You have to give it up to Ntate Phoofolo. He is a very decent man. A prolific, erudite, eloquent and sagacious lawyer. Very humble, serene, unflustered and always courteous. Always able to disarm his opponents with his charm and humility. He is never arrogant. He does not speak down on anyone. He respects all and sundry. Even if you are a fool, Ntate Phoofolo will treat you in such a way that you will start believing you are not a fool but an immensely clever creature. His contribution to Lesotho’s legal fraternity is immense. As a minister, attorney general, advocate or attorney, he always excelled.
This is why I don’t understand why he would end up besmirching his otherwise prolific, copious career by agreeing to meet ‘M’e Mahase at Ulala to make the weighty decision of appointing judges without the involvement of Scrutator nor any other wise Mosotho. Can you believe it? Judges are no ordinary folks. They determine our individual destinies. They can end one’s life if they decide the gallows are becoming too rusty and need a bit of refurbishment by being put to use. They cannot be appointed at a grubby coffee shop, over the sweet smell of cappuccino, with James Brown classics mellowing in the background. That cannot be right even if the law allows it. A judge’s reputation and competence must be beyond reproach. Their pedigree must be impeccable and unimpeachable. We have already seen what happens when you have a captured judge or incompetent judiciary. The less said about that, the better for now.
Ntate Phoofolo will of course insist he was right in making the coffee shop appointments in the company of none other than our very own ‘M’e Masefaro Mahase. His stance is encapsulated in the following quote as reported elsewhere in this newspaper;
“If I had told the justice minister (Prof Mahao) in advance and immediately after the JSC meeting that we were going to deal with appointment of judges, what would he do about that knowledge,” asks Adv Phoofolo.
I hold no brief for Ntate Nqosa Mahao, but I bet this would have been his response; “Ntate Phoofolo, it is wholly unacceptable in any civilized society for two people to sit at a coffee shop and decide who to appoint as judges. That is why this country is a messy affair. That is why we are also seized with the reforms process. The reforms process will ensure that we eliminate such bogus appointment processes. Our JSC — as currently constituted — is a joke. The lady with whom you sat at the coffee shop to pick your five candidates is also a laughing stock. Remember my own battles with her over her inane judgments against me which I all had overturned. For us to become a better society regulated by a credible justice system, we need a democratic and properly constituted JSC that reflects our diversity and that picks the right candidates via an open, public competitive process like they have in Mzansi. Some people who currently sit on our bench and masquerade as judges are only there because they are a product of a bogus appointment process. They should be nowhere near those flowery robe and our clean bench. This is why we decided we should stop all appointments until the completion of the reforms process. So, hold your horses Ntate…. Anyway I would have forgiven you if you had asked Scrutator to join you at your coffee shop deliberations even though her name is not mentioned in the JSC Act. We could have benefited from her wisdom which transcends any law written by man. You unfortunately didn’t do that either. I thus cannot help in your wish to have your five buddies join the esteemed bench…. I am sorry but you cannot proceed on that path.”
With this answer alone, the letter forcing Ntate Phoofolo on forced leave (essentially a dismissal letter) would not have been authored this week. Ntate Phoofolo is a man of integrity. He would have gone along with Ntate Mahao’s advice. The ABC NEC would in turn have spared him the guillotine. It’s never a nice thing to be fired, which is what happened here. It’s a pity that Ntate Phoofolo did not pose that question to Ntate Mahao and is only doing so in his valedictory interview, as reported elsewhere in this newspaper.
Ntate Phoofolo should also have known that Ntate Mahao is no pushover. He is a tough, intelligent operator with balls of steel. Witness how he easily wrestled Ntate Motsoahae to the ground. He won their war of attrition notwithstanding that Ntate Motsoahae commanded all the coercive apparatus of state and also had ‘M’e Mahase firmly in his corner. For ‘M’e Mahase, it was always going to be karma time once Ntate Mahao was pronounced as the new Minister of Law and Justice. Ntate Phoofolo should thus have steered clear of her, particularly on this matter of appointing judges. He would have been allowed the grace of retiring next year (when his contract ends) amid much pomp and fanfare. Scrutator would have donated two sheep to the farewell party. That unfortunately is no longer to be.
Tragic as this mistake of the five judges was, it should not be allowed to soil Ntate Phoofolo’s otherwise good reputation. He still leaves the government with his shoulders held high. He has generally done a good job in all the capacities in which he has served, stretching back to his days at the central bank.
