OP-EDs

OP-ED: THABANE SHOULD RESPOND TO HOLOMO’S LETTER

The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), Development for Peace Education (DPE), Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) call upon the Prime Minister to duly respond to the letter inviting him to give information regarding the usage of his cellular phone in the killing of Mrs. Lipolelo Thabane.

By Lepeli Moeketsi

The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD) Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and Development for Peace Education (DPE) are registered non-governmental organisations in Lesotho whose mandate is, amongst others, to monitor the government of Lesotho that it fulfils its obligations of ensuring good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights.

In different occasions both collectively and individually these organisations have raised concerns on police brutality in Lesotho. Both Commissioner of Police and the Prime Minister have direct and indirect correspondence of these and other groups calling for an action on police brutality (for reference see for example; TRC 2018 and 2019 submissions to Africa Commission on Human and People’s ordinary sessions, TRC 2018 letter to Minister of Police, TRC litigation CIV/T/654/2019,TRC statement of the 13th February 2018, joint statement by TRC, Amnesty International and SAHRDN 2019, LCN Commission on Democracy & Human Rights session on brutality, DPE sessions with COMPOL on police brutality, DPE statement on police brutality 2019, DPE letter to the Prime Minister June 2019 and others).

These organisations have closely monitored recent developments between the office of the Government Secretary and the Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) where the Acting Government Secretary has written letters allegedly on the Prime Minister’s instructions to the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli.

The first letter was to the effect that the Commissioner was forced to take a leave, which the Commissioner sought a stay from the courts, and it was granted. A subsequent letter was suspending the Commissioner from his office with immediate effect while the issue of retiring him was being contemplated.

The organisations have no qualms whatsoever with the decision to retire the Commissioner of Police, however, such process cannot be done at all costs, the rule of law must always prevail. The organisations are worried that the process flies in the face of the Constitution of Lesotho and the LMPS Act of 1998.

The organisations are also concerned that the process constitutes undue interference of civilian authority in security institutions hence compromising professionalism of such institutions.

Legality of the process:

The organisations are aware that the matter is under the judicial consideration and in respect of the principle of sub judice they will not delve into the merits. Nevertheless, NGOs are concerned with both substantive issues and procedure followed in these processes by the acting Government Secretary and or the Prime Minister thereof.  The organisations strongly believe that security institutions must be autonomous.

This is supported by section 13 of the LMPS Act 1998 which subjects the administration of police under the provisions of the Act, to the police authority which is the Minister of Police and the Commissioner. No other person or authority, including the Prime Minister has powers over the functioning of the LMPS. The organisations are of the opinion that the Prime Minister is compromising autonomy of this institution through his interference in the LMPS affairs.   

Rule of law:

The rule of law, amongst other definitions, is regarded as the supremacy or predominance of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power. NGOs are worried that the executive through the Prime Minister is exercising its powers arbitrarily over security institutions.

While organisations fully acknowledge civilian control over security institutions, they are concerned that such authority is being used outside the ambit of law, rather to advance individuals’ political if not personal ambitions. It will be recalled that in 2012-2016 security and political instability in Lesotho, security agencies; Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and LMPS were no longer subordinate to the civilians thus getting involved in the political decision-making process in violation of the principle of the civilian control.

This plunged the country into serious security and political instability. These security institutions retreated and subjected themselves to civilian control. The NGOs are worried that those entrusted with public powers are now using them recklessly to destabilise these institutions potentially dragging the country back to 2012-2016 security dilemma. 

Surrounding Circumstances:

  1. The organisations applaud the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli for taking positive steps towards finalisations of a long-waited case of the killing of Prime Minister’s wife Mrs. Lipolelo Thabane. This case has not only been in public interest but also in the international community. The organisations are of the view that the presence and services of Lt. Col. Mangena of the SAPS and technical support  from FBI requested by the Commissioner of Police to reconstruct the crime scene thus getting all evidence necessary for the case, and also the Commissioner’s letter inviting the Prime Minister to assist with information regarding the involvement of his cellular phone in the crime scene had individually and collectively triggered these regrettable moves by the Prime Minister which compromise the rule of law, good governance and threaten stability. The NGOs strongly believe that the forced leave and suspension/retirement letters have bearing on the abovementioned eventuality.
  2. Further organisations note and acknowledge a noble action taken by the Commissioner of resorting to take a legal route to challenge these letters instead of arbitrarily refusing to vacate the office. His action is considered as a victory to the rule of law and indeed a step in the right direction. Similar note is made and applause given to the non -violent efforts of Commander of Lesotho Defence Force to help LMPS within the confines of the law.
  3. The issues raised in the letter suspending the Commissioner are mostly legitimate concerns of Basotho on policing. However, these appear to be subject of the Policing plan (contemplated in Sections 15 & 16 of LMPS Act 1998) which Police Authority should determine, and the Commissioner should expedite and account for in the annual report due at the end of financial year in terms of Section 18 of the same. If Police Authority and not any other even the Prime Minister, was indeed worried about the inefficiencies listed in the second letter from the Acting Government Secretary, he could have invoked Section 19 and held Commissioner of Police accountable.
  4. The role of the Prime Minister in the police service is defined in Section 5 of the LMPS Act 1998 as that of advising the King on the appointment, determination of terms and conditions of service and retirement of Commissioner of Police and also to request Commissioner of Police to make representations and consider them before advising the King on retirement. Reading Section 5(3) together with Sections 15-19 of the Act to the logical conclusion it is clear that the Prime Minister may not advise the King on retirement unless efficiency and effectiveness of the Commissioner are doubted, and that retirement would be based on the delivery. Since the Commissioner is charged to implement policing plan emanating from development plan and is mandated to produce annual report and or any regular reports oral or written to the police authority, efficiency and effectiveness become subject of management of the police service vested in the police authority.  Therefore, invoking advisory powers of the Prime Minister contemplated in section 5(3) may not in essence be done without police authority having objectively established inefficiency and ineffectiveness.    
  5. The failure by the Acting GS and or the authority on whose behalf he is acting to consider these legal issues does not only render their intentions illegal but clearly not genuine. The Acting GS and the authority on whose behalf he is acting use genuine public concerns on policing to appeal for the public sympathy for the malicious intentions to attain ends ironical to the needs of the very public.

The LCN, TRC, SOLD, CCJP and DPE call upon:

  • The Prime Minister to actively ensure the rule of law, good governance by desisting from unduly interfering with security institutions or any other institutions in Lesotho whose autonomy must be respected.
  • The Prime minister to exercise public powers, as conferred upon him by the Constitution of Lesotho, responsibly with the spirit of the Constitution and in the public interest. 
  • The Courts of Law to expedite a hearing and finalisation of Commissioner’s applications before the courts.
  • The Prime Minister to duly respond to the letter inviting him to give information regarding the usage of his cellular phone in the killing of Mrs. Lipolelo Thabane. 
  • The Commissioner to investigate other cases including but not limited to that of police brutality to bring them to finalisation.

The organisations have given this statement to the government and requested an urgent meeting with coalition leaders to express this concerns and appeal for redress forthwith. NW

This is a joint statement delivered by Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi in Maseru on Wednesday January 8, 2020 on behalf of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Development for Peace Education (DPE), regarding the recent developments in Lesotho compromising good governance and the rule of Law. Moeketsi is TRC’s Human Rights Advocacy Officer.

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