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The keys of success

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MASERU– After joining the Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) in his 20s, Realeboha Mahiritona took early retirement to become an entrepreneur.
After 20 years of service in the armed robbery and car theft squad, the 49-year-old says he realised that Lesotho did not have many professional locksmiths so he studied part time at Locksmith Association of South Africa, Bloemfontein, and obtained a certificate.

Now he is making a living out of it after launching his business in 2014.
His business focuses on opening and repairs of safes, key cutting (readily made, originate, duplicate, cloning and programming transponder keys) computer box repairs and cloning.
Dubbed Hero Keys Centre, Mahiritona says the name is derived from his nickname when he was still a soccer player.
“People called me Hero. People already knew me as Hero so I didn’t see any reason to look for another name,” said Mahiritona, who took out a loan to fund his studies.

Apart from sensing a business opportunity, Mahiritona said he was driven by his desire to reduce the pain endured by robbery victims.
He says he also wanted to secure his children’s future after noticing the high rate of unemployment in the country.
“I swore in my heart that I didn’t want to see my children suffer like I saw others do to get a job; I wanted them to have a means to survive,” he said.
He said growing up in a family involved in farming, he wanted to learn more about farming and go as far as manufacturing machines.

“But peer pressure got to me in 1993 and I ended up applying to join the police after completing my Form E,” he said.
He said after joining the police, “there was still something so strong inside me pushing me to learn something new while still developing my career.
“I still wanted something different as a back-up should anything happen,” he said.
Apart from being a locksmith, Mahiritona is still into farming.
He says his self-discipline, good customer care and services and communication make him stand out.
“Patience is key when it comes to handling customers regardless of how they treat me,” he said.

He described retiring early as the “best decision I made”.
“I now live a comfortable life without any pressure,” he said, adding that he remains a cop at heart.
“I still practise shooting and we formed some clubs where we play with guns (licensed). We hold competitions and programmes to teach people about how to be responsible with firearms because some people think guns are for killing women. I believe such people don’t know how guns work and if they could join us, they would never resort to killing.”
Mahiritona said guns should be owned by people whose sole intention is to protect their property and family.
“Guns are not made so that people can kill their spouses.”

He said he still takes time to engage with some newly trained cops to instill a sense of discipline in them.
“Some become enemies in their own villages upon completing their training because they go on to abuse their powers. It’s such behaviour that degrades our dignity,” he said.
Mahiritona said he is part of a team that conducts patrols at night to prevent crime in his village of Khubetsoana.
“This shows just how much I am still interested in being a cop and I still go as far as helping people where I can,” he said, recalling helping an old woman recover her stolen car.

He says being an entrepreneur changed him for the better on how to deal with people who lack discipline.
“I really didn’t know how to interact as I hardly mixed with people. I was used to be called Sir and I fought with people who lacked discipline.”
He currently has five employees who include his two sons and a nephew of his.
“It doesn’t mean they work for free just because we are related. They get paid as well,” he said.
He said his oldest son has a diploma in sports management while his youngest son is at tertiary level.
“My sons loved what I did saying it challenges them hence I didn’t refuse when they asked to join me,” he said.

“Working with me turned them into professional locksmiths as they are now able to do everything I trained them to do. The other three are still learning but they are getting there,” he said.
He said he started the business with an investment of M74 000.
“I could have started with less than this amount if I had a guide. I could not have bought some of the machines.”

He said the problem was that he did not have anyone nearby to advise him and he relied on his mentors in Bloemfontein, some 200 kilometres away.
He said his major challenges were time, lack of skills and manpower.
“Professional locksmiths are very scarce in the country. We only had people who would cut keys but the rest of the locksmith work was done in Bloemfontein.”

He says people are now aware of his services locally but another challenge is being located in a single district.
“The locksmiths in Mafeteng and Maputsoe do really help reduce our workload, however spreading across the districts could help us reduce the pressure,” he said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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City Council bosses up for fraud

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THREE senior Maseru City Council (MCC) bosses face charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering.

Town clerk Molete Selete and consultant Molefe Nthabane appeared in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

City engineer Matsoso Tikoe did not appear as he was said to be out of the country. He will be arraigned when he returns.

They are charged together with Kenneth Leong, the project manager of SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture, the company that lost the M379 million Mpilo Boulevard contract in January.

