REVOLUTION for Prosperity (RFP) stalwart, Lebona Lephema, has been fined M3000 by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for violating the electoral code of conduct.
Mr Lephema, who won the Teyateyaneng constituency in the 7 October 2022 election, was found guilty of utterances and conduct before the polls which the IEC said were likely to influence voters to elect him.
The IEC tribunal sat on 6 October following complaints against Mr Lephema by candidates from various parties including the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Democratic Congress (DC), United for Change (UFC) and Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP).
The DC’s Bokang Ramatsella told the tribunal that Mr Lephema had on 9 September 2022 addressed a campaign rally at St Agnes High School, Berea, and promised to build a mall at Ha-Mphele.
Mr Ramatsella said the businessman-turned politician had made a similar promise on 16 September 2022 at a forum for political parties organised by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) in Maseru. He said such utterances were likely to sway people to vote for Mr Lephema in contravention of laws against vote-buying.
He said Mr Lephema had then ferried equipment to Ha-Mphele on 3 October to create an impression that construction of the mall was about to start and that scores of people would be employed there.
Through these actions, Mr Ramatsella said that Mr Lephema had violated the National Assembly Electoral Act which forbids candidates from using their positions of power and influence to lure people to vote for them.
On his part, the ABC’s Liteboho Mofolo also accused Mr Lephema of vote buying by promising voters jobs.
“Four of his (Lephema’s) supporters went to Ha-Mphele on 16 September 2022 for prospective employment. This was a form of vote buying by Mr Lephema. He knows that people don’t have jobs and he could easily lure them to vote for him,” Mr Mofolo said.
In response, Mr Lephema denied any wrongdoing.
“These are just unfounded allegations by my detractors,” Mr Lephema said.
He said people often came to his business premises seeking employment but none of them had been employed during the election period.
He said he had only brought up the issue of building a mall at the TRC forum after he was asked why he did not employ people from