Skeletons tumble out

Skeletons tumble out

……LCA board under pressure over convicted member…..

MASERU-THE Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)’s board which has been chasing Vodacom Lesotho over alleged violations has its own skeletons in the closet.

One of the LCA directors is Phakiso Molise, an ex-convict who spent 12 years in jail for murder, kidnapping and sedition.

Molise’s appointment by Communications Minister, Thesele ‘Maseribane, brazenly violates the Communications Act 2012 which says “Minister shall not appoint any person to be a member who has been convicted of a criminal offence”.

The Companies Act also prohibits the appointment of a convicted criminal to a company’s board.

Yet ironically the LCA board accuses Vodacom Lesotho of violating the same laws it seems to have flouted with Molise’s appointment.

In other words, the board is seeking to enforce laws that were violated when one of its members was appointed.

The LCA fined Vodacom and revoked its licence for allegedly violating the Communications Act and its licence conditions. 

Vodacom has challenged the decision and won a temporary order blocking the LCA from revoking its licence pending the finalisation of the case.

The order also stops the LCA from demanding that Vodacom pays M40 million of the M134 million fine it imposed on Vodacom on September 28.

In the public brouhaha that followed, some have questioned the LCA board’s integrity.

Of particular concern is Molise’s presence on the board that has touted its commitment to follow the law to the letter.

At a press conference last week all board members said they were only strictly enforcing the Communications Act and would not brook any violations or deviation.

Molise, a former police officer, also spoke strongly about the board’s independence and adherence to the law.

“In a nutshell, the LCA board’s mandate is to implement the policy of the government as contained in the rules and regulations set by parliament. That is our primary duty we cannot deviate from,” Molise said.

He was referring to the same parliament that passed the Communications Act which states that ex-convicts cannot be appointed to the LCA board.

The same law he claimed the board will implement “without fear or favour” bars him from being on the board.
In 1997 Molise was convicted of sedition and sentenced to three years in prison.

Then in 2000, while he was serving that term, Molise was convicted for the murder of two police officers and kidnapping three others.

The prosecution said he led a group of rogue policemen who surrounded a Maseru police station, killed two police officers and kidnapped several others.

Justice Mofolo sentenced Molise and accomplices to terms ranging from two to 15 years. Molise was sentenced to 15 years for each of the two murders.

He also received two years for each of the three counts of kidnapping. The terms were to be served concurrently, consigning Molise to 17 years behind bars. This was in addition to two of the three years (one year has suspended) he was doing for the sedition case.

In 2003 Molise escaped from custody while he was being taken to a hospital for a check-up. He says he did not escape but was “kidnapped by people and for reasons the government knew very well”.

He was later captured and brought back to complete his term.

In sum, Molise spent 12 years in jail.

The Court of Appeal rejected his appeal against both the conviction and sentence with the three judges ruling that “Molise is seen as the fulcrum and centre around which events revolved and carries major responsibility for occurrences of the fateful day”.

Minister ‘Maseribane is said to have been alerted to this criminal record when he appointed Molise to the LCA board in October 2018 but did not take action.

But even if he was not informed, Molise’s crimes, arrest and conviction are common knowledge.

Molise admits that he was convicted but says he doesn’t believe that the Communications Act blocks him from being an LCA board member.

Yet even if it does, he says, it would be a violation of the constitution which prohibits discrimination and protects every citizen’s right to participate in the government.

Molise says he was “persecuted rather than prosecuted” for political reasons “See full interview on Page 6Molise’s profile on the LCA website doesn’t say a word about his conviction.

The reaction from the other board members is a mixture of ignorance, indifference, justification and an attempt to put the matter in the minister’s court.

Mamarame Matela, the LCA boss who is an ex-officio member of the board, said she is not aware of Molise’s criminal record.

“I don’t know anything about the criminal history of one of the board members. If you have that evidence that Mr Molise has a criminal record, I think it will be wise to provide me with it. I don’t have that information at all,” Matela said.

Asked about her view if she knew of the criminal records Matela said: “Like I said, I am not aware. There is nowhere the Communications Act has been violated in appointing anybody in the board, at least up to where I know. I cannot talk about a violation of a law where I do not see it.”

thepost asked her why the LCA accuses Vodacom Lesotho of violating the law by appointing an external auditor related to its chairperson yet the authority itself appears to have violated the same law by having a board member who is a convict.

“The LCA does not appoint directors. This question should be directed to the appointing authority. The appointing authority is the one you can ask about the appointment of people you say have criminal records,” Matela said.  

“As for me, there is nothing I can say except to say we have not broken any law or violated any. There is no unfair application of the law. I have no evidence that anybody in the LCA board has a criminal record. Give us that information, we need written evidence.”

The record of Molise’s cases and conviction can be found by a simple search on the internet.

Motanyane Makara, the LCA board chairman, said he is not concerned about Molise’s criminal because he has “undergone rehabilitation at the correctional facility”.

“He served his term and he is out and there is nothing wrong with him as a person, according to me and according to the law as I understand it. The man was corrected and rehabilitated and brought back to society,” Makara said.

