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MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill

THE government last week bulldozed the passing of the Estate Administration and Inheritance Bill in parliament after the Senate had rejected it. The opposition had also vociferously opposed the passing of the Bill that will allow children sired out of wedlock to inherit their parents’ wealth.

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44 MPs voted for the Bill while 24 opposed it.
The Bill was sponsored by the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) which is dangling a US$300 million carrot (about M5.6 billion) for Lesotho’s development.
The MCC had put it as a condition that the Bill, and two others, should be enacted for it to release the funds by the end of March.

The senate and pro-customary practices organisations had however opposed the Bill saying it violated the customary Laws of Lerotholi.
The senate, which is the upper house of parliament and is made up of 22 traditional chiefs and 11 appointees of the prime minister, had rejected the Bill on grounds that it cut out chiefs in the processes to appoint heirs.

In Lesotho, chiefs are the ones who know their subjects and their genealogies in the villages and they often testify in courts during inheritance disputes.
Chiefs also testify about immovable properties of their subjects especially in land allocation.

The new law has put the responsibilities on issues relating to the late estates squarely on the shoulders of the Master of the High Court.

Deputy Prime Minister Nthomeng Majara said the Senate had rejected the Bill because “they were not happy with some clauses”.

Justice Majara also said the Senate had made some amendments to the Bill “but later, they announced that they had rejected the entire Bill altogether”.

Justice Majara said the purpose of the Bill is to answer the challenges faced by children, widows and women after the death of their loved ones.

“Those groups have been sidelined for years when distributing inheritances,” Justice Majara said.

She said it is not a bad thing for the Senate to reject Bills as their job is (to implement) checks and balances.

“They have a right to voice their opinions,” she said.

“The senators were doing their job in terms of the standing orders.”

The Bill was also contested by the High Court Registrar, ’Mathato Sekoai, during last week’s senate proceedings saying the Bill “gives the Master of the High Court too much power over the courts”.

“I was ordered to appear here by the Chief Justice,” Advocate Sekoai told senators.

She said part four of the Bill talks about the courts.

Sekoai cautioned that the new law makes the Master of the High Court a chief accounting officer which is against the law.

“Part 4 says on policy matters the Master of the High Court was to work with the principal secretaries,” she said.

“If the plan is for the members to make the office of the Master of High Court be a custodian, it is a matter of the court,” she said, adding: “We were supposed to have been consulted first.”

She said making the Master of the High Court a chief officer “creates many centres of powers in the system”.

“It creates many chief accounting officers in the courts, which is something that never happens.”

She says in the new law the Chief Justice would work with the principal secretaries and this “is not acceptable as the court’s policy matters are the responsibility of the Chief Justice”.

She argued that the law is clear that policy issues should be dealt with by the Registrar of the High Court.

“This law contradicts existing ones, the Registrar is the right-hand man of the Chief Justice.”

Advocate Sekoai said the Bill says the Master of the High Court would do everything through the Chief Justice as his manager.

“This means the Chief Justice would not sit to work on issues of inheritance at all,” she said.

“It is constitutionally wrong.”

Opposition parties argued that the law was pushed by the United States to undermine Basotho’s customary practices in that it seeks to repeal provisions of estate inheritance in the Laws of Lerotholi.
Paramount Chief Lerotholi’s Basutoland National Council drew up the Laws of Lerotholi in 1903 as the main source of customary law.

It contains provisions that relate to matters of succession to the chieftainship, land allocation, and inheritance.

Succession is decreed by birth in accordance with old-age customary practices.

The ’Makhoroana MP, Tšitso Cheba, who is also the secretary general of the Democratic Congress (DC), said the rejection by the senate “shows that the cabinet is not stable because some of the senators are cabinet ministers”.

“This Bill confuses the chiefs that is why they rejected it,” Cheba said.

The Matelile MP, Maimane Maphathe, said it is not fair for parliament to continue to pass the Bill.

“Our chiefs who have been heading us refuse to pass this Bill. Do we have to drag them like this when they have rejected it?” Maphathe said.
“This will sour relations between the two houses,” he said.

The MP for Matlakeng, Dr Mahali Phamotse, who is also leader of the United African Transformation (UAT), said it is right for the children to get equal inheritance.

“However, I fear that the law might confuse people during implementation,” Dr Phamotse said.

She said Bills such as this one “are unjust to Basotho as they never get a chance to give out their opinions”.

“The nation must be given a chance to speak about these laws,” she said.

Supporting the passing of the Bill, Health Minister Selibe Mochoboroane said it “will strengthen our Laws of Lerotholi”.

He applauded the bill for stating that “there should be formal instruction from the deceased as to who should get what” as their inheritance.

Nkheli Liphoto

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