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Shortlisted judge candidates grilled

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MASERU – FIVE candidates who were shortlisted for appointment as judges of the High Court were on Monday grilled during interviews by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The panel of four members interviewed the candidates asking them about their knowledge of the justice system in Lesotho.
Some of the questions dealt with the oath that judges take and the challenges they face as a direct result of that oath.

The candidates were also interviewed about the constitutional jurisdictions of the High Court and its rules.
Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, who led the panel of interviewers, said interviews for judges are done in an open forum worldwide.
“This helps the public to raise concerns if ever they had queries on a certain individual who wants to be appointed a judge,” Justice Sakoane said.
While interviewing Advocate Koena ’Mabotsoa Thabane, Justice Sakoane raised issues over a complaint that had been filed by the Law Society.
He said the Law Society had informed them that there had been complaints that had been raised against Adv Thabane.

Justice Sakoane said the complaints had been raised by one ’Makopano and Mokoto in February this year.
He wanted Adv Thabane to explain why she had not settled matters that had been raised by the Law Society before she came for the interviews.
He said that would give an impression that she would be conflicted if she is appointed as a judge when handling such matters.
Advocate Thabane said the Law Society never brought the complaint to her attention.

“It was only last week when a messenger from the Law Society came to my office informing me that I should submit the letter of complaint (submitted) by the clients,” she said.
She said the people who had complained “were being sorted out”.
However, Justice Sakoane said she should have called the Law Society back then to clear everything before coming to the interview.
He said Adv Thabane did not abide by the instructions of the questionnaire that she was asked to fill.

Justice Sakoane said Adv Thabane was supposed to list all the reported cases which she appeared for but she did not do so.
Instead she mentioned an unreported case which does not appear in the law reports.
He told Adv Thabane that in phase one of the interview, she did not answer the questions and for those she tried to answer she did not apply her mind.
The Chief Justice demanded to know why this had happened.
Adv ’Mamotšelisi Khiba also came under fierce questioning from the panel.
Chief Justice Sakoane raised concerns that Adv Khiba too did not give out a list of reported cases which she appeared for.

He told her that where the question needed her to list those cases, she listed 10 which she claimed were reported.
But they turned out that they were all not reported in the law reports.
“None of the cases you listed were reported,” Justice Sakoane told her.
Justice Sakoane said on one of the forms Adv Khiba said she appeared in a certain case but it turned out after investigations that she did not appear nor was her name in that application.
“You cited cases which you did not appear for,” he said, adding that some of the answers she provided were as if she said someone would deal with them.

He told Adv Khiba that some of the information she had left would have to be included in the judgment in case she is appointed.
“Will your carelessness not be seen in your judgments?”
Justice Sakoane said the first impression lasts.
When questioned by the other members of the panel about the jurisdictions of the High Court as well as its rules, Adv Khiba said she was not prepared to deal with the question.
She said she never thought she would be asked such questions which she did not prepare for.

“I am not prepared, I thought I was going to be asked more on the characteristics of a judge or so,” she said.
Adv Khiba was then questioned on which oaths do judges take and the challenges they face based on those oaths.
She said a judge takes oaths to keep secrets and not to be seen gossiping about the cases before him.
Justice Sakoane was surprised with the responses he got and argued there is no law that says so.
“In court there are no secrets, which secrets are you talking about?” the CJ asked.

He demanded to know from Adv Khiba on average how long should judgments take before delivered because the public is concerned about delayed judgments.
Adv Khiba responded that the judgment should not take more than 30 days before they are delivered.
Meanwhile, Adv Realeboha Mathaba, the Lesotho Revenue Authority Manager of Litigation, seemed to be more confident when answering the questions asked by the JSC.

He told the panel that even though he was asked about challenges judges face in regard to the oath they take, he does not see anything as a challenge if a judge is under oath.
Adv Mathaba said the biggest challenges judges face could relate to bribes that are offered by politicians.
But he insisted that should not be a challenge to him.
He told the panel that he has had offers of bribes, threats and intimidations from prominent people, but since he knows his job, that did not stop him from executing his duties.

Adv Mathaba said he could not say there are challenges in an oath.
He said the politicians have their way of tarnishing the judiciary and people fear losing their jobs.
So they end up accepting bribes.
“I do not believe in that because an oath is an oath and it should be obeyed,” he said.
Adv Mathaba said there are however possible challenges that a judge may default on his oath.

He said it is possible that a judge could come under pressure when handling high profile cases and if he is not fit, he may bow to pressure from the public and end up doing things their way.
He said even the shortage of resources may put a judge in a position that could make him violate his oath as he may find himself delivering a judgment in favour of politicians who assist the judiciary with resources.

Adv Mathaba said if he is to be given an opportunity to be one of the judges he would never be threatened by people or default on his oath, but he will definitely stick to his duties as a judge.
About six individuals were expected to be interviewed, however, one withdrew leaving five candidates.
Justice Sakoane said out of the five candidates, only two will be appointed as judges and another advertisement will be issued.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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