MASERU – Sparsely furnished dilapidated buildings with falling ceilings and broken windows count for court buildings in Lesotho.
Leaking corrugated iron sheets and hazardous toilets complete the sorry sight – one that barely befits the justice delivery system.
When thepost was in the magistrate offices in Maseru there was no toilet paper for officials.
Add to this, the dire working conditions and low salaries of judicial officers.
Magistrates have heard enough and last week brought their grievances to the fore by embarking on an industrial action.
The “go slow” has resulted in the suspension of some proceedings at the courts.
The judicial officers have endured a barrage of criticism over alleged failure to urgently dispense justice. They say those criticising them have little appreciation of their working conditions.
Due to pitiful funding, some of the cheapest items such as pens are unavailable – never mind houses, cars, security and other equipment that cost more.
These are some of the challenges that have been presented to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Service Mokhele Moletsane by the Judicial Officers Association of Lesotho (JOALE).
Minister Moletsane pleaded with the judicial officers to continue with their work and ensure justice delivery does not suffer while their challenges are being addressed.
Moletsane said accommodation is a problem common to all civil servants, citing three judges that do not have houses.
These include Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, who was in the spotlight recently after it emerged that the government was forking out M20 000 monthly to rent her a house.
Chief Magistrate ’Matankiso Nthunya said the challenges faced by judicial officers are longstanding.
Nthunya is part of the magistrates’ management and could not speak on behalf of her concerned colleagues.
Nonetheless, she knows all about the strife in the judicial sector.
Nthunya said the circumstances endured by judicial officers make their work insurmountable.
Judicial officers have repeatedly lodged their grievances with successive governments without getting any reprieve, Nthunya said.
The final blow, she said, was when the government failed to implement a structure that would have improved the salaries of the judicial officers.
That structure could not be implemented because it was blocked in court by some fellow judicial officers despite being approved by the Public Service Commission, said Nthunya.
Even the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane is aware of the problems that include transport and understaffing, she said.
She said magistrates have got just two cars that have to serve the whole country.
There are 101 subordinate courts across the country served by the two vehicles.
“Judicial officers have to be ferried from one place to another in their execution of justice.
“And this has to be done in time so as to avoid defeating ends of justice,” she said.
Given the terrain of the country, some judicial courts are located in hard to reach areas.
She cited the example of Semenanyane Local Court. It does not have a presiding officer because judicial officers are afraid to stay in the area after a watchman was killed due to lack of security.
The court’s closure has affected people living in the Setleketseng area and surrounding villages.
In some instances, it has been impossible for court messengers to take convicts to the police because there is no transport. This applies to Local Courts or Customary Courts where there are no available prison warders and the convicts have to be sent back to the police for a handover to the correctional officers. Nthunya said some convicts have been left to roam the streets because there is no transport to take them to the police.
An unpaid electricity bill has heightened fears that the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) could cut power supplies.
“If LEC runs out of patience, we are doomed,” she said. “We are only under the mercy of God.”
Deadlock over reforms
MASERU – THE government’s plan to use state of emergency powers to recall parliament to pass the reforms faces serious resistance from the opposition and legal experts.
A marathon meeting this week to build consensus on the use of state of emergency powers to recall parliament could not break the impasse.
The deadlock comes as Lesotho is reeling under pressure from the international and regional community to pass the reforms. SADC, which instigated and part-funded the reforms, has promised Lesotho hell if the reforms are not passed.
The United States might pull the plug on its recently approved M4 billion development aid to Lesotho. The African Union is said to have registered its disappointment with the government and insisted that the reforms be passed.
The EU, which contributed generously to the reforms process, is not playing the ‘carrot and stick’ game but gently pushing the government to find a way to complete the reforms.
Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told a meeting of political parties yesterday that the government will soon discuss how Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro can request the Council of State to advise the king to recall parliament to pass the reforms.
Rakuoane, a lawyer by profession, is still cautiously optimistic that it’s possible to use the state of emergency powers for the King to recall parliament.
That interpretation is however being rejected by some in the government and the opposition who believe the failure to pass the reforms is not an emergency.
The constitution defines a state of emergency as a war or a monumental threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty or life.
Monyane Moleleki, the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader, told the meeting that he doesn’t believe the reforms constitute an emergency that justifies recalling parliament.
“In general, it is unthinkable to recall a National Assembly which was dissolved constitutionally, officially or formally by His Majesty the King,” Moleleki said.
