By Sechaba Mokhethi
MASERU -Lesotho could face a governmental shutdown that might bring all state operations to a standstill because its 2017-18 budget was blocked by opposition before parliament was dissolved early this month.
According to the opposition, it can never allow any allocation of public monies to “a corrupt regime that has lost legitimacy”. The opposition succeeded in using its numerical advantage in parliament to push for a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. Mosisili’s loss meant the opposition also managed to thwart the tabling of the budget.
The imminent financial crisis appears likely to derail elections set for 6 June following the parliament dissolution by King Letsie III. The snap elections had not been budgeted for in the current fiscal year and government needs special appropriation to secure funds.
The government finds itself between recalling the parliament and giving in to opposition demands for money to be allocated, flouting the national constitution and carry on or waiting for crisis to occur and declare state of emergency, analysts observed.
Section 113 of Lesotho constitution prescribes that parliament may make provision for the finance minister to withdraw from the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the government of Lesotho in respect of the period commencing with the beginning of that financial year and expiring four months thereafter or on the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act (budget).
This part of legislation, according to the constitution, can only be invoked if the minister responsible for finance realises that the Appropriation Act for any financial year will not come into operation by the beginning of that financial year.
However, subsection (b) of the same law warns no sums shall be so authorised to be withdrawn to meet expenditure on any head of expenditure in that financial year if no sums had been voted to meet expenditure on that head of expenditure in respect of the preceding financial year.
Political analyst and pro-vise chancellor at the National University of Lesotho, Professor Mafa Sejanamane, argues Section 113 becomes relevant in the current situation only if parliament had begun the process of budgeting in terms of Section 112 “but that process was not complete”.
Sejanamane posits that where parliament had refused to consider the budget, as is the case now, Lesotho is facing a complete shutdown from 1 April. “There is no possibility of accessing money from the consolidated fund. How then can elections be held without money?” he ponders.
“What we have now is a full blown constitutional crisis without solution. Government accounting under normal circumstances would be by way of issuing a warrant to ministries, but under these circumstances anybody who issues such a warrant or uses any money from the consolidated fund would be making an appointment with prison.
“As long as we pretend that we are operating constitutionally, we now know that elections cannot be held, nor can there be any government spending in April 2017. Mosisili has thus launched the country in its worst constitutional crisis. Let those in the government, particularly chief accounting officers note that they have been placed in a situation where they have either to watch from the side-lines when the shutdown begins or prepare to go to jail!”
Political and economic advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr Fako Likoti, has on the other hand been shuttling local media outlets in an effort to stave off perceptions of a possible shutdown; Likoti has assured the citizenry that government and its business were not under any threat.
“All government business, including the holding of the polls, will see the light of day as the finance minister is well within his constitutional rights to seek the withdrawal of one-third of the sums included in the estimates of expenditure for the proceeding financial year,” he said on one local radio station. Likoti’s position stands out in a sharp contrast with the same constitutional provision where it goes on to say such estimates should “…have been laid before the (National) Assembly” –an attempt by government which the opposition has blocked.
The opposition bloc has since issued a statement of the prevailing situation, accusing Mosisili of advising the King to dissolve parliament for his own selfish interests, adding that “Mosisili insisted on dissolution of parliament without regard to the interests of the nation. In particular, he went ahead with dissolution whilst fully aware that in a matter of weeks following dissolution, the operations of government will be paralysed in the absence of an approved budget.
“Clearly, the Prime Minister ignored all the warning signs simply because he did not wish to do the right thing for the country and resign. He rather opted to put the country into a financial paralysis.”
The opposition said they were aware that Mosisili, his cabinet and the attorney general were on a mission to undermine the constitution of Lesotho and proceed to spend public monies beyond the current financial year without authorisation.
The statement reads: “The nation is reminded that in the budget for the now ending financial year 2016/17, the general elections were not budgeted for. That being the case, the government cannot legally advance any other expenditure for the upcoming general elections. The issue of elections aside, the government will further not be in a position to legally advance any other expenditure towards ordinary operations of the government.”
The bloc indicated they remained resolute that under no circumstances will they agree to the allocation of public monies to the outgoing government “that has lost legitimacy and corrupt”.