THE withdrawal of murder charges against former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ’Maesaiah, this week sends a wrong message about our justice system in Lesotho.
After failing to locate and bring to court four key witnesses who are said to be holed up in South Africa, the prosecution was left with no choice but to withdraw the charges against the Thabanes.
There are also fears that Thabane and his wife could eventually walk out as free individuals after the prosecution failed to bring them to court during a reasonable time.
By withdrawing the charges, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) office has opened itself to vicious criticism from ordinary Basotho who remain thoroughly unconvinced by the reasons it has put forward for the withdrawal.
The Lipolelo Thabane murder case remains huge in the eyes of the international press. The reasons are clear: this is a former Prime Minister and his young wife who are accused of a heinous crime.
With the eyes of the international community firmly fixed on Lesotho’s justice system, this trial was a chance for Lesotho to demonstrate its firm commitment to justice and the rule of law. But we have flunked that test.
What the withdrawal of the charges seems to tell us is that there is a set of laws for the rich and powerful and another set for the poor. Unfortunately, the ordinary man and woman on the street thinks the Thabanes have been allowed to get away with murder, literally.
The real victim of all these legal shenanigans are the late Lipolelo Thabane herself, her relatives and friends who have had to endure the pain of loss. As things stand, there is now a very small chance that justice will ever be served for Lipolelo.
That is sad.
But this decision also leaves a huge stain on the office of the DPP. Their explanation is that they could not trace the key witnesses in the case. That sounds odd.
We take this position based on the nature of the case and the precedents that have been set in the last four months or so. And given these precedents, the DPP’s explanation simply cannot fly.
A pattern is slowly emerging of a DPP that is extremely reluctant to charge and prosecute to finality powerful individuals in politics as well as in business circles.
The perception that has been created is that the machinery of justice is only meant to deal with the poor while allowing the rich and well-connected in society to get away easily even when the facts appear to be so clear.
The ordinary man and woman on the street thinks this was a deliberate bungling of what was otherwise a very solid case. Their anger is understandable.
The DPP’s office cannot blame anyone for this perception. They sowed this seed and must now reap the consequences.
Take for instance the recent cases in which powerful individuals have been acquitted in our courts. We can only think here of Tšeliso Nthane, a powerful businessman in Lesotho, and Thabo Moramotse, the son of Lehlohonolo
Moramotse, a powerful government minister.
The people have now concluded, rightly or wrongly, that some of these high profile cases are well-choreographed charades with no real intention to convict the accused. The arrests, trials and court appearances are merely meant to give an impression that some work has been done.
The people are right to make such conclusions. And the DPP must shoulder most of the blame for this crisis.
Fight violent armed robberies
A spate of violent armed robberies in Maseru in the last three months has set the nation on edge. The sense of fear is palpable on the streets of Maseru.
The serenity which we had always enjoyed in Lesotho is now gone. In place of peace, there is now fear. We are living in fear and sleeping in fear.
With the police on the back-foot, Basotho are beginning to conclude that they are now virtually on their own.
These are indeed desperate times.
The government will need to explore much more robust policing methods and step up security across the capital if it is to restore the calm and tranquility that we have always known among our people.
What the recent armed robberies have also done is to expose the embarrassingly shambolic state of policing in Lesotho.
What the robberies have demonstrated is that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), which has been starved of financial and material resources for years, is clearly in no position to fight crime and win.
This is an institution that has a single vehicle for the whole of Maseru.
With a population of close to 400 000 people in Maseru, the dire lack of vehicles seems to have emboldened criminals who seem to know full well that the police’s reaction time will always be awful.
The government is surely aware of this dire lack of resources for the police. Sadly, nothing appears to have been done, for years, to address this pressing need.
Instead of ploughing resources in the LMPS so that we empower our police to fight crime, the government has often chosen to allocate such resources elsewhere.
Why on earth, for instance, does a government minister need three vehicles?
Such shocking profligacy is certainly unwarranted in a country like Lesotho where resources are often scarce.
The lack of financial and material resources has only compounded what is already an extremely dire situation in the LMPS.
This is a police service with a cocktail of its own problems that range from a demoralised staff that often fights for better pay to a police that appears still stuck in its old way of doing things when it comes to training and fighting crime.
A lot will therefore need to be done if the government is to jerk the LMPS and ensure it is fit for purpose. That task is urgent given the events of the last few months. The police must be prepared to fight fire with fire.
They must take the battle to the criminals. Gone are the days when Basotho would let their guard down thinking this is a peaceful society. We are living in extremely violent times when criminals have become more daring.
What this also shows is that we are in the throes of a major economic depression. Violent crime is likely to continue rising.
With no prospect of earning a living through legitimate means, desperate youths are likely to resort to deadly violence with absolutely no regard for the consequences.
The new government to be elected into power in October must convene an urgent national jobs summit to look at how to arrest these social ills. If we fail to come up with creative ways to generate new jobs, we are doomed. The anger amongst our young people will manifest itself in violent bursts of crime such as we have seen in the last three months.
The consequences are just too ghastly to contemplate.
