PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili yesterday told the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability that he recommended the reappointment of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander because he “absolutely” trusted him.
Dr Mosisili was testifying before the nine-member commission which commenced its inquiry on Monday this week.
Among other terms of reference the commission is mandated to probe is the legality of Lt Gen Kamoli’s removal as head of LDF in 2014 and his reappointment in 2015. It is also supposed to investigate allegations by opposition parties and civil society groups that Lt Gen Kamoli’s reappointment had resulted in divisions in the LDF and led to political and security instability.
Lt Gen Kamoli was dismissed by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on 29 August 2014 for alleged insubordination. However, Lt Gen Kamoli, who had been replaced as army commander by the slain Maaparankoe Mahao rejected the dismissal, challenging its legitimacy. He then launched an attempted an attempted putsch a day after his dismissal throwing the country into turmoil.
But, after Dr Thabane relinquished power in the wake of the 28 February 2015 snap elections, a new seven-party alliance led by Dr Mosisili, formed government and indicated that Lt Gen Kamoli’s dismissal and Brigadier Mahao’s promotion, were illegal. Lt Gen Kamoli was reinstated in a Government Gazette dated 21 May 2015 with another gazette issued on the same day terminating Mahao’s appointment as LDF commander.
Dr Mosisili told the commission that Lt Gen Kamoli was “unlawfully” removed from office.
“But other than that, I recommended the reappointment of Lt Gen Kamoli because I absolutely trust him. We operate on the basis of trust,” said Dr Mosisili.
During the cross examination by Advocate Haae Phoofolo (King’s Council) before the commission, Dr Mosisili was asked by the lawyer whether or not he had applied his mind “rationally” in recommending Lt Gen Kamoli’s reappointment.
Advocate Phoofolo said: “You were told by one of the (SADC) commissioners, for instance that Lt Gen Kamoli had refused to hand over suspects in criminal activities by the army. Are you saying that it was a rational decision to reappoint someone who doesn’t obey the law in that regard?”
In his response, Dr Mosisili said: “I always apply my mind rationally when I act on matters of state and government. So yes I did. When you appoint someone, you appoint them on the basis of the facts before you.
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“You don’t know what that person will do the next day. The things that he had done were premised on the view that his removal was unlawful. I applied my mind and determined that his removal was unlawful. That was a very rational consideration of the situation.”
He continued: “I maintain that I did the right thing to reinstate an officer that had been unlawfully removed from office. I maintain that I was regularising a situation that had been completely flawed.”
Dr Mosisili was also questioned about the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of Liabiloe Ramoholi (Dr Thabane’s wife), and ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.
“My question to you is; are you aware that a docket had been opened in relation to this matter and there were suspects identified by the police?” Advocate Phoofolo said.
To this, the premier said: “I was not aware. That is precisely why I, if you will recall the original terms (for the SADC commission) that were gazette, included the investigation into that incident because we wanted to know what really happened and who was responsible.
“If we knew, we wouldn’t have included that in the investigation by this commission.”
Advocate Phoofolo then said: “It appears surprising to me prime minister that things just happen around you, and very serious issues such as this one occur with the prime minister not being told.”
Dr Mosisili responded saying: “This was January 2014, and if you recall I was not in office then. When I came into office, I caused that an investigation by this commission be done. Otherwise, I would not have caused that incident to be investigated. Nobody told me.”
The premier was further questioned on whether he consented that, after his removal from office, Lt Gen Kamoli had become an ordinary citizen, which disqualified him from being appointed as LDF commander.
“That is precisely why the reinstatement was retrospective. It was precisely to regularise that. We maintain that he was unlawfully made an ordinary person,” said Dr Mosisili.
“I was regularising an issue that had transpired when I was not the prime minister, which was his removal. That I did because he was unlawfully removed when I was not the prime minister.
“In the first place, he was not afforded an opportunity to be heard. And that is outrightly unlawful. And the second one is that the officer who supposedly replaced him (Brigadier Mahao) was not appointable since he was on suspension and facing charges in a court martial.”
He continued: “The then prime minister (Dr Thabane) attempted to dissolve the court martial and I am aware that he was advised that ‘no you don’t have powers to do so’, and he conceded that and wrote a letter to say that the court martial should continue to its finality.
“Certainly he didn’t have them. The commander was the one who instituted the court martial and would therefore be the one to dissolve it.”
Asked by Advocate Tumisang Mosotho whether he condoned Lt Gen Kamoli’s “defiance” of the gazette by King Letsie III to vacate office following his dismissal, the premier said: “A soldier is entitled to defy an unlawful order, even by His Majesty, yes indeed.”
Advocate Phoofolo, Advocate Mosotho, Advocate Christopher Lephuthing and Attorney Khotso Ntho-Ntho are representing the Mahao family and detained soldiers facing court martial in the commission’s hearings.