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‘Leposa has been hijacked’

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THE past three months have been terrible for Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli. The Lesotho Police Staff Association (Leposa) is unrelenting in its attack on him and his senior management. The association is calling for his removal over a battery of allegations. Commissioner Molibeli has however stuck to his guns even as the association has sought Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s intervention and is threatening a massive strike. This week we speak to him about the chaos in the LMPS and its implications. In the following excerpts from the interview with Shakeman Mugari, the editor, the Commissioner pulls no punches as he accuses Leposa of playing politics.

What do you think are Leposa’s main issues with you and the management?
The issues they raise are neither here nor there. They don’t have specific issues because they are working for their political masters and pushing a political agenda. They have nothing.
But they have made a lot of allegations, including that you are dealing with the police’s brutality against suspects. Surely that is a serious matter.
When they talk about police brutality we accept and we are trying to decisively deal with it. We are succeeding because you can see that not a lot of cases of brutality are being reported. There was a time when every week we would have a report of someone dying in police custody.

What is however surprising is that when Leposa talks about police brutality they are, in a way, admitting that their own members are involved in killing people yet they have not done anything about it. Instead, they are pointing fingers. Now they are criticising us for acting against police officers accused of these crimes.

They say officers suspended for those crimes should be reinstated because the constitution says one is considered innocent until proven guilty. We expect Leposa to be part of our efforts to deal with these issues. Their purpose should be to assist in maintaining discipline within the police service.

They should focus on the welfare of the police and also make sure the police are professional to deliver good services to the people. We have not violated the constitution but even if we did then any one aggrieved can approach the courts for redress. You don’t approach the Prime Minister and petition him to order the police management to reverse a decision made according to the police’s regulations. You take your issue to the courts.

Who are these political masters you claim Leposa is serving?
We should understand that the police service is an arm of the state and therefore part of the executive. Politics is part of the game. People should air their views but politicians should not jump into the arena when there are police matters.

Sometimes you see the real politics showing its hand in police matters. Some of the matters Leposa is raising were part of the political campaign. I am talking about the issue of police brutality which featured prominently during the campaigns of the last election. Now you hear them being mentioned as part of Leposa’s issues.

Are these political masters within the government or from the opposition?
Whether they are within government or outside the point remains that there is politics at play. What is clear is that political parties have a lot to do with what is happening. Leposa has been hijacked and it’s no longer serving the interests of its members. What is important is the interests of the members and the impact of the police service.

The organisation should be seen to be apolitical as much as it can. Leposa should see to it that its members are not involved in politics. It is important for Leposa, its leadership and members to be seen to be apolitical.

You launched a blistering attack on the Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, in a radio interview. What was that about?
The police service is an entity of discipline and when we deal with issues, we respect each other because we give orders. But when someone of his status (Metsing) says we are equal with members of Leposa it means discipline should not exist. He is promoting anarchy within the police. He is advocating that officers should not be censured when they err.

You have been accused of purging senior Leposa members. In fact, Leposa’s leadership says you are on a warpath against them. How do you respond to that?
Members of Leposa are police officers. When Leposa makes that allegation it gives an impression that I work alone. The association has about 4 600 out of the 5 000 or so officers. This however doesn’t mean the majority of the members agree with Leposa’s position. It’s not true that I am targeting anyone. I have cordial relations with the majority of the police officers. The issue is with the executive committee of Leposa.

I get that but I am asking about Leposa members who have received “show cause” letters and have been transferred as part of what they say is a purge.
When someone is given a show cause letter it means there are issues they should respond to. That is the way of dealing with it. We are following the regulations. We cannot sit and fail to deal with issues.

Transfers are transfers. Some people might be unhappy. The protocol is that when you are unhappy with a transfer you give reasons and we listen to them. But if we don’t agree then the management makes the final decision. The important issue is however that you have been given an opportunity to make representations.

You were once part of the Leposa leadership. What is the difference between Leposa’s character during your time and now?
We used to have a negotiating team that would discuss issues. At one point we managed to get the police to have a structure and many officers benefitted from that change. We believed in negotiations and were patient. We got what we were asking for from the management and the government. The difference was that we worked to serve the interests of the members. We made sure there were no strikes. This Leposa leadership is pushing another agenda that has nothing to do with the interest of the members.