There is nevertheless one thing that disturbs me about Ntate Phoofolo. He never talks about one of his greater “achievements”. That he is a former prime minister of Lesotho. And that he is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the shortest ever serving prime minister of a country. For those among us who live under the rocks, Ntate Phoofolo served as the prime minister of Lesotho from 17 Augsust 1994 to 14 September 1994, courtesy of King Letsie III. But to my utter surprise, Ntate Phoofolo never mentions this fact in his CV. Why should he be ashamed or embarrassed by that record? It’s a good record that he should speak about as much as possible. I would put it on my CV, even if I served as prime minister for one day? Just imagine what would have happened if the plot to topple Ntate Moeketsi Majoro had succeeded on 23 May 2020, two days after he was sworn in as he himself has acknowledged. I am sure Ntate Majoro would still proudly display on his CV that he was PM for two days. Nothing is wrong with that.
Ntate Phoofolo must appreciate his short tenure as PM was attributable to the perennial mayhem that is a byword for this country. He would have stayed longer and this country would have been a better place if it were not for the never ending skullduggeries that define our politics. Still, three weeks are a good “achievement”. I would not discount them in my CV.
In Shona and Rwandese languages, the name Haae means goodbye. So, Scrutator says haae to you Ntate Phoofolo. You served this country very well? Despite a few mistakes here and there and the most tragic one about the five judges, you generally have an impeccable record. I will never forget your opinion affirming the validity of a no confidence motion against Ntate Motsoahae when the latter was fighting tooth, nail, claw to remain in office. That was a very dangerous thing to do, considering that Ntate Motsoahae brooks no nonsense and he still could have fired you then. Remember how he had wanted to fire you during his first stint as premier in 2012. You nonetheless stood by principal. You also wrote many other good legal opinions for government that will stand the test of time if followed. So, for now, Scrutator can only say, Haae Ntate Phoofolo. Long Live Long Live. At 73, you are still a spring chicken. Please go back into private practice. This country still needs you.
It has been quite a while since we were treated to some good political comedy. Imagine, a whole four weeks had passed before a new political party was formed in Lesotho. I was beginning to wander if Covid-19 had totally extinguished the thunder in many of our politicians. Four weeks without a new political party? That was becoming a first for Lesotho. Then suddenly, ‘M’e Lemphane-Letsie comes to the rescue with the formation of Lesotho’s newest project; HOPE. This after she decided it was not worthwhile anymore to continue fighting with ‘M’e Keke for the rights to control the GOP (grand old party) called the RCL.
‘M’e Lemphane-Letsie’s decision should be welcomed, not least because it maintains our reputation of having political parties formed every fortnight. It also ensures we have more large women contesting for seats in the 2022 elections. HOPE is also a good name. If there is one thing Basotho need most at this stage, it is HOPE. We need it in abundance. If she plays her game well, she may scrap her proportional representation (PR) seat and gain a cabinet post in whatever coalition to be formed after 2022. Who said Lesotho’s politics is never interesting? One quote from ‘M’e Lemphane-Letsie’s launch interview struck me.
“Governments often fail to provide jobs that they promise the electorate during elections. It is against this background that we have also decided to set up an investment company which will enable our members to do business easily…,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie said.
Again, who can stand up and claim with a straight face that Lesotho’s politics are boring? How is an investment company expected to facilitate business for members of a political party or for Basotho in general? Can you please explain ‘M’e. What happens to the company if ‘M’e Lempane-Letsie becomes a cabinet minister? Will she channel tenders to her party’s investment company? Scrutator awaits more details.
I worry though for another woman who formed her party a few weeks before ‘M’e Lemphane-Letsie’s. I am speaking of Malichaba Lekhoaba of Harverst FM fame. Since forming her United for Change (UC) party, she has not been heard off again. What the hell is she doing? Where the hell is she. Has she also formed her party’s investment company? She hasn’t spoken out nor issued a statement on anything? Did she form her party and then went straight to live under a rock?
But again, she too may scrap a PR seat in 2022 and earn a cabinet post. After all, this is Lesotho. In the meantime, we can only wait for another party to be formed. It could turn out to be Lady Dee’s expected new party. I am told it will have pink and maroon as its official colours. All other colours are now taken by other countless parties. At the rate at which these new political parties are being formed, I never stop to wander if there is ever going to be anyone left as a voter. We might soon need an expanded Parliament as every Mosotho will have his own party and they have to vote for themselves. In the meantime, we can only wait and see. Again, haae to you Ntate Phoofolo.