Reforms must succeed at all costs
THE failure by MPs to pass the Omnibus Bill of 2022 last week has thrown Lesotho into a legal limbo with a general election just less than 90 days away.
We are not surprised that SADC, together with the European Union (EU) and other development partners, are furious. They have every reason to feel that way. They see the failure to pass the reforms last week as a monumental failure on their part after they ploughed huge resources into the exercise over the last two years.
thepost understands that SADC is not amused at Lesotho’s failure to pass the reforms last week, with its anger now directed at a few individuals who they believe are out to sabotage the reforms.
On the basis of what happened last Wednesday, it is clear that there are elements within the political establishment in Lesotho who are out to deliberately throw spanners into the reforms. But they must not be allowed to succeed.
If they do, Lesotho which has gone through bouts of political instability over the past five decades, will likely suffer from the same set of challenges that have bedeviled the country. All the efforts that have been thrown into the reform agenda will also come to naught.
That prospect is just too ghastly for us to contemplate. By failing to pass the reforms, Lesotho risks attracting the wrath of SADC which has been extremely patient with us for years. Without SADC’s support, no government can survive in Lesotho.
The proposed amendments to the Constitution were likely to stabilise Lesotho politically while trimming the powers of the Prime Minister. It would also ensure that the army, which has been at the centre of the country’s troubled past, is reformed through the security sector reforms.
Issues that have troubled the judiciary as well as the media would also have been addressed. But instead of dealing with these issues and ensuring that the Bill is passed, our MPs dilly-dallied and fumbled along the way until they ran out of time last Wednesday.
Instead of addressing the matters raised by the people during the reforms process, our MPs appeared keen to tinker with the proposals for their own preservation. They wanted to sneak in certain clauses to secure their own political futures.
And so when the Bill went to the Senate, it was no surprise that the Upper House rejected it outright arguing it was not what the people had said they wanted. Their anger was pretty understandable.
Despite a mad rush to pass the Bill last Wednesday, parliament failed to do so at the last minute. Basotho had hoped that the October elections would be held under a new legal framework that would usher in a period of relative peace and prosperity.
So far, that appears very much unlikely. Our MPs must, therefore with all humility, accept a huge measure of responsibility for the mess. If the matter is not resolved, the MPs who served in the last parliament will be remembered as the generation of politicians who had a golden opportunity to drag Lesotho from squalor and squandered it.
As such they would forever be tainted by that spectacular failure to pass the reforms. The people should therefore never forget nor forgive this bunch of MPs.
These MPs would also be remembered as that generation of selfish politicians who were so fixated with their own political survival rather than the greater good of Basotho. How sad!
The voice of the people must triumph
IN our lead story for this week, we carry a story of how parliament has come up with a controversial Bill that appears to be at odds with the expressed will of the people of Lesotho. Unsurprisingly, this has triggered howls of protest from certain sections of society who feel deeply aggrieved.
Their anger is understandable. Basotho have invested years into the constitutional reform process and had high hopes that these reforms would provide a basis for a political settlement to end decades of political strife.
The National Reforms Authority (NRA), a body that was tasked with leading the reforms process which has since been disbanded, has accused parliament of butchering the Bill to achieve its narrow agenda. It has also accused MPs of sneaking in certain clauses within the Bill to secure their own political interests.
At the core of its grievances are a list of 33 issues the NRA says it is not happy with and wants addressed. The NRA has accused parliament of massaging the new Bill to the extent that it no longer reflects the opinions of Basotho whose views were painfully gathered over the last two years.
They say parliament has now expunged from the Bill key clauses that were central to the whole reform agenda. Take for instance the issue of floor crossing. The NRA had proposed a tweak on floor-crossing indicating that MPs would only be able to cross during a 15-day window period which would be declared by the Speaker of Parliament.
That clause, which would have brought stability to any sitting government, is gone.
Parliament has also now removed a clause guaranteeing freedom of expression and access to information.
We would have imagined that any progressive government would fight tooth and nail to protect such basic freedoms. The removal of the key clause on freedom of the press and media poses a greater risk to the people’s basic freedoms.
We are on record as having commended the NRA for coming up with a progressive piece of legislation. But all its efforts appear to have gone to waste, thanks to some political skullduggery on the part of some MPs.
The new Bill has also removed the threshold for political parties to qualify for a seat in the National Assembly. What is clear from all this is how some of our politicians have remained fixated with the battle for self-preservation at the expense of the country’s greater good.
They want to ensure they remain in parliament by all means necessary. A new clause to ensure that Principal Secretaries are appointed by a special commission rather than by the Prime Minister has also been thrown out.
What we now have is a retention of the status quo where PS’ will continue to be appointed by a sitting Prime Minister, and as a result continue feeding the same system of patronage that has been at the centre of our political crisis.
Our position as a newspaper is that all this is wrong. This is a parliament that has gone rogue. We have a bunch of MPs who are fixated with their own self-preservation instead of looking at what is good for Lesotho.
They must be stopped. The people were quite emphatic on what they wanted. Their voice must be restored and the will of the people must triumph. What Basotho said they wanted in the new constitution were not by any measure outrageous demands. The people’s voice must not be ignored.
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