How politicians got ‘suspect’ off the hook

How politicians got ‘suspect’ off the hook

MASERU – POLITICIANS leaned on Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli to release a man who had been arrested for alleged malicious damage to property and making threats at the Kao Mine.
Tseko Ratia, a member of the community committee at the mine, had been arrested in connection with the violent disturbances at the mine in May.
An assistant engineer at the mine at the time of the incident, Ratia has since been fired for allegedly threatening other employees. He says he is appealing his dismissal.
But even after his dismissal Ratia has continued to fight the mine, accusing it of firing him because he is fighting for the people’s rights as a community committee leader.
The mine however calls him a rabble-rouser who is using his position as chairperson to instigate the villagers against the company and fight for a job he lost after a fair disciplinary hearing.
The mine has also accused some politicians of dabbling in its conflict with the community.

One example could be how the parliamentary portfolio committee on Natural Resources pushed for Ratia’s release.
In May, Kao Mine management reported Ratia to the police for allegedly damaging mine property, trespassing and threatening fellow employees.
A case was opened at the satellite police station at the mine and Ratia was arrested.

He was then transferred to a police station in Butha-Buthe, supposedly to be charged and be brought before court.
But as the police were working on Ratia’s case Commissioner Molibeli was summoned by the committee and instructed to release him.
This is confirmed by two members of the portfolio committee who were in the hearing that gave the decision.

The first one is the chairperson of the committee, Mpalipali Molefe, who said he did not see anything amiss about the instruction to the police commissioner.
“He (Ratia) was released after intervention from the committee through the Ministry of Mines and Ministry of Tourism. They gave instructions that no one should be arrested until this issue has been resolved,” Molefe said.

Molefe, who claims to have started as a diamond smuggler before he became a licenced dealer, said the committee wanted Ratia released “for the sake of peace”.
Committee member Tumaole Lerafa, MP for Motete which includes the Kao area, said Ratia’s release was meant to calm tensions at the mine.
“The commissioner was advised that to settle the Kao Mine issues amicably Ratia had to be released,” Lerafa said.
“He was advised that detaining him (Ratia) would cause more problems. The police commissioner was called to the committee together with other officials from the responsible ministries like Mines and Tourism.”

Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said he could only confirm that Ratia was released but would need time to check if there was any intervention.
“Investigations into his case are still in progress,” Superintendent Mopeli said.
Ratia told thepost what he had only heard from other people that he was released on the ministers’ instruction.

“When the people went on strike I was at home because I was on leave and when I went to work on the second day I was arrested by the police and taken to Butha-Buthe town,” he said.
“I did not know what wrong I had committed but they told me that I had broken labour laws. They did not tell me specifically which law I had broken.”
“Yes, I was released after the intervention of government ministers, I was told. They say the ministers instructed them to release me. Until today I don’t know any crime I could have committed that warranted an arrest,” he said.

Kao Mines corporate chief executive Mohale Ralikaliki said Ratia’s case confirms what the company has been talking about for months.
“We have said there are political hands in the whole issue,” Ralikaliki said.
“If people in parliamentary committees are now instructing the police to release a suspect it means there is a breakdown in the rule of law. Criminality will continue and everyone will suffer.”
“All we are saying is that there should be rule of law and the police must be allowed to do their work without interference. The police must be allowed to investigate cases.”
Relations between Kao Mine and its community have been fractured for months now.

A demonstration by the community in February left one villager dead and two injured after they were shot by the police.
The community accuses the mine of going back on its promises to give locals jobs, empower the villagers, build roads and develop the area.
They also allege that the mine is not paying fair compensation for their fields and grazing land affected by its operations.

But the mine says it has hired more than 150 locals, paid fair compensation, repaired roads, helped the community start a chicken project and built classrooms.
It also says its efforts to engage the community on more projects are being hampered by interference from politicians and organisations like the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC).
The TRC has been working with Ratia’s committee for months.

Staff Reporter

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