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Master of High Court lashes at PAC

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MASERU – THE Master of the High Court ’Matahleho Matiea says Parliament has no authority to review her decisions.
She says she will therefore not set her foot in the House to answer any queries by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after she was harassed by the committee last month.

Matiea and her former junior, Hlahlobo Moruri, who is now head of the legal department in the Ministry of Finance, together with an executor in an estate dispute, Attorney Moroesi Tau-Thabane, have asked for protection from the High Court.
They jointly ask the court to interdict the Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane, the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema and the PAC from summoning them to appear before the committee.

They also ask the court to order Parliament to furnish them with the records of the PAC proceedings of April 16 and 17 in which the Master and her staff were harassed and ridiculed. They say the evidence Matiea and Moruri gave before the PAC during those proceedings should be set aside for being illegal, unlawful and irregular.

In her affidavit, Matiea told the court that the PAC summoned her to testify and was not given enough time to prepare for the hearing. She says she was only given just 12 hours to do so. Matiea said the PAC chairman, Selibe Mochoboroane, told her that there were some complainants and he had to help them and “these people referred to were not known to me at the material time and neither did I know the scope of the issues at play”.
She found that the complainant was Mpho Mapetla whose father’s pension proceeds only came for distribution between her father’s second wife and other family members at a time when Moruri was still the Assistant Master.

“I had not received any complaint from the said Mpho until (Moruri) had transferred to (Finance) Ministry,” Matiea says.
Matiea says she was interrogated without forewarning by PAC members over Mpho’s complaint and the questioning was “degrading and even went further to try and show that I had lost control over the office”.

“In some of the cases I was put in a compromised position having to disclose privileged information between attorney and client specifically my office and that of the (Attorney General,” she says. Matiea was ordered to appear again on the following day and she says she did not know the agenda except Mpho’s complaint, which they had just discussed.

On the following day, after 4.30pm Mochoboroane ushered in a group of complainants who were given an opportunity to table their complaints “which I had to respond to there and then without any preparation and or referencing in spite of a litany of isolated cases that my office deals with”.
Some of the cases that the PAC discussed were still in court, she says.

Mochoboroane ordered Matiea to pay the complainants and report back to him within 21 days.
“Among the people who complained others lied and said I even insulted them and this was believed by (the PAC) and a great deal of weight was attached to my professional integrity,” she says.

“I was criticised extensively that I serve members of the public badly while being unfairly criticised without being allowed to give one’s side of the story. There were also threats of intimidation that the handcuffs be ready,” she says.
Matiea says she was repeatedly threatened that she would provide a list of those cases which are all deceased estates under administration of her office.

“This was notwithstanding the fact some of the cases complained of were still pending before courts of law,” she says.
She says the PAC “was the judge, the complainants’ representative and the prosecutor at the same time for all the cases”.
“I suffered gross humiliation at the hands of (the PAC) and this event was televised and viewed by the national broadcaster – Lesotho Television.”
She says her office was put into disrepute and some clients are very hostile to her as a result of the skewed proceedings to which she and her staff were subjected.

She says a day after the proceedings she was sitting in her office when a young man who had been sitting next to Mpho Mapetla earlier stormed in and “started staging verbal assaults at me”.

She says she went to the police to report and while she was still waiting for a statement to be obtained “several police officers came one by one to look themselves in the mirror which was on the wall, just to ensure that they see me at a closer range”.

She says some officers came and mockingly asked if she was “the notorious Mrs Matima” and laughed at her.

“I received phone calls from within and outside the country, some sympathising while others endeavoured to ridicule me in the meanest possible manner,” she says.

She says she was insulted on Facebook and labelled a thief after it was said she had hidden the testamentary will of Mpho Mapetla’s father.

She says radio stations’ phone-in programmes had commentators who had already found her guilty.

Newspapers said she had pocketed M200 000 belonging to Mpho Mapetla’s father, she says.

Moruri tells the court in his affidavit that some of the questions that were put to him bore criminal underpinnings to which he was supposed to be exercising his common law right to silence.

Moruri, just like Matiea, says he was not given prior notice when he was called before the PAC and he had not prepared any defence.

“I was consistently being interrupted by the members of the (PAC), who were denying me the opportunity to explain certain things,” Moruri says.

“Most of the things they were saying suggested that they had already found me guilty of the complaints levelled against me,” he says.

“I aver that the committee was bias(ed) against me.”

Mpho Mapetla accused Moruri of fraudulently stealing monies that were supposed to be paid to her when he was still the Assistant Master.

Both Matiea, Moruri and Attorney Tau-Thabane argue that parliament does not have legal powers to call the Master or to review her decisions.

They argue that any complainant who is unsatisfied with her decisions may go to the High Court.

