DEFIANT Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) commissioners say they are staying put despite a government directive that they vacate office ahead of the recruitment of new commissioners.
The commissioners- Chairperson Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Advocate ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Dr Makase Nyaphisi- were given until last Friday to leave office. The government directive was issued after the Council of State adopted the political parties’ recommendation that the commissioners’ contracts be terminated and new commissioners be recruited in their place.
The decision was taken on 22 May 2019 after political parties decided that it was “not in the best interests of the IEC or the country” to renew the contracts of Justice Lehohla, Adv Pholo and Dr Nyaphisi for another five years after they expired in January.
While Law and Constitutional Affairs Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, is adamant that the trio vacated the office as per Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka’s directive, Justice Lehohla this week told the Lesotho Times that they will not leave office until their court challenge against their dismissal has been finalised.
“We filed a court application last Friday challenging the directive that we must vacate office. The case was first heard on Monday but we have not left office,” Justice Lehohla said.
However, government is adamant that the trio have vacated the IEC offices as they were instructed by Mr Mphaka.
Rtd Col Mothae told this publication that the commissioners left office last Friday after Mr Mphaka wrote to inform them that they should have wrapped up their business at the IEC on or before last Friday.
“The commissioners have vacated office as per the government secretary’s letter which instructed them to leave office on or before 31 May 2019. We have not received any reports that they are still in the office because they were ordered to leave on or before 31 May 2019 and as we speak the commissioners are not in office,” Rtd Col Mothae said this week.
Rtd Col Mothae said in his letter to the commissioners, Mr Mphaka also stated that the trio would be paid cash in lieu of a month’s notice of leaving employment.
“So our expectation is that the commissioners have left the office so that the ongoing process of recruiting new commissioners goes ahead without any hindrances,” Rtd Col Mothae said.
Asked if the government was sure that the trio left the IEC, Rtd Col Mothae said they had not received any reports indicating that the commissioners were still there.
“I have not received any report suggesting that they are still in office. I have been informed that it is business as usual at the IEC and the commissioners have indeed left.”
Rtd Col Mothae was recently appointed Acting Chief Accounting Officer at the troubled IEC.
The appointment, which was communicated to him by Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, is aimed at averting a total shutdown of the elections body which is in crisis after some service providers withdrew their services over outstanding payments.
“In terms of Section 4 (g) of the Public Financial Management and Accounting Act of 2011, I appoint you as interim Chief Accounting Officer of the Independent Election Commission for the 2019/20 financial year,” Dr Majoro states in his letter to Rtd Col Mothae.
Rtd Col Mothae will act in the position until the substantive Director of Elections, Letholetseng Ntsike, is “assisted to return to work” as per the request of the political parties.
Dr Ntsike was suspended in March by commissioners Lehohla, Pholo and Nyaphisi in March 2019 for allegedly defying their orders.
The commissioners then appointed IEC Information and Technology Manager, Lebohang Bulane, as the Acting Director of Elections. Mr Bulane was however, unable to discharge his duties as his appointment was rejected by the government which insists that the three commissioners’ contracts expired and therefore they cannot make any decisions regarding the IEC.
The appointment of Rtd Col Mothae will restore a semblance of normalcy to the troubled IEC which has struggled to meet its payments obligations to service providers as a result of the three commissioners’ stand-off with the government over the renewal of their contracts which expired in January this year.
The embattled IEC commissioners, who were counting on the country’s political parties to extend their stay in office, were dealt a body blow by the same parties which recommended that they be kicked out of office without further ado.
The political parties, including opposition formations, recommended that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane should advise the Council of State to urgently convene and kick-start the processes of appointing new commissioners by the end of June 2019. They say the appointment of new commissioners is top priority because “the normal operations at the IEC have collapsed and there is a crisis situation that the government and the leaders of the political parties have to address as a matter of urgency”.
The political parties also want the commissioners investigated for alleged financial improprieties emanating from their resolution that they be paid allowances for the 2017 general and local government elections.
The political parties’ resolutions are contained in a confidential document prepared by a technical committee set up to investigate the power struggle that has gripped the electoral body since the beginning of the year.
The technical committee’s confidential report, which has been seen by the Lesotho Times, is titled ‘Report of the Lesotho Political Parties Leaders’ Forum – Technical Committee on the impasse in respect of the tenure of office of commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission’.
The Lesotho Times has established that the report has since been adopted by the leaders’ forum (which comprises of the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties) and that the Council of State has already commenced the processes that should culminate in the appointment of new commissioners as decided by the political leaders.
This week, Rtd Col Mothae said the process of recruiting new commissioners was underway.
“On Thursday (today) political parties will reconvene to receive the names of applicants and the expectation is that once they receive the names, they will be handed over to a consultant for the final selection process,” he said, adding the recruitment would be concluded by the end of this month.
The Lesotho Times has established that the consultant that will assist the political leaders with the recruitment has been engaged by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
With the help of the consultant, the political leaders will interview the shortlisted candidates and submit five names to the Council of State which will then recommend three individuals for appointment by His Majesty King Letsie III.