“The country finds itself in a difficult situation. Lesotho is constitutionally in a predicament and some urge us to consider the predicament an emergency.”
“Actually, there is no state of emergency in Lesotho today but just a predicament,” he said.
Even if the government goes ahead to use the state of emergency clause to reopen parliament there will still be disagreements over which Bill parliament should pass.
The majority of the officials who were in the now disbanded National Reforms Authority (NRA) accuse the parliament of dismembering the initial Bill they submitted.
They say the parliament sneaked in new amendments and removed others to create a Bill that doesn’t reflect the people’s views.
The Senate has reservations about the parliament’s changes and appears sympathetic to the NRA’s view that the Bill should not be outrageously different to what the people suggested.
The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), which facilitated this week’s dialogue, is reportedly not hostile to recalling parliament but wants parliament to pass the initial Bill from the NRA without changes.
MPs however insist they will not take instructions from any other institution because only parliament has the power to make laws.
But even if they agree to reopen parliament and find each other on which Bill to pass, there is likely to be another problem.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane believes there is no legal loophole that the government can use to recall parliament.
“There is absolutely no loophole to use for that. There is no state of emergency to justify such,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The law is the law. You cannot violate it because you have created your own crisis by failing to do things on time.”
He said even if the government insists on violating the constitution by recalling parliament, the MPs will quickly find themselves in another legal jam.
He said several of the amendments that were before parliament require a referendum before they get royal assent. These include the changes to the Bill of Rights and changes to the structure of the judiciary.
“These are what we call double entrenched clauses and they are part of the Bill that some are saying parliament should be recalled to pass,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The trouble is that a referendum can only be held no less than two months and not more than six months after it has been passed by parliament.”
This, Advocate Maqakachane said, means there is no way the amendments can be legally passed before the October 7 election even if parliament is recalled.
His strong legal view is shared by several other lawyers who spoke to thepost.
That could indicate that there is a real possibility that a decision to recall parliament could be legally challenged. If that happens, the matter would no longer be in the government’s hands but would play out in the courts.
An epic legal battle might be looming.
Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn
MASERU – THE government has withdrawn security guards and a vehicle allocated to the official leader of parliament Monyane Moleleki.
The vehicle was taken away last Friday.
Moleleki could not be reached for comment but his Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesman, Thuso Litjobo, confirmed the development.
The position of official leader of opposition in parliament is equivalent to that of a deputy minister and is entitled to the use of a government vehicle and security guards.
Even when the King dissolves parliament and calls for fresh elections, ministers and their deputies do not lose their entitlements such as cars or security.
The same goes for the official leader of opposition in parliament, the Speaker and his deputy.
Litjobo said the withdrawal of the vehicle and security was meant to ensure that Moleleki did not have resources to campaign for the October 7 general elections.
He said this was unfair since all ministers and their deputies still have access to state resources to campaign.
“Our leader is still entitled to those benefits,” Litjobo said.
“We do not have the power to do anything about this.”
Litjobo said they were shocked when they learnt that Moleleki’s security, staff, salary and everything had been taken away.
“For now the only thing we can do as a party is to complain,” he said.
Moleleki has been the official leader of opposition in parliament since the establishment of the Moeketsi Majoro-led government in 2019.
The Thomas Thabane-led government which began its tenure in 2017, in which Moleleki was the deputy prime minister, collapsed and Moleleki’s party was the largest in the opposition, making him leader of opposition.
As the official leader of the opposition, the Constitution grants Moleleki some benefits.
Among these, he has an office, staff, salary, a vehicle, and free fuel.
Moleleki had qualified to be the leader of opposition with his 11 MPs although most of them have since joined other political parties.
The army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost that he was not aware of the removal of Moleleki’s security.
“Such things can be asked to the government,” Captain Lekola said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Buta Moseme, said the premier’s office is not responsible for the installation or removal of entitlements of the leader of opposition.
The government spokesman, Communications Minister Sam Rapapa, said the questions should be directed at the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.
Maema’s phone was ringing unanswered last night.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is the leader of parliament, could not be reached for comment last night.
ABC at war over Thetsane candidate
MASERU – A fight over who should represent the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the Thetsane constituency in Maseru spilled into court this week.
Two separate constituency committees which were elected on June 11 and July 2 respectively are now fighting over who has the right to preside over the selection of a candidate this Sunday.
