I am smart enough to draw the line between politics and my job: NSS boss

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NATIONAL Security Service (NSS) director general Pheello Ralenkoane’s contract expires at the end of the month. The 60-year-old has been at the helm of the spy agency since June 2017.

Mr Ralenkoane, who is a member of Communications, Science and Technology Minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP), is said to be engaging Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for a contract renewal.

Over the course of his tenure, Mr Ralenkoane has battled allegations of partisanship and bias after he presided over the January 2018 dismissal of 77 NSS officers who were hired during the time of the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition from 2015 to 2017.

The officers were allegedly fired because they had been unprocedurally recruited in the first place but Mr Ralenkoane’s detractors say they were dismissed because they were not aligned to the then Thomas Thabane-led four party coalition which lasted from June 2017 to May 2020. In May 2019, High Court Judge Semapo Peete ruled that Mr Ralenkoane had acted unlawfully by terminating their employment. The matter is pending before the Court of Appeal.

The normally reticent Mr Ralenkoane this week sat down to discuss this and other issues pertaining to his tenure with the Lesotho Times’ (LT) senior reporter ’Marafaele Mohloboli. Below are excerpts of the interview.

LT: Your contract is ending at the end of the month. Rumours are rife that you and your party leader Chief Maseribane are holding round the clock meetings with Prime Minister Majoro in a desperate bid to get him to extend your contract. How true are these allegations? 

Mr Ralenkoane: I don’t know what it means when the say I’m doing all I can to stay on. Indeed, my contract is coming to an end and I cannot stay if it is not extended.

Contract renewals are done at the discretion of the prime minister. He appoints and he fires. This means that he has the sole power to extend my contract if he feels the need to. I am yet to learn my fate when my contract ends and any self-respecting individual will wait for his (prime minister’s) decision.

LT: Are you therefore saying there is no substance to rumours that you and your party leader Chief Maseribane have been holding secret meetings with the Prime Minister in a bid to convince him to renew your contract? 

Mr Ralenkoane: Not at all. There is no substance in these allegations. I am allowed to have meetings with the prime minister or any other authority whenever necessary. They can see me at any time even after normal working hours due to the scope of my work.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s right to say that my leader is doing all that he can to save my job. I am not even aware that there is anything that Ntate Maseribane is doing to save my job and I am not interested in that. The prime minister will decide my fate on his own and whatever decision he shall make, that will be God’s will.

LT: You have been ridiculed for being a member of the BNP. Some have said you are compromised because of your political affiliation and you should not be holding your current post. What’s your take on this? 

Mr Ralenkoane: First and foremost, it should be clear that I am not a politician. I am a public servant entrusted with the state security and for me to be effective, I definitely have to be apolitical.

I need to iron out what many confuse with my current position. I retired as a member of the NSS in October 2015 after a long and hard 33 years of service. Thereafter in the exercise of my right to freedom of association, I partook into politics until the 2017 national elections results.

Soon afterwards, I was graciously appointed into the command, superintendence and control of the NSS by the then Right Honourable Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane.

I am not a member of the NSS as many think and are persuaded to believe. However, according to Section 6 of the NSS Act, my office is in the public service.

It follows therefore that my conduct and actions upon taking the oath of office, shall have to be apolitical. I, as the Director General (DG) have maintained such an oath until now.

The same goes for those officers that were recruited. Although they have to be vetted, they are usually taken in despite their political affiliation and are nurtured and trained through the NSS curriculum into what the organisation wants them to be and to serve the national interests of our Kingdom without any form of discrimination.

If at all we were to hire people who had nothing to do with politics, then who would we hire because almost everyone has their political affiliation?

There would definitely be no one to hire.

What matters is what one does once they are in public office and I am smart enough to know that the minute I hold a public office that requires discipline, I leave the party line behind and serve this country as entrusted by His Majesty the King.

LT: Would you want to stay on in office given the choice? 

Mr Ralenkoane: Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to work? But that is for the prime minister to decide and I have no reason to hang on if he decides my time is up.

LT: You have been accused of firing 77 NSS officers on the basis that they were unprocedurally recruited by the Mosisili regime on political grounds. What is the real story here? 

Mr Ralenkoane: Given all the accusations levelled against me on different polarised media platforms, I have decided to set the record straight regarding the dismissed NSS officers.

Some of the aggrieved ex-officers challenged their expulsion in the High Court which ruled in their favour.  However, the High Court decision to re-instate them was subsequently overruled by the Court of Appeal and remitted back to the High Court to be heard before a different judge. It is up to the ex-officers as applicants in the matter to ensure that the case is heard.

One of the major reasons why those officers were expelled was non-compliance with the law as prescribed under Section 10 (2) of the NSS Act No. 11 of 1998 which makes it mandatory for the staff board to make recommendations over appointments to the director general before the latter advices the minister to hire.

Furthermore, it was discovered internally that there were anomalies relating to the screening of some of those members according to the 2016 advertisement for the vacancies of officers. For instance, some of the ex-officers had not applied, others were over-age and others were over-qualified.

Others were under-qualified and some were not vetted in line with the NSS Act.  Furthermore, they were not trained in accordance with the NSS curriculum and were therefore security risks.

Given his situation, many opportunities were declined by those officers to have the matter resolved amicably prior to their dismissal. It is thus upon those who feel that they have been unlawfully dismissed to approach the courts of law to vindicate their cause.

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