By Nthakoana Ngatane
MASERU – Chapter 8 of the proposed Referendum bill tabled by Justice and Law deputy minister Tumahole Lerafa, on behalf of minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, deals with expenses and contributions for Referendum Committees.
It makes it mandatory to report any funding above M10,000 by a single source, and explicitly prohibits foreign funding of referendums.
The provisions read as follows:
Section 29. (1) For the purpose of financing its campaign, a registered referendum committee may receive lawful contributions from any legitimate person or organization except for contributions obtained from outside Lesotho.
Section 29 (2) All contributions shall be deposited into the bank account contemplated in section 32.
Section 29 (3) A single contribution of Ten Thousand Maloti shall, within five days after a referendum committee receives it, be declared to the Commission.
Section 29 (4) A leader of a referendum committee who fails to declare contributions provided for under subsection (4) commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Maloti or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.
It is commendable that outside influence has been anticipated and will be controlled.
But if the Brexit referendum is anything to go by, the role played by Arron Banks, coined “the most generous supporter of the campaign to leave the EU”, who is also no stranger to controversy in Lesotho, shows how intricate networks can be used to mask the true source of external funding.
Banks was allegedly linked to Russian diplomats, and watchdog the Electoral Commission suspected that they were behind the 8million pounds that he donated.
An investigation by the UK national crime agency had to be mounted to establish whether he was the source of the funds, or they came from his foreign links.
Secondly the investigation was supposed to find out if Banks used funds from his foreign company incorporated in the Isle of Man, not in the UK.
Although registered by him as a UK citizen, the company wouldn’t qualify to fund UK political campaigns, a provision similar to the one the Lesotho bill is now proposing.
The difference between Lesotho and the UK however, is that the former struggles with capacity to detect, trace, investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
A glaring example of that is the ongoing Frazer Solar GmbH saga that is threatening to waste M850million of taxpayers money because some people were sleeping on the job.
So even if the law prohibits foreign funding, it may not be as easy to find secondary sources behind local funders.
This said however, an argument should still be made FOR foreign funding.
Lesotho as a country and a government relies heavily on foreign funding.
It is unlikely that non-state actors in this least developed country will have the funding to raise awareness about issues of national importance, for the nation to weigh-in on, so that people can support the proposal for a referendum.
Such non-state actors will also not have enough local funding to campaign.
It is therefore important to include a provision that will equalise the playing field by giving civil society and community groups access to verified external funding to challenge especially the government.
Such funding can include non-political, and non-profit organisations with mandates such as human rights defenders.
WHO CAN CAMPAIGN FOR AND VOTE IN A REFERENDUM?
It is important for us to know how we qualify to take part in a referendum. We can do so as campaigners and as voters.
Chapter 5 Section 13 gives anyone who is registered to vote in terms of the National Assembly Electoral Act 2011, the right to also vote in a referendum.
Chapter 6 defines the parties to a referendum referred to as Referendum committees, how they are registered, their powers and how they can be disqualified.
Chapter 6 – Registration of referendum committees
Section 15 (1) Persons intending to support or oppose a referendum question may form one national committee and a committee in each constituency, which committee shall be known as a referendum committee.
Referendum committees are required to comply with the electoral act, register with the IEC at least ninety days before the referendum date, and their application must be accompanied by information and statements containing the list of ten electors indicating their voting identification numbers and duly signed at the constituency level showing that the applicant adequately represents those campaigning for or against the referendum question.
However, a referendum committee is not allowed to be a political party or associated with a political party.
Restrictions on registration of a referendum committee reads:
Section 17 (1) A referendum committee shall not be registered if
b) the name or symbol of the committee is the name or symbol of a political party or so resembles such a name or symbol that the committee is likely to be confused with the party;
It is commendable that the bill gives a referendum, which should transcend political affiliation, clearance from any political affiliation or association.
The next issue that this series will comment on here on Lesotho Express News will be THE COST VS BENEFITS OF REFERENDUMS