The joint venture made up of two Chinese companies, Shanxi Construction Investment Group (SCIG) and Shanxi Mechanization Construction Group (SMCG), and local partner Tim Plant Hire (TIM), has also been charged.

Selete and Nthabane were released on bail of M5 000 and surety of M200 000 each. Leong was granted bail of M10 000 and surety of M400 000 or property of the same value.

The charges are a culmination of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) investigation that has been going on for the past months or so.

The prosecution says Selete, Nthabane, Tikoe, and Leong acted in concert as they intentionally and unlawfully abused the functions of their offices by authorising an advance payment of M14 million to a joint-venture building the Mpilo Boulevard.

An advance payment guarantee is a commitment issued by a bank to pay a specified amount to one party of a contract on-demand as protection against the risk of the other party’s non-performance.

The prosecution says the payment was processed after the company had provided a dubious advance payment guarantee. It says the officials knew that the guarantee was fake and therefore unenforceable.

As revealed by thepost three weeks ago, SCIG and SMCG were responsible for providing the payment guarantee as lead partners in the joint venture.

The prosecution says the MCC was required by law to make advance payment after SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture submitted a guarantee as per the international standards on construction contracts.

It alleges that the MCC has now lost the M14 million paid to SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture because of the fake advanced guarantee.

thepost has seen minutes of meetings in which officials from the joint venture admitted to MCC officers that the advance payment guarantee was dubious.

SCIG-SMCG-TIM kept promising to provide a genuine guarantee but never did. Yet the MCC officials did not report the suspected fraud to the police or take any action against the company.

It was only in January this year that the MCC cancelled the contract on the basis that the company had failed to provide a genuine guarantee.

Despite receiving the advance payment SCIG and SMCG refused to pay TIM Joint Venture for the initial work.

SCIG and SMCG, the lead partners in the joint venture, are reportedly suing the MCC to restore the contract. Officials from TIM Plant Hire however say they are not aware of their partners’ lawsuit against the MCC.

Staff Reporter

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Scott fights for free lawyer

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DOUBLE-MURDER convict Lehlohonolo Scott is fighting the government to pay a lawyer to represent him in his appeal.
Scott, serving two life sentences for murdering Kamohelo Mohata and Moholobela Seetsa in 2012, says his efforts to get a state-sponsored lawyer have been repeatedly frustrated by the Registrar of the High Court, Advocate ’Mathato Sekoai.
He wants to appeal both conviction and sentence.
He has now filed an application in the High Court seeking an order to compel Advocate Sekoai to appoint a lawyer to represent him.
He tells the court that he is representing himself in that application because the Registrar has rejected his request to pay his legal fees or appoint a lawyer for him.
People who cannot fund their own legal costs can apply to the Registrar for what is called pro deo, legal representation paid for by the state.
Scott says Sekoai has told him to approach Legal Aid for assistance.
The Legal Aid office took a year to respond to him, verbally through correctional officers, saying it does not communicate directly with inmates.
The Legal Aid also said he doesn’t qualify to be their client.
“I was informed that one Mrs Papali, if I recall the name well, who is the Chief Legal Aid counsel, had said that Legal Aid does not communicate with inmates so she could not write back to me,” Scott says.
“Secondly, they represent people in minor cases. Thirdly, they represent indigent people of which she suggested I am not one of them.”
“Fourthly, there are no prospects of success in my case hence they won’t assist me.”
He says the Legal Aid’s fifth reason was that he has been in jail for a long time.
Scott is asking the High Court to set aside Sekoai’s decision and order her to facilitate pro deo services for him, saying her decision was “irregular, irrational, and unlawful”.
He argues that the Registrar’s role was to finance his case to finality, meaning up to the Court of Appeal.
The Registrar insists that the arrangement was to provide him a lawyer until his High Court trial ended.
Scott says his lawyer, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, who was paid by the state, had promised to file an appeal a day after his sentencing but he did not.
He argues that the Registrar did not hear him but arbitrarily decided to end pro deo.
Scott says he wrote to Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase in 2018 soon after his conviction and sentencing seeking assistance but he never received any response.
Later, he wrote to Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane in November 2020 and he received a response through Sekoai who rejected his request.
Scott tells the High Court that he managed to apply to the Court of Appeal on his own but the Registrar later told him, through correctional officers, that “the Court of Appeal does not permit ordinary people to approach it”.
He argues that “where justice or other public interest considerations demand, the courts have always departed from the rules without any problem”.
Staff Reporter

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Army ordered to pay up

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THE Ombudsman has asked parliament to intervene to force the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to compensate families of people killed by soldiers.
Advocate Tlotliso Polaki told parliament, in two damning reports on Monday, that the LDF is refusing to compensate the family of Lisebo Tang who was shot dead by soldiers near the former commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli’s home in 2014.

The LDF, she said, is also refusing to compensate the family of Molapo Molapo who was killed by a group of soldiers at his home in Peka, Ha-Leburu in 2022.

Advocate Polaki wrote the LDF in January last year saying it should pay Tang’s mother, Makhola Tang, M300 000 “as a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

The Tang family claim investigation started in February 2022 and the LDF responded that it “had undertaken the responsibility for funeral expenses and other related costs”.

Advocate Polaki investigated whether the LDF could be held accountable for Tang’s death and whether his family should be compensated while the criminal case is pending.

She found that the soldiers were “acting within the scope of their employment to protect the army commander and his family” when they killed Tang.

Soldiers killed Tang in Lithabaneng while she was in a parked car with her boyfriend at what the army termed “a compromising spot” near the commander’s residence.

The three soldiers peppered the vehicle with a volley of shots, killing Tang and wounding the boyfriend.

Advocate Polaki found that the army arranged to pay for the funeral costs and to continue buying groceries and school needs for Tang’s daughter.

The LDF, however, kept this for only four years but abruptly stopped.

When asked why it stopped, the army said “there is a criminal case pending in court”.

The army also said it felt that it would be admitting guilt if it compensated the Tang’s family.

The Ombudsman said “a civil claim for pecuniary compensation lodged is not dependent on the criminal proceedings running at the same time”.

“The LDF created a legitimate but unreasonable expectation and commitments between themselves and the complainant which had no duration attached thereto and which showed a willingness to cooperate and work harmoniously together,” Advocate Polaki found.

“The LDF was correct in withdrawing such benefit in the absence of a clear policy guideline or order to continue to offer such benefit or advantage,” she said.

“However, she should have been consulted first as the decision was prejudicial to her interest.”

She said the army’s undertaking “fell short of a critical element of duration and reasonability”.

Tang was a breadwinner working at Pick ’n Pay Supermarket as a cleaner earning M2 000 a month.

Her daughter, the Ombudsman said, is now in grade six and her school fees alone had escalated to M3 200 per year.

She said an appropriate redress should be premised on her family’s loss of income and future loss of support based on her salary and the prejudice suffered by her mother and daughter.

She said M300 000 is “a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

In Molapo’s case, Advocate Polaki told parliament that the LDF refused to implement her recommendations to compensate his two daughters.

The complainant is his father, Thabo Joel Molapo.

The Ombudsman told the army in August last year that it should pay the girls M423 805 “for the negligent death of their father”.

Advocate Polaki said despite that the criminal matter is before the court, “it is established that the Ombudsman can assert her jurisdiction and make determinations on the complaint”.

Molapo, 32, was brutally murdered by a soldier in Peka in December 2020.

Molapo had earlier fought with the soldier and disarmed him.

The soldier, the Ombudsman found, rushed to Mokota-koti army post to request backup to recover his rifle. When he returned with his colleagues, they found him hiding in his house. The soldier then shot Molapo.

The LDF, the Ombudsman said, conceded that the soldier killed Molapo while on duty and that he had been subjected to internal disciplinary processes.

“The LDF is bound by the consequences of the officer’s actions who was negligent and caused Molapo’s death,” she said.

She found that after Molapo was killed, army officers and the Minister of Defence visited his family and pledged to pay his children’s school fees. They also promised to hire one of his relatives who would “cater for the needs of the deceased’s children going forward”.

The LDF, she said, has now reneged on its promises saying its “recruitment policy and legal considerations did not allow for such decision to be implemented”.

Molapo’s father told the Ombudsman that the LDF said “the undertakings were not implementable and were made by the minister at the time just to console the family”.

All the payments in the two cases, the Ombudsman has asked parliament, should be made within three months.

Staff Reporter

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