AD239: Basotho support limits on executive power and transparency in use of public information

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Thomas Isbell and Libuseng Malephane

The principle of accountability, described as early as the 19th century by Alexis de Tocqueville, is central to the functioning of democratic rule. Citizens bestow legitimacy upon representatives to govern on their behalf through the process by which representatives are chosen and the “rules” they must adhere to (Behn, 2001; Ferejohn, 1999; Schedler, Diamond, & Plattner, 1999). Accountability ensures that if elected representatives breach this mandate, they will face consequences in court or at the ballot box (Chambers, 2003)

Lesotho’s turbulent recent history has been marked by crises of accountability, including what Sejanamane (2015) called a collapse of the rule of law when court cases brought by soldiers detained on charges of mutiny after the reinstatement Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli as commander of the Lesotho Defence Force in 2015, were ignored. The crisis deepened with the assassination of Lt. Gen. Maaparankoe Mahao, in which members of the National Army were suspected. The Lesotho government’s resistance to accepting a Southern African Development Community Commission of Enquiry report on the assassination (ENCA, 2015; Shale, 2015) is seen as tantamount to refusing to be accountable to the nation (Southern African Litigation Centre, 2016). 

This dispatch uses Afrobarometer survey data to explore popular attitudes toward accountability in Lesotho. The data show that Basotho widely favour accountable government over purely efficient government, even if this gap has been closing over the past half-decade. Basotho affirm limits on the powers of the prime minister, who they say should be bound by laws, accountable to Parliament, and limited to a maximum of two terms in office.

A majority of Basotho also demand public access to information held by government agencies, even if substantial minorities doubt they could obtain such information.