Who do you think are the main instigators on the Leposa leadership?
Trouble may be caused by anybody but what is certain is that the management of Leposa does not include high ranking members of the police. The highest rank there is a senior inspector. Other senior officers who are members of the association are not part of these occurrences.
Do you believe you are still in total control of the police?
Yes, 100 percent! That is why I can tell you that even when they said they will go on strike I knew that would not happen. The law says the police cannot strike. We were going to take action and we will take action if it happens. I am convinced everything will go back soon. I am grateful that the government leadership has intervened to help resolve the issues. That is the right move because Leposa has been given an opportunity to state their case.

What gives you the confidence that things will be fine soon?
Things are shaping up. For instance, there was a planned strike that did not happen. It will not happen because we don’t do that as the police. The police are now aware that they have been given a false impression of what is happening.

They are now trying to move away from politics. They are no longer giving their support to what Leposa is doing. The police officers themselves have started to air their views against what was happening. Things are normalising and you can see the police officers are committed to their work daily. They are dealing with cases and investigations are happening despite lack of resources.

Is it true that the police have sanctioned an investigation into Leposa’s financial affairs?
Yes, some members have approached our management and lodged a complaint against the association. They claim that there could be some financial crimes at Leposa. That case is under investigation. I however cannot say what kind of crime it is because that is part of the investigation.

Don’t you find the timing of that investigation curious, given the battles between the police management and Leposa? Some might think the management is using the investigation to get back at Leposa.
But what can we do when people are complaining? Should we wait for the misunderstanding to be resolved before investigating alleged crimes? I am saying these are parallel processes.

What is your view about the Prime Minister’s attempts to intervene in the dispute?
First, I must make it clear that I never refused to meet Leposa. That allegation is false. I don’t know for what gain it was made because I was out of office on 29 July when they wanted to meet me. I was with the Prime Minister at St Monica’s where there had been some murder incidents.

They were told that I was out of office but they insisted that it was an urgent matter and they had to meet me on that day. Because I was away, I sent a senior assistant commissioner to meet them. Leposa however refused to meet the senior assistant commissioner saying they wanted me.
What I am saying is that the endeavour by the Prime Minister is very noble and I am thankful he did that. The mission is to see cordial relations in the police. We should focus on service delivery. That is why the Prime Minister quickly established an ad hoc committee to deal with the issues.

You say politicians want to destabilise the police. For what good reason would they want chaos in the police?
Well, the politicians want support and when there is confusion, they take advantage. They are opportunistic like viruses. They want to take advantage of the situation in order to garner support. But I can assure you that they are failing. Their timing on this one was not spot on because police officers are now aware of the agenda. We have gathered intelligence to understand what is happening. We now know this is political and we will manage it as such.

Are you saying politicians are meeting Leposa leadership?
We know meetings are happening. There are secret meetings. We have details of the meetings but I cannot say because it’s classified intelligence.
What is the management doing to deal with police brutality?

The question of training is being looked at. We are trying to be responsive and professional. Right now, we are striving for collaboration with the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom to help us professionalise the police. We want in-service training in investigations and interrogations.
That will solve this issue of police officers assaulting and brutalising suspects. Secondly, we now have a counselling unit for psychosocial support for officers. We know some officers might be engaging in these crimes because of other issues. We have learned from past mistakes. Even out of bad situations you learn. We are learning and believe we will succeed.

How many people have died in police custody? Some say it’s 100 while others put the figure at 50. What is the exact number?
The problem is that we don’t count in a similar way. When we count we don’t start in such a way that it becomes relevant to political campaigns. They are from June 30. We don’t do that because each life matter. We count the number of cases irrespective of when it happened.
I don’t have the exact numbers because there are on-going investigations. The reality is that people have died in police custody and we are terribly sorry about that. But we cannot just say sorry without doing anything. We are correcting the situation.

What would you like to say to the police and the public about the current issues?
I am saying the police should keep doing the good work. They are doing a good job despite the lack of resources. I know things will turn out fine in the end. I want to say the police should remain apolitical. Those who are active in politics should remember that it is against the law.

It is not in the interest of Basotho to have a fragmented police. We should strive for a united police to serve the nation professionally. We should never betray the trust of the people who are trying to assist us. We have just received a vehicle and motorbikes from some people who want to see us succeed. We must deliver the best service so those people see that we are committed to our work.

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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