Majara Molupe

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Government is broke

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… Borrows M500m to pay salaries
MASERU – THE government is so broke that it had to borrow a staggering M500 million to pay civil servants’ salaries.
thepost can reveal that the money was borrowed through Treasury Bills from the local market this week.
The borrowing spree comes as the government is battling to pay salaries and suppliers due to a massive drop in tax revenues.
It comes as Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s government is left with two weeks in office.
But those few days left on its tenure have not stopped the government from making plans to borrow more money from the local market.
Highly placed sources told this paper of plans to issue more Treasury Bills in the next two weeks to raise money to pay suppliers.
A source however said there is some reluctance from some technocrats in the Ministry of Finance who believe the government’s books and financial control systems are so shambolic that it doesn’t know exactly how much it owes the private sector.
The arrears fluctuate every day but this paper understands that the government owes between M800 million and M1 billion to the suppliers.
Although the government has been grappling with the financial crisis for the past few years the crunch began to bite this year.
Sources say this month has been particularly terrible for the government.
By last week, a source said, the government had only M150 million for salaries. The total public wage bill is around M600 million.
This explains why the government had to borrow half a billion this week through treasury bills issued by the Central Bank of Lesotho.
The money arrived in the government’s account yesterday afternoon according to sources privy to the transaction.
The government has options to pay the debt in three, six, nine or 12 months. But given its precarious financial position, the government is likely to opt for the 12 months.
This means the debt will be paid on September 21 next year at about 7.8 percent interest. That translates to an interest of M39 million which brings the amount to M539 million.
The latest borrowing pushes the government’s domestic debt to M4.3 billion.
The foreign debt is around M15.6 billion. Although the debt is moderate, the government might be forced to borrow more if revenues continue to drop.
That could spell disaster for the country.
As things stand the government has to cut expenditure or look for ways to generate more revenue.
But with the economy still smarting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and companies shutting down, there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room.
Donor fatigue and the drop in the Southern African Customs Union, once the anchor of Lesotho’s budget, have made things worse.
Cutting expenditure seems to be the only option but the government appears reluctant to bite the bullet.
Lesotho has consistently failed to implement the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recommendation to cut the wage bill.
Successive ministers have hinted at plans to retrench some government employees but have never implemented them because that has political implications.
There are signs that the chickens are eventually coming home to roost.
A few days ago Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko issued a circular announcing a raft of measures to “contain expenditure and overdue payments for ministries, departments and agencies”.
Pheko said due to increasing expenditure pressures and a drop in revenue the government is implementing measures that will contain expenditure to levels that are aligned with available resources.
“The Ministry of Finance will continue to issue monthly warrants only for wages and salaries as well as essential and critical expenditures in line with the approved procurement and cash plans plus availability of funds,” Pheko said.
He ordered chief accounting officers to stop international travel, buying furniture, large maintenance, subsistence allowances, and hiring new staff.
Also, all vehicles other than VVIPS will not fuel more than once a week unless they are for essential services as authorised by the government.
All government vehicles other than for VVIPs and selected offices must be parked at their designated places by 5pm and shall be used only for authorised purposes, Pheko said.
Nkheli Liphoto

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We’ll gang up against RFP, says Rapapa

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MASERU – Lesotho’s biggest political parties have hatched a grand plan to throttle the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) led by Sam Matekane.
The plot was revealed by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairman Sam Rapapa at an election rally held in Mashai constituency last Friday.
He said even if the RFP makes it into parliament, they will make sure that it would not be part of the next government.
The plan, Rapapa said, is to “keep the RFP leader Sam Matekane at least as the leader of opposition, with no party to cobble up a coalition government”.
He said Matekane’s “dream of becoming a government alone is practically impossible because” the ABC, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), the Democratic Congress (DC), and the Basotho Action Party (BAP) “will gang up to sabotage him”.
Rapapa spoke as he appealed to ABC members not to join the RFP which he said will not form a government or be in the next coalition government.
“These big parties will gang up against him (Matekane) and he will not be part of the government,” he said.
Rapapa wondered out loud why anyone would therefore want to leave the ABC to join the RFP.
“We will do everything to stop Matekane from getting into the government,” Rapapa said.
He urged Basotho to analyse critically which parties are likely to form the next government so they vote wisely on October 7.
“Both ABC and DC are likely to form a coalition government,” Rapapa said.
He said although he would in the past viciously attack the DC, he had since toned down after the two parties formed a coalition government in 2020.
In a lighthearted moment, Rapapa compared the political landscape in Lesotho to that of a child who runs away from his home to a neighbour’s house because the head of that house has arrived home with stolen wors.
Rapapa said people who are claiming they are leaving the ABC because it is engulfed in conflicts are lying.
Instead, he said the conflicts are in the RFP which has been battling numerous court battles as party members fight to represent the party in the general election.
“There is no peace in Moruo,” Rapapa said. “There is a fight that is going on in the RFP.”
Moruo, which means wealth, is the RFP’s slogan.
Rapapa urged the members to either vote for the DC or the ABC as there is peace and direction in those parties.
After the election, Rapapa said they will tell Maketane to stand in the corner with his people and a few constituencies.
He said Matekane is going to lead the opposition because they had discussed amongst themselves that he is a businessman and he should go back to business.
“We gave you a job to build roads, (but) you leave them with potholes and join politics,” Rapapa said.
He said Matekane is likely to only qualify as an MP and not a Prime Minister.
The ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, however distanced himself from Rapapa’s statement this week.
He said the party is busy campaigning to win next month’s election to form the next government and has not yet pronounced itself on any coalition deals.
“We have not planned to do anything about Matekane as the ABC National Executive Committee,” Hlaele said.
The ABC leader Nkaku Kabi told another rally in Thaba-Bosiu that “it is still premature as to which parties we would align ourselves with after the election”.
He said there are some parties that had been approaching the ABC to discuss coalition possibilities but they have not sat down to decide to cobble up any coalition agreements with any of them.
“Our committee has never met any party to discuss the formation of a coalition government after the election,” Kabi said.
Kabi said the matter should not trigger any ruckus in the party.
Nkheli Liphoto

