The rise and fall of Mothepu

The rise and fall of Mothepu

MASERU-ON a chilly winter day three years ago prison officials woke up to stunning news.
Thabang Mothepu, a young but ambitious officer, had been appointed acting commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) under circumstances that could only be described as odd and controversial.
The shrill of protests from his colleagues were instant.

And those grumblings were neither unreasonable nor overdone.
First, Mothepu was not the most senior officer. He had leapfrogged two ranks to land into the commissioner’s office in an unprecedented ascent in an institution that is a stickler for seniority.

Second, Mothepu was on a special probation (a punishment) for the alleged illegal release of some prisoners. Third, the timing of his appointment was curious as it came on the same day (June 17, 2017) former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had been inaugurated.

It appeared that thrusting Mothepu into the commissioner’s office had been one of Thabane’s first decisions. It seemed there had been a strong political wind in Mothepu’s spectacular sail to top.
In May 2018 Thabane made the bold but equally contentious move to confirm Mothepu as the commissioner. Although many in at the LCS had seen it coming they had not expected it to be so brazen as to violate simple human resources protocols.

Yes, Mothepu had jumped ranks. True, he had a blemish on his disciplinary record. Yes, he appeared to have benefitted from his proximity to power.
But to appoint him to a position that was not vacant was to take matters too far.

’Matefo Makhalemele, the person he was purportedly replacing, was still the substantive commissioner. Makhalemele had been put on forced leave but was still the de facto prisons boss when Mothepu was appointed.
Mothepu would run the prisons for a tumultuous three years that ended with his dismissal this week.

Although he now says his dismissal was “politically motivated” it is hard to miss the heavy irony in his protestations.
He too appears to have climbed to the top through political connections. He says the decision to fire him is unfair yet the person he replaced was shoved out by politicians in the most crude of ways.
Those who watched his rise might be tempted to evoke the “what-goes-around-comes-around” adage. There was a time when Mothepu appeared to be ‘untouchable’.

Advocate Leshele Thoahlane, the former Ombudsman, had an unnerving encounter with Mothepu when he was investigating allegations of mismanagement and discrimination in the LCS.
A group of warders had filed a case complaining about Mothepu’s appointment and his management style. They alleged that Mothepu had used political affiliations as the basis for promoting some officers and had also abused institutional resources.
During the hearing Mothepu ignored a subpoena to appear before Advocate Thoahlane.

Instead he chose to address the Ombudsman through the Lesotho Television to which he gave an interview responding to the allegations.
And when he eventually came for the hearing he brought a mob of bodyguards, a move whose implications were not lost on Advocate Thoahlane who later released a stinging 59-page report describing Mothepu in an unflattering way.

Advocate Thoahlane portrayed Mothepu as immature and overly dramatic.
“Mothepu’s conduct during the inquiry was baffling. He was heavily guarded on the allegation that his life was in danger from the same officers who fell directly under his command. This was beyond description,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“It was not clear whether he was by nature a dramatic character or what. This showed lack of maturity on the officer’s side.”
The report said Mothepu’s appointment was as irregular as his promotion of 50 officers.

“At the time of the inquiry there were two LCS commissioners as Makhalemele had, during her interview with the Ombudsman, proved that she was still a Commissioner as she was still earning her salary and associated benefits,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“She (Makhalemele) confirmed that she was just on annual leave while Mothepu on the other had informed the Ombudsman that he had been confirmed as the LCS commissioner. This made no sense legally and otherwise and displayed the highest degree of confusion in the LCS authorities.”

“If there could be confusion at that level it definitely meant confusion in the entire institution. This was not only a burden to the public purse but it also meant that Mothepu’s appointment as a commissioner while the substantive holder of that position was still in office was illegal and so were any decisions he made thereafter, including the decisions to promote officers.”

Adv Thoahlane’s report also went some way to vindicate those who had long accused Mothepu of being a beneficiary of his proximity to Thabane.
“It is not easy to rule out that politics play a vital role in the LCS promotions taking into consideration that Mothepu and six other officers were seen driving and escorting a political leader to the Setsoto Stadium (Thabane’s inauguration) and thereafter got promoted despite their criminal records,” Adv Thoahlane said.

“Senior officers like assistant commissioners and the commissioner (Mothepu) were reported to have been seen and heard canvassing for political parties to the inmates in the run up to the (2017) elections. That definitely proved that there was a political spirit over casting the institution.”

Mothepu however did not take kindly to the damning report, telling a local newspaper that the findings were “pure lies”.
“Government institutions such as this one (the LCS) and that of the Ombudsman are supposed to be in the hands of people who are entrusted not to prejudice any processes but we have seen the Ombudsman acting contrary to what he is expected to do,” Mothepu said.

“The report is out of order because the Ombudsman was misguided and it was clear he was serving someone else’s interests rather than those of his office. We told him what transpired regarding the allegations he was inquiring into but instead he decided to listen to other people who were feeding him lies.”

On allegations that he was basking on the warmth of a political fire, Mothepu told the newspaper that he should not be crucified for being friends with politicians.
He was referring to Thabane and the then deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki.
“I reside in Ha Abia and I come from Nazareth so I cannot be crucified for befriending my neighbours Thabane and Moleleki.”

“All the people I promoted are the best and that is why there is stability in the prisons,” he said, adding that since his appointment there had not been reports of prisoners escaping.
Adv Thoahlane’s report has come back to haunt Mothepu.
Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao did not waste time in clipping Mothepu’s wings.

One of his first major decisions was to ask Mothepu to give reasons why he should not be fired for making irregular appointments, failing to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations and being contemptuous of court decisions.

These were exactly the same allegations in the Ombudsman’s report whose findings Mothepu scornfully dismissed.
Mothepu’s representations did not stop the minister from giving him his marching orders last week.
Mothepu however insists his dismissal is politically motivated.
“They were always against my appointment,” he said in an interview with thepost this week.

He also took a swipe at Professor Mahao and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for firing him without “sufficient information and research”.
“Administration has its way and politics has its way therefore whoever takes over must consult with the past ministers on how matters were worked out,” he said.
“In politics people handle matters the way they like. They want to run the office like a political party or something.”
His views on the Ombudsman’s report remain unchanged.

“The general conduct of the Ombudsman’s office had strange things happening. Here the Ombudsman did not follow procedures.”
“The Ombudsman’s decisions were unreasonable, unlawful and biased. He said I was promoted politically but failed to prove that allegation. The Ombudsman only makes recommendations not to force decision-making,” he said.

Now that he is out, Mothepu said there should be an investigation on how Lehlohonolo Scott, who was recently convicted of two murders, escaped from prison in 2012.
The government, Mothepu said, should investigate “how a Mosotho man (Scott) escaped from the correctional facility by smearing himself with Vaseline and slipped out through protective bars.”

At that time the prison authorities described the escape as bizarre but many were convinced that it was an inside job.
Mothepu told thepost that “it is a lie that someone could escape by use of Vaseline” and there are people “who know what transpired”.
He said it is for the prime minister and the minister to find out what happened.

“If those people are not found (those who helped Scott escape) watch the space. That is dangerous to the country.”
“I urge the commissioners to remember that LCS is the last hope for the country for keeping dangerous people in society.”
Mothepu said he will not fight his dismissal.
“I am still young and employable,” he said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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