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Govt settles with fired ambassador

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE government has agreed an out of court deal to pay former ambassador to China, Lebohang Ntšinyi, all her terminal benefits and salary arrears after her contract was prematurely terminated in March 2018.

Ms Ntšinyi was one of five ambassadors who were appointed by the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition and recalled by the current Thomas Thabane administration in March 2018.

She was recalled along with Popane Lebesa (who was ambassador to Kuwait), Molefi Oliphant (United Kingdom), Mpeo Mahase (Belgium) and Kelebone Maope (United States of America).

Ms Ntšinyi’s contract was supposed to have ended in May 2019.

She subsequently petitioned the High Court to bar the government from prematurely terminating her contract but Justice Moroke Mokhesi dismissed her application on the grounds that she had failed to justify why she could not be recalled from China. She then challenged the High Court verdict in the Court of Appeal which heard the case on Monday.

The matter was heard by Justices Petrus Damaseb (presiding), Tafuma Mtshiya and Johan Van Der Westhuizen.

Ms Ntšinyi’s lawyer, Advocate Molise Molise, told the court that the government had offered to pay her salary arrears and her terminal benefits.

“We have agreed that the government will pay her outstanding salary for the unfinished time of her contract as well as her terminal benefits. We agreed that they will pay in the last quarter of this financial year which is between January and March 2020,” Adv Molise said.

Justice Damaseb then ordered that the out of court settlement be endorsed by the court.

Adv Molise however, asked the apex court to set aside the High Court’s verdict dismissing Ms Ntšinyi’s application to recall her before her contract had expired. The respondents in the matter are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s Principal Secretary, Ministry of Public Service and the Attorney General.

“My client should not have been recalled before end of her contract because she explained to the government that terminating her contract would prejudice her children’s education.

“Although the government has powers to recall ambassadors, they have to do so in line with the terms of the contract. Some of the reasons (for terminating) are that she should have been found guilty of misconduct or found unfit to continue work and she ought to have been given three months’ notice.

“But the government‘s decision was only that she could not be trusted due to the mere fact that she was appointed by the previous regime. The court a quo (which first heard the case) misdirected itself in dismissing her application,” Adv Molise said.

However, the respondents’ lawyer, Advocate Dyke Thejane, argued that there was no reason for Ms Ntšinyi to approach the court as it had already been agreed that she would be paid out her contract. He further said that it was communicated to her that she was recalled because the government did not trust her.

“The appellant was the one who initiated the (out of court) settlement saying that she would only return home if she was paid for the remaining months of her contract and her benefits. In its 5 March 2018 recall letter, the government agrees to her demands.

“She was a political appointee who was entrusted by previous regime for reasons known to them but the current regime did not find her fit to push their foreign policy because they could not trust her.

“Section 143 (3) of the constitution gives the government powers to appoint and recall ambassadors at any time it wishes to do so,” Adv Thejane submitted.

Justice Damaseb reserved judgement to 1 November 2019.

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