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Stunning details of how Matela died

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 MASERU – A witness has revealed shocking details of how ’Mahlompho Matela died.
Lekhooa Monaleli told the court that ’Mahlompho told her that she had been strangled.
Monaleli was testifying this week in the trial of Qamo Matela who is accused of the murder of his wife ’Mahlompho.
Monaleli was friends with the couple.
He was testifying before High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Mokoko, last Thursday.
Monaleli said he went to the couple’s home after Qamo Matela had told him that his wife was not feeling well and he needed help to take her to hospital.
Monaleli said he found ’Mahlompho and Qamo on the bathroom floor. He said ’Mahlompho was sitting between Qamo’s thighs while their children were in the lounge.
Monaleli said Mahlompho looked “tired and helpless”.
“I helped the accused to lift (his wife) and carried her to the car,” Monaleli said.
He said Qamo had thrust a spoon into ‘Mahlompho’s mouth to stop her from biting her tongue.
“I noticed that something might have happened to the deceased (‘Mahlompho) apart from her being ill,” he said.
“What I picked from the deceased was that her eyes showed that she had been assaulted.”
“I kept quiet because this hit me hard,” Monaleli said.
They drove to Willies Hospital in Khubetsoana.
At the hospital, Qamo left them in the car as he went to fetch a wheelchair for ‘Mahlompho.
Monaleli said this gave him a chance to ask ’Mahlompho what happened.
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had assaulted and strangled her.
“I asked the deceased why she did not call for help when what happened. The response was that the accused was strangling her.”
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had strangled him for a long time.
The court heard that later on the same day, after helping the couple to the hospital and back, Monaleli sent Qamo a voice note on WhatsApp telling him that he had ruined his day.
Monaleli said he later went to the couple’s house with his wife but they could not see ’Mahlompho because they were told that she was still asleep after taking her medication.
Monaleli said seeing that his friend’s family needed help, he arranged for them to see a psychologist.
The crown’s second witness Rorisang Mofolo, ’Mahlompho’s sister, said she received a call on September 4 last year from Qamo telling her that ’Mahlompho had fainted four times.
Mofolo said Qamo told her that he suspect ’Mahlompho might have a heart problem but she was now feeling better after giving her some sugar.
“He also told me that they were waiting for a car to take them to Willies Hospital,” Mofolo said.
“After our conversation with the accused (Qamo) I called my nurse friend to ask about the temperature change issue, she said it might be Covid-19 so the deceased should get tested,” she said.
She said every time she tried to call ’Mahlompho the phone would be picked by Qamo who would speak on her behalf.
Mofolo said during a video call with ’Mahlompho, in Qamo’s absence, she noticed that she had bruises on her face.
She said ’Mahlompho told her she had fainted three times.
Mofolo said she was relieved after Qamo gave him the impression that ’Mahlompho was recovering but was shocked when Monaleli called and insisted that she goes to see her sister.
She said in their telephone conversation ’Mahlompho said she was “trapped in a hell of a marriage…this man is a psycho”.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho told her that at one point Qamo had helped her pack her belongings and that of the children so they could leave but suddenly changed his mind and said she would not leave with the children.
She testified that ’Mahlompho said Qamo started assaulting and choking her, saying she refused to give his mother M20 yet she had M30 000 in her bank account.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho was later taken to  Maseru hospital which quickly referred her to Bloemfontein where she died a few days later.
She said when a nurse at the Bloemfontein hospital called her to break the news of ’Mahlompho’s death she advised her to go to the police to open a murder case.
She reported the case at the Mabote police station.
She said when she arrived at the couple’s house she found Qamo crying in the bedroom.
Mofolo said Qamo said: “I am very sorry, please promise me that you will be there for me and the kids and that we will plan the funeral together”.
Mofolo said she did not reply but she went out.
Tholoana Lesenya

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