“He has every right, like you and me, to work and to be appointed to any position he qualifies for. I, and I believe others like Ntate Molise, applied for the position of director at the LCA and we were appointed. The appointing authority saw it fit to appoint him. His appointment has nothing to do with me even though I am the chairman. He wasn’t appointed by me.”

Karabo Lehutso, a board member, said Molise’s criminal record is a matter for another time because the “issue here is Vodacom is not complying”.

Seth Lerotholi, another board member, said he was not sure about Molise’s record but his position is that the minister is the right person to answer questions.

Board member Keneuoe Mohale said she could not say much about Molise because “it sounds like an issue of a personal nature”.  

Motanyane Makara

“You are talking about the criminal conviction or otherwise of Mr Molise and his appointment in the LCA board when the LCA has found Vodacom to be violating the law. I think you are mixing two different issues here. Separate the issues first. It is a fact that Vodacom violated the law and the LCA dealt with that legally. This is of importance. Note it. As for Ntate Molise’s issue, even if he was convicted of crimes, which is a fact, he has undergone rehabilitation at the correctional facility.

He served his term and he is out and there is nothing wrong with him as a person, according to me and according to the law as I understand it. The man was corrected and rehabilitated and brought back to the society. He has every right, like you and me, to work and to be appointed to any position he qualifies for. I, and I believe others like Ntate Molise, applied for the position of director at the LCA and we were appointed. The appointing authority saw it fit to appoint him. His appointment has nothing to do with me even though I am the chairman. He wasn’t appointed by me.”

Mamarame Matela

“I don’t know anything about the criminal history of one of the board members. If you have evidence that Mr Molise has a criminal record, I think it will be wise to provide me. I don’t have that information at all. Like I said, I am not aware. There is nowhere the Communications Act has been violated in appointing anybody in the board, at least up to where I know. 

I cannot talk about a violation of a law where I do not see it. The LCA does not appoint directors. This question should be directed to the appointing authority. The appointing authority is the one you can ask about the appointment of people you say have criminal records. As for me, there is nothing I can say except to say we have not broken any law or violated any.

There is no unfair application of the law. I have no evidence that anybody in the LCA board has a criminal record. Give us that information, we need written evidence. You say I as a lawyer should have advised the appointing authority of the implications of appointing someone with a criminal record but I don’t have that information. How could I advise the minister on something that I don’t know? Apart from that, it is not my job to advise the minister, I am the CEO here at the LCA and not a legal adviser for the ministry. In my knowledge, the ministry has hired legal advisers and I am not one of them.

I work here and do my job, which is not legal advice. I have no evidence of Mr Molise having a criminal record, where and when he was charged and convicted. You are the one with the information and you stand a better chance to talk to the appointing authority about it. I do not rely on hearsays when doing my job. Provide me with evidence.”

Karabo Lehutso

“I am not aware of anyone on the board with a criminal record. If Mr Molise was convicted of a crime and spent time in prison, does it mean he no longer has a right to earn a living in the country? No! In fact, we must shift from this issue and focus on the real one. The issue here is Vodacom is not complying. Whether anyone in the LCA board has a criminal record, was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term will be dealt with another time.

As of now what is important is to talk about the real issue of Vodacom not complying with the law. Look, if Vodacom is not tax compliant and we do not focus on that and instead we deal with non-issues like board members who have criminal records, we are the ones who will be stuck with this country in the end. You want Vodacom to pay its obligations so that Lesotho’s economy thrives and your sibling will be able to get a job after graduating from university.

Not doing that means we are not using the opportunity to grow this country, you and me. You have to be a responsible journalist who knows real issues to talk about. It is what responsible journalism means. I know you work with these people from Zimbabwe and on the other hand there is that Ghanaian at Vodacom who will in the end go back to their own countries and you and me will remain here, in our country. Please, be a responsible journalist my brother.”

 Seth Lerotholi

I am not certain but I have heard it being talked about. My position remains that the appointing authority is best placed to answer this question. We were appointed from various backgrounds and it was the minister’s decision. I think it’s a decision he made fully aware of the backgrounds of all those he appointed. But some might ask why this issue is being raised two years after our appointment. I understand what the law says about criminal record but we could look at this from different perspectives.

Imagine going to prison, being rehabilitated and showing remorse, only to be denied an opportunity to earn a living and serve your country. A conviction doesn’t mean a person should be shunned by society. I must however say that if I were to advise the minister about this issue, given the noise around it, the people’s doubt and for the sake of integrity, I would humbly tell him that it might not be a bad idea for Molise to step down.  

Keneuoe Mohale

I can’t really say much about this because it sounds like an issue of a personal nature. I am however sure that the appointing authority is aware of the issue, if at all there is an issue. If it’s illegal as you say, I am sure the appointing authority did not believe that the appointment would harm the institution. I have no personal views about the appointment but even if I do, I don’t think they will change anything.

Maybe the best person to talk to is the appointing authority because he is the one who made the decision. My view doesn’t matter because I don’t appoint the board. I however believe that one cannot be judged on the basis of the past yet they can work for their families and contribute to the economy. 

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