Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro says he alone has the power to appoint ministers and reshuffle them as he sees fit.
Dr Majoro said this in response to former minister and opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) proportional representation legislator, Mahali Phamotse, who had asked why he had appointed Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao as acting prime minister in June this year.
Prof Mahao held fort for a few days when Dr Majoro and Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu left the country for a meeting with South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.
This was Dr Majoro and Mr Mokhothu’s first visit to South Africa after they took over from former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his deputy, AD leader Monyane Moleleki, respectively on 20 May 2020.
During a national assembly session on Tuesday, Dr Phamotse, who served as Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation minister in the Thabane government, asked why Prof Mahao was appointed acting prime minister.
According to her, the constitution stipulates that only ministers who are members of the national assembly and not senators like Prof Mahao can be appointed acting prime minister.
She asked if Dr Majoro was aware that “in terms of sections 83 (4), 83 (4c) and 87 (2) of the constitution, only members of the national assembly qualify to occupy the office of Prime Minister”.
In the event that Dr Majoro was aware of the said sections, she wanted to know why a cabinet minister who is a senator was appointed acting prime minister. She also asked “whether it is within the powers of the cabinet to change the order of precedence of ministers after their swearing-in”.
It is however, strange that Dr Phamotse quoted the sections when they do not speak to the issue of who acts as prime minister when the incumbent and his deputy are away or on leave.
Section 83 (4) speaks to the dissolution and prorogation of parliament. It states that, “in the exercise of his powers to dissolve or prorogue parliament, the King shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister”.
Section 83 (4c) states that, “if the office of the Prime Minister is vacant and the King considers that there is no prospect of his being able, within a reasonable time, to find a person who is the leader of a political party or a coalition of political parties that will command the support of a majority of the members of the National Assembly, he may, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State, dissolve Parliament”.
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Section 87 (2) states that, “the King shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of the National Assembly who appears to the Council of State to be the leader of the political party or coalition of political parties that will command the support of a majority of the members of the National Assembly”.
In his response, Dr Majoro said he alone was empowered to appoint ministers and determine their precedence in cabinet.
He said any minister was eligible to act as prime minister whenever the incumbent and his deputy were away or on sick leave.
“This question seeks clarity on why government allowed a senator to act in the prime minister’s office during the latter and the deputy prime minister’s absence.
“However, the cited sections of the constitution talk about the prorogation of parliament and how the prime minister is elected in the National Assembly. They do not talk about who can act in the prime minister’s office in the absence of the incumbent. Section 90 of the constitution is the one that determines who can act in the office of the prime minister in his and the deputy prime minister’s absence.
“It clearly states that any minister, whether from the national assembly or the senate, can act in the prime minister’s office when the incumbent and the deputy prime minister are absent or when they are both on sick leave,” Dr Majoro said.
He added: “only the prime minister has the power to determine the precedence of the ministers.
“You should therefore be informed that the one person (prime minister) who holds the pen to draw that list can reorder it whenever it pleases him. There has never been a day when cabinet sat down to set the order of precedence. It has always been me alone”.