The June 11 committee is made up of Silase Mokhitli, Semonko Lesenyeho, Mako Chobokoane, Khoale Thene, Thabo Nkesi and ‘Mathabo Makalanyane.
The July 2 committee is made up of Motinyane Motinyane, ‘Matsekiso Motinyane, ‘Matokelo Morie, Mphonyane Kekana, Nondabesithe Babeli and Lelimo Monese.
The June 11 committee filed an urgent application in the High Court yesterday seeking to interdict the July 2 committee from holding themselves out as the members of the constituency committee pending determination of their application.
The June 11 committee also asks the court to order the party’s spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, and the National Executive Committee to file a record of proceedings of the elective conference of July 2 for the constituency.
They say the court should declare the July 2 committee election null and void.
A lawyer representing the June 11 committee, Advocate Letuka Molati, in his certificate of urgency, said the July 2 committee prejudiced his clients.
Advocate Molati said the July 2 committee is unlawfully preparing the nomination of the candidate for the Thetsane constituency on Sunday.
“Applicants have no alternative remedy as the National Executive Committee of the All Basotho Convention is ignoring to pronounce itself on the matter such that the illegal body will prepare for the nominations of the candidates for the up-coming national elections,” Advocate Molati said.
The June 11’s representative, Silase Mokhitli, told the court in an affidavit that Masoetsa and Senator Mphonyane Lebesa conducted the July 2 elections fraudulently.
“On the 11th June 2022, my co-applicants and I were elected as members of the constituency committee of the All Basotho Convention for the Thetsane constituency no. 34,” Mokhitli said.
Mokhitli said there was a peaceful handover of power from the old constituency committee and he was elected as the chairperson of the new Constituency committee.
The newly elected constituency committee submitted reports to the NEC on June 13 that there was only one branch of Thetsane West that had abstained from the constituency committee elective conference.
“We worked very well as the new constituency committee with the NEC of ABC for a period of about two weeks without any complaint,” he said.
He said on June 24, he was surprised to get a call from the secretary general of ABC, Lebohang Hlaele, ordering him and the new committee to report at the party’s headquarters.
Hlaele also invited the old committee, Mokhitli said.
However, Hlaele was not in the office when they arrived on June 27.
Instead they found one ’Maseeng Maputsoe who was accompanied by Masoetsa.
Maputsoe asked why there were two committees in the Thetsane constituency.
Mokhitli said there was only one committee for which he was the chairperson.
He said there were no disputes as all went on smoothly.
Mokhitli said after the deliberations, Maputsoe left with Masoetsa.
“They said they were going to deliberate alone and when they came back they said they made the decision that there should be a repeat of elections in Thetsane constituency,” he said.
Mokhitli said they were not satisfied and they wrote the executive committee seeking intervention but they have not received any response to date.
Instead, Maputsoe and Masoetsa went to Thetsane constituency on July 2 to oversee the repeat of elections.
“They did not have any official document that shows delegation to them from the NEC of ABC,” he said.
“They conducted everything through dictatorship.”
He said during the elections Masoetsa announced that he had expelled two branches and dissolved the four remaining branch committees out of six.
“They then proceeded to conduct elections without verifying the cards of those who qualify to elect and he took 12 people from three branch areas,” Mokhitli said.
“He took 13 people from Thetsane West branch which had abstained when I was elected on the 11th June 2022,” he said.
When people objected, Mokhitli said, Masoetsa strangled one ’Mako Chobokoane with his clothing and one Semonko Lesenyeho came to his rescue.
“Masoetsa, when faced with another objection, assaulted ’Mako Chobokoane, and Lesenyeho intervened again,” he said.
He said Senator Lebesa “was electing on behalf of the electors”.
He said when Maputsoe was asked whether it was proper that Lebesa was writing ballot papers on behalf of voters, she said Lesenyeho could do what he wished.
“Masoetsa and Maputsoe scolded everyone who objected,” he said.
He said the results of the elections were not announced publicly.
Many people left in disgust, Mokhitli said.
“When there were about less than 20 remaining from the original number of more than 150 people Maputsoe announced (the results).”
Mokhitli argued that it would be wrong for people who were not rightly elected to prepare and hold an elective conference for the constituency candidate.
“The fairness and democracy shall not reign. It is clear that democracy is already under threat,” he said.
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