THE commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS), Thabang Mothepu, may have compromised the security at the Maseru Maximum Prison by ordering highly trained senior officers to cater for his personal security while leaving unarmed junior officers to guard the high-profile inmates.
This, and the fact that Commissioner Mothepu and some of the senior officers were illegally promoted to their positions possibly on political grounds, are some of the major findings of the ombudsman, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane’s inquiry into the operations of the LCS in 2018.
Commissioner Mothepu was Acting Commissioner from June 2017 until he was appointed as the substantive boss on 31 May 2018.
He courted controversy after making 50 promotions in the LCS in May last year and this forced some LCS officers to approach the office of the ombudsman to complain that they were overlooked for promotions.
Adv Thoahlane, who began his inquiry in May 2018, recently released a 59-page report which details how Commissioner Mothepu allegedly selected a few officers for Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) training in Zimbabwe and subsequently converted them into his bodyguards while leaving the care and security of high-profile inmates in the hands of unarmed junior officers.
Some of the high-profile inmates include the murder and attempted murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and several other members of the security agencies who have been in detention since 2017 awaiting trial for various crimes. Lt-Gen Kamoli was arrested and detained in October 2017.
He is facing a murder charge stemming from the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko.
Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was shot and killed by soldiers during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 at the Police Headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.
He also faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
He is charged alongside Major Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
Major Ramoepane faces a separate murder charge in connection with the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo.
Despite the presence of such high-profile inmates, it appears that the LCS and its commissioner did not prioritise the security of the Maseru Maximum Prison to ensure that there were no security breaches that could lead to their escape from custody.
Tšeliso Liphalana, an LCS officer with more than 20 years’ experience, told the ombudsman’s inquiry that he was “shocked that of late concentration had moved from the security of the LCS and the inmates to that of individuals”.
“He (Liphalana) alleged that some officers who had gone for the SWAT training had taken big arms from the armoury to their homes. They no longer served the purpose of guarding the LCS and the inmates but individuals like (Commissioner) Mothepu,” Adv Thoahlane states in his report on the inquiry.
Commenting on Commissioner Mothepu in the section of the report titled ‘Ombudsman’s Observations’, Adv Thoahlane said “it was not clear how people who went for SWAT training were nominated”.
“The ombudsman does understand why a (SWAT) training that seemed to be so important to the LCS could be for the chosen few. The ombudsman has not been convinced that the (SWAT) training was for the purposes of reinforcing the security of the institution and not for individual officers. It became apparent that in many instances, the security for high-profile inmates was still provided by junior officers while most of the SWAT trained officers were in Mothepu’s escort.
“A live demonstration of this was the convoy of security he (Commissioner Mothepu) brought to the office of the ombudsman during the inquiry. They were heavily armed and had worn masks as if they were on the battlefield. In the circumstance it is not easy to deny the allegation by the LCS officers that the armoury was empty as the SWAT trained staff had taken all weapons.”
In all, Adv Thoahlane’s report paints a picture of Commissioner Mothepu as an immature and excitable character who is given to dramatic behaviour.
“Mothepu’s conduct during the inquiry was baffling. He was heavily guarded on the allegation that his life was in danger from the same officers who fell directly under his command. This was beyond description.
“It was not clear whether he was by nature a dramatic character or what. It was surprising that he felt threatened by his colleagues to the extent that he could not even sit among them, even with that tight security of his… This showed lack of maturity on the officer’s (Commissioner Mothepu) side,” Adv Thoahlane states.
Adv Thoahlane’s 59-page report also details how Commissioner Mothepu was himself parachuted to the helm of the organisation despite the existence of a substantive commissioner, ’Matefo Makhalemele, who was on annual leave at the time.
“At the time of the inquiry there were two LCS commissioners as ‘Makhalemele had, during her interview with the ombudsman, proved that she was still a commissioner as she was still earning her salary and associated benefits,” Adv Thoahlane states in his findings.
“She (‘Makhalemele) confirmed that she was just on annual leave while Mothepu on the other had informed the ombudsman that he had been confirmed as the LCS commissioner. This made no sense legally and otherwise and displayed the highest degree of confusion in the LCS authorities.
“If there could be confusion at that level it definitely meant confusion in the entire Institution. This was not only a burden to the public purse but it also meant that Mothepu’s appointment as a commissioner while the substantive holder of that position was still in office was illegal and so were any decisions he made thereafter, including the decisions to promote officers.”
The report states that Commissioner Mothepu was not only inexplicably allowed to jump two rungs to land the top post, but he was also promoted despite the fact that he was actually on special probation, a punishment for illegally releasing some prisoners who had been detained in connection with unspecified political issues.
“At the time Mothepu was promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner he had been charged, found guilty and put on 12 months special probation because he had released an inmate unlawfully. He also did not qualify for that position.”
The ombudsman said it could not be ruled out that Commissioner Mothepu had been promoted on political grounds as he had been seen hobnobbing with politicians on more than one occasion.
“It is not easy to rule out that politics play a vital role in the LCS promotions taking into consideration that Mothepu and other six officers were seen driving and escorting a political leader to the Setsoto Stadium (during Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s inauguration in 2017) and thereafter got promoted despite their criminal records.
“Senior officers like assistant commissioners and the commissioner (Mothepu) were reported to have been seen and heard canvassing for political parties to the inmates in the run up to the (2017) elections. That definitely proved that there was a political spirit over casting the (LCS) institution,” Adv Thoahlane states in the report.