union Head of Delegation, Ambassador Paola Amadei, on Monday afternoon to discuss the reforms. Although disappointed, the EU is the least vocal of Lesotho's development partners.
It has however been the biggest funder of the reforms, giving nearly M45 million to the process over the past two years. Intense lobbying over the recalling of parliament has continued over the past seven days.
The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN) has also offered to mediate the crisis. It will meet leaders of political parties today. Yesterday, a group of lawyers added their voice to the debate about reopening the parliament (See sidebar for their opinion)
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