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Call to review overlapping army, police functions

Billy Ntaote

By its design, cognisant there is no potential external threat to Lesotho surrounded by democratic South Africa today, the architecture of the army is designed in such a way that it shall also venture into ordinary law enforcement.

But, it is this role of law enforcement that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has conferred on it by section 5 of the LDF Act of 1996, which must be reviewed to eliminate the overlap in the functions of both the army and police.

This overlap in functions, according to electoral observer missions, “can be misconstrued as military interference” and have been recommended for review as the country embarks on reforms agenda.

These elections observers further add there must be a clear separation of responsibilities and powers drawn for police and army in Lesotho especially because security agencies play an important role in safeguarding electoral and political processes by providing an enabling environment for conducting political activities.

Now, the country undergone this general election prompted by the passing of a motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s administration, which led to King Letsie III dissolving parliament and calling a fresh election.

But it’s worth mentioning that as the polls preparations took off, many questions were raised regarding the role of the LDF in the maintenance of law and order in the country as various politicians claimed it remains politicised and said they were being arrested by an army and police task force on various occasions for political reasons.

Others reported they were intimidated during their elections campaigns by presence of army and police roadblocks, specifically the All Basotho Convention leader, former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane whose private security guards were disarmed and charged with contravening private security laws.

It is in light of this confusion over army and police roles, that Christian Council of Lesotho and European Union and other International partners supported a signing of commitment by political parties to an inclusive, participatory and comprehensive reforms process after the June 3 polls on 6 April.

An excerpt of the pledge reads: “Whether our political parties shall be in government, opposition, outside of parliament and /or in local government bodies, we shall give the highest priority to implementing reforms which shall include, but not limited to constitutional, parliamentary, security sector, judicial and public service reforms, all based on a process of national dialogue and inclusion of all political parties and all other stakeholders representing Basotho”.

But, according to the LDF Act of 1996, on the “employment of the defence Force” in section 5, the law provides that the defence force shall be employed –

“(a) in the defence of Lesotho;

(b) in the prevention and suppression of (i) terrorism; (ii) internal disorder;

(c) the maintenance of essential services including maintenance of law and order and prevention of crime, and such other duties as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister.”

During the 3 June polls, amid having been declared free and fair by observers, on polling day, army officers were seen at various polling stations especially those situated in the Peka #17, Abia #36, Berea #27, Khubetsoana #28, Maseru Central #32, Stadium Area# 31, Thetsane # 33, Thaba Bosiu # 38 constituencies, a development many critics argued threatened the credibility of the polls.

This prompted the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Director of Elections Dr Letholetseng Ntsike to call for army to leave polling stations premises and their vicinity, but they refused arguing they were roped in to assist the police.

However, this has been characterised by parties that contested the elections as an intimidation tactic employed by the Outgoing Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. Parties also said this is militarising elections and could result in the election result outcome not being accepted by the army.

On the other hand, the army has come out to allay fears and openly informed international observers they will accept elections results and it stands ready to serve which ever party ascends to power.

Taking this overlapping functions of the police and army and the instability they ferment, National University of Lesotho expert briefly spoke on conditions of anonymity for fear of reprisals emphasised a need for an understanding of primary functions of police and army in Lesotho.

He said an army’s role is primarily to protect a country boundaries from external aggression, hence designated a defence force, while the duty of the police is internal maintenance of law and order. And their training is based on their duties.

On the other hand the expert concedes “yes the LDF Act provides for army to assist police”, but argues the army seems to have confused its primary role with its secondary role of assisting the police.

“What appears a secondary function of the army to maintain internal law and order seems to be performed as though it’s a primary function, and this is contrary to what its primary duties are,” he said.

He further said in his own view, the major problem lies in the law, as the LDF has technically and legally, been right, but corroborates a view expressed by electoral observer missions that there is a need for review of the LDF Act.

In a preliminary statement, former Mozambican President Joachim Chisano, leading the African Union Electoral Observer Mission (AUEOM) said their key findings during the 3 June snap election were that whilst the pre-electoral environment was generally peaceful, some stakeholders expressed anxiety with regard to the role of the LDF, alongside the role of the police in providing elections security.

President Chisano said the AUEOM notes an overlapping mandate between the army and the police.

“This overlapping mandate between the two security sector institutions has created challenges of interpretation related to the scope and role of each of these institutions in the electoral process,” said Chisano.

Chisano adds the AUEOM furthermore, notes the lack of a clear constitutionally designated commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Lesotho, has contributed to the real or perceived politicisation of the security sector which has resulted in deep mistrust on the role of the military in the electoral process in the country.

He also said the AUEOM, during the 3 June polling day observed that military personnel were visible outside some polling stations, mainly in the Maseru, Berea, and Thaba-Tseka districts, but “they did not directly interfere with the voting and counting process”.

Chisano said the AUEOM calls upon all stakeholders to ensure immediate and effective implementation of the reform pledge signed ahead of the 3 June poll to carry out constitutional, security, civil service, parliamentary and judicial reforms.

“The reforms should enhance the separation of powers and safeguard the independence of institutions, while professionalising the civil service and clarifying the role of civilian authorities in the control of the security sector,” said Chisano.

He concluded the AUEOM urges all stakeholders to convene a national dialogue that will facilitate reconciliation and national healing.

“In so doing, the leaders are urged to put the interest of their country ahead of their own for posterity,” he said.

For its part, the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) leader Ambassador Pompe Mahinga said SEOM’s preliminary findings are that also said beyond practical arrangements, pertaining to elections logistics, the roles of the Police and the Military as separate institutions are not clear.

Mahinga also reiterated the AUEOM views on section 5 of the LDF act of 1996 that “permits the military to venture into ordinary law enforcement that is not specifically limited to emergencies”.

He further said this can be misconstrued as military interference, which may be unfortunate in a competitive multiparty context.

“Many stakeholders expressed fears that the military would influence the conduct of the election and perhaps not even accept outcomes.

“However, the mission has been assured by the Strategic High Command of the LDF that they will support whichever party wins the 03 June Elections and that the Defence forces will operate within the confines of the law as provided for in the constitution,” said Mahinga.

He assured Basotho that SADC’s long term observers will continue to observe this situation very closely.

Mahinga said the SEOM recommends that “section 5 of the Lesotho Defence Force Act be reviewed to ensure clear separation of powers and responsibility, and to ensure their accountability to the civilian government.”

For its part, the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) had 500 observers deployed from its member organisations participating in the democracy and human rights commission.

The LCN’s executive Director Seabata Motsamai said their main observations were that the presence of heavily armed military officers alluded to by both the AUEOM and SEOM and other observers in the vicinity including inside the premises of the polling stations, such as those situated in the Peka #17, Abia #36, Berea #27, Khubetsoana #28, Maseru Central #32, Maseru Stadium # 31, Thetsane # 33, Thaba Bosiu # 38 constituencies was viewed an act of voter intimidation.

Motsamai said this caused intimidation to some voters taking into consideration diverse public perceptions on the military.

Motsamai said the military was present at this polling stations despite the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) directive that they should vacate voting premises.

Motsamai adds that the LCN observers hold a view that soldiers’ presence militarized elections and as such posed a “challenge for free electoral process” and further notes this is unheard of since 1993.

He said the LCN observers strongly recommend that the new government, parties in opposition and those outside parliament to live to their pledge of taking reform agenda as the pressing priority for stability of Lesotho

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