examines and reviews draft Legislation/Bills passed by the
National Assembly. Senate does not initiate Legislation.
HISTORY OF THE LESOTHO SENATE HOUSE
genesis of the Upper House of the Parliament of Lesotho viz.
the Senate cannot as such be treated separately from the
general evolution of parliamentary governance as understood
today. This is due, partly, to the fact that the factors
that influenced the coming into being of the National
Assembly were in no small measure catalytic of the formation
of the Senate. It follows that there can be no talk about
one house (e.g. The Senate) without inevitably referring for
one reason or another to the other (e.g. National Assembly
or its predecessor).
The issue pertaining to the formation of a legislative body
representative of all the civil strata of the Basotho
Society dates as far back as 1886 – only two years after the
resumption of direct British control over “Basutoland”. The
Resident Commissioner then, Sir Marshall Clarke, urged
Letsie I and Lerotholi to agree to the establishment of a
formal advisory council. Concerned lest this body become a
rival power center, Letsie and his counselors judiciously
weighed the merits of the proposition before finally giving
tentative consent in December 1889. They asserted that
members of the advisory council should be;
- people whom they (Letsie and his counselors) could
understand and work with “for the good of the country”.
- and that if they cause the nation a grievance, their
services be dispensed with and others appointed.
Although draft plans and regulations for council were
formally approved in 1890 – they were not implemented
because of British unwillingness to proceed with an
important constitutional development in the face of strong
opposition from some chiefs who perceived a threat to their
established positions and roles.
Nonetheless, in 1899 Sir Geoffrey Lagden and Lord Milner the
British High Commissioner for South Africa, agreed that a
council facilitating domestic consultation on controversial
national issues was urgently required to restore some
responsiveness to popular pressures formerly encouraged by
national pitsos. And hence the Basutoland National Council
met for the first time in July 1903, but on a rather
tentative, experimental basis since formal establishment by
proclamation was to be deferred until it had proven its
worth to all interested parties.
Under the regulations provided by the High Commissioner, the
new body was to be composed of no more than one hundred
(100) members, five of whom would be nominees of the
Resident Commissioner while the remainder would be chosen by
the Paramount Chief. The result was that from the outset the
Basutoland National Council was dominated by the “Sons of
Moshoeshoe”, i.e. by the members of the extended royal
family descended from Moshoeshoe I and his brothers plus the
few remaining major chiefs from allied non-Bakoena segments
of the nation such as Batlokoa etc. Although the British
administration had sought to promote a deliberative body
which could provide advice on matters of national concern,
it had in practice created an institution cementing the
position of the chieftainship as the sole legitimate
defender of national traditions and the exclusive
representative of popular interests and desires.
The National Council was reconvened in 1905 and 1908 and
thereafter met at least once each year.
Its composition, which continued to be dominated by “Sons of
Moshoeshoe” soon became a matter for concern for the
commoners. They (commoners) argued that the way the National
Council is composed leaves no room for the people to make
their grievances known to the Chiefs or Council. It is this
concern which led to commoners under political organisations
such as the Progressive Association and Lekhotla la Bafo to
wind their way into the deliberations of the Council -
albeit at a very slow momentum.
Despite the suspicions and tensions between the British
administration, the chiefs and the commoners – the
Basutoland National Council was the crucial initial step on
the road to the full-fledged parliamentary government of
modern day Lesotho.
Although Lord Selborne, the British High Commissioner
sympathized with the view that the Council might be made
more representative through the eventual introduction of an
electoral principle and could as a result be given wider
powers, its membership continued to be dominated by the Sons
of Moshoeshoe and functions were restricted to sanctionless
advice and criticism. The result was that the commoners got
disillusioned and the echoes of their disenchantment to a
large extent catalyzed the formation of the Administrative
Reforms Committee, the final report of which was submitted
in 1954. Practically all the memoranda (by major indigenous
organisations) submitted to the Committee pressed for the
establishment of a legislative institution, and although
there were differences on the detailed composition of this
body, all emphasized that the Upper House should be
dominated by the chiefly element nominated by the Paramount
Chief. The Lower House was to be an elective chamber while
the Executive Council was to consist of members elected by
the Lower House and responsible to it. Of the two proposals,
the former begs attention. It represented a genuine attempt
to adapt traditional institutions to the legislative needs
of a changing society.
The events that prevailed in between the submission of the
Administrative Reforms Committee’s Report (which itself was
rejected in toto by the National Council) in 1954 and the
District Council elections of 1960 led to the creation of a
Constitutional Commission on which all major political
parties and the Chieftainship were represented. Two years of
constitution drafting led to the London Conference of
May/June 1964, agreement on a new constitution and a
decision that a newly created Parliament could ask for
independence a year after the holding of elections under
The Constitution in terms of which the 1965 elections were
held, provided that Parliament will compose sixty members
elected from single member constituencies by universal
suffrage, eleven appointments to the Senate by the King and
twenty-two Principal Chiefs as ex officio members.
The role and composition of the Senate was prescribed by the
Constitutional Commission which was unanimous that to
continue the practice (established in 1959) of combining ex
officio members (the twenty-two Principal Chiefs) with
elected representatives in a single Chamber would make
operation of a responsible government virtually impossible.
Thus two alternatives were open: one involved excluding
Chiefs entirely from the legislative process, while the
other required devising a Second Chamber to accommodate
them. The Commission was divided on this issue and
eventually the second plan was adopted with a proviso that
the Senate’s powers would be restricted to delay and review
with no power to initiate legislation.
However, the Commission was adamant on the dangers involved
in allowing a nominated element a role in the Lower House on
the grounds that its presence would stultify the growth of
cohesive political parties and encourage irresponsible
behaviour on the part of elected members.
Thus, the Chieftainship retained a place in the legislative
system to a large extent as Senate.