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LCS boss illegally in office: Ombudsman

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE ombudsman, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane, has delivered a scathing report on the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS), saying that its commissioner Thabang Mothepu and some of the senior officers were illegally promoted to their positions possibly on political grounds.

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 on political grounds.

Adv Thoahlane, who began his inquiry in May 2018, recently released a 59-page report which 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 shows 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.

The ombudsman said it could not be ruled 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 also took exception to Commissioner Mothepu’s behaviour when he failed to appear when he was first summoned to appear before the ombudsman.

“A subpoena was issued out to Mothepu to appear before the ombudsman in the first week of the inquiry from 21 to 24 May 2018. Instead of Mothepu informing the ombudsman of his unavailability on the said dates due to prior official arrangements, it was Mochaba who responded. The ombudsman was taken aback by this but thought and waited for Mothepu to appear before him and explain himself, perhaps before he left the country, but this never happened. Mothepu clearly undermined the ombudsman’s Office and its powers.

“When the ombudsman saw Mothepu on national television answering and addressing some of the issues that were raised in the inquiry that said something about Mothepu’s attitude towards the ombudsman and his powers.”

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