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The misery of Mahapa

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…Parliament says it doesn’t recognise his position..

MASERU – POLITICAL banter, hilarious as it is, sometimes belies serious issues.
Take, for instance, the joke that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s coalition government of four parties is a four-by-four (4×4) truck stuck in the mud.
The laughs lighten what is otherwise a grave situation of a government struggling to deliver services after running into financial crunch. And so we chuckle about a problem that looks like its the government’s but is really ours as a country.

We have a broke government struggling to meet its obligations. The austerity measures are already biting. That’s no laughing matter. The joke might be on the government but the crisis upon us.
Supporters of parties in government wince while the opposition zealots giggle, yet they are all in the storm.
The fact that the Ministry of Education has two deputy ministers is not a laughing matter but still that doesn’t stop us from making jokes about it.

Education Deputy Minister ’Maphoka Motoboli had barely settled into her position when Mothepu Mahapa was also appointed deputy minister.
Although there was some outrage over the government creating ‘non-existent’ job and bloating the cabinet, the general reaction was that of amusement.
Opponents immediately coined a joke that Mahapa is a deputy of a deputy. He was assisting the assistant, they said.

What fed the hilarity was that this unprecedented appointment was coming from a government that had screamed over the thriftlessness of the previous administration.
Seemingly, the pot had forgotten that it had once called the kettle black.

Yet while we are laughing, some officials in government and the Ministry of Education, in particular, are baffled.
They just don’t get why the ministry needs two deputy ministers.
And even if they see the logic that one could be for basic education and other for tertiary they remain confused because government has not defined the roles of deputies.
Who does what and when, is the unanswered question.

Who is responsible for what matters in government as much as it does in private business, churches, families and even stokvels.
It turns out that those who work with Mahapa are alone in that bewilderment.
Last Thursday, it was Deputy Speaker of Parliament Teboho Lehloenya’s turn to attempt to make sense of Mahapa’s role in government.
Mahapa wanted to answer questions on his minister’s behalf but Lehloenya told him to sit down.
Undeterred, Mahapa tried again but Lehloenya would not budge.

The deputy speaker was insisting that Mahapa could not speak for the minister because his position was not clear.
Lehloenya reasoned that the Hansard writers do not know how to differentiate Mahapa and Motoboli as deputy ministers.
He said the “Hansard will read: Honourable Deputy Minister and we will not know whether it is this one who is a male or that one who is a female”.
“We do not know who is speaking on behalf of the ministry,” Lehloenya said.

“Until the government solves this I will not allow you Honourable Deputy Minister to answer questions on behalf of the ministry.”
Mahapa’s third attempt was rejected again, forcing him to slump back into his seat while the opposition MPs had a good laugh at his expense. Some immediately reminded him that he was getting the desserts of having defected from the Democratic Congress (DC) to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) in February.
“Where were you going that other day when you left your home?” shouted an MP from the opposition.
“You deserve what you are getting my brother,” said another.

When Mahapa made a fourth attempt to say something Lehloenya came hard on him.
“It seems the Honourable Deputy Minister did not understand me. Please sit down, you will not talk on behalf of the ministry,” Lehloenya told him, amid delight from opposition MPs.
“We already have the Deputy Minister of Education (Motoboli), so we do not know what the appropriate way of calling the Deputy Minister (Mahapa) because we still have one.”
“I was thinking now that we have two deputy ministers, we would be having deputy minister for higher education and deputy minister for basic education. The government has not responded to my suggestion.”

“This will in future help us to make good decisions when thinking of giving people the positions,” he said, adding: “We will not just give people the positions for the sake of doing it.”
Public Service Minister Joang Molapo had to read the answers on the education minister’s behalf but first he tried to defend Mahapa.
“You are taking this issue too far and surely you must let the Honourable Deputy Speaker to answer,” Molapo told Lehloenya amid booing from opposition MPs.
“Withdraw your words, withdraw those words!” shouted the DC spokesman Serialong Qoo.

“You are out of order Honourable Minister Molapo, you should not be against the ruling of the Deputy Speaker, this is not allowed,” Qoo said. Molapo withdrew his words.
The matter had been settled but one MP could not resist sneaking in one last jibe at Mahapa.
“You are now a backbencher and you should ask ministers questions because you are not allowed to represent the ministry,” said the MP.

The glee from the opposition might have fit the moment but still, the fundamental question of Mahapa’s job description remains unanswered.
Jokes aside, it is important to define the role of each of the deputy ministers. Until then, the MPs might be tacitly allowing the government to pay someone whose job is not known.
It won’t be so funny when it comes out that a government running on a shoestring has been paying two people to do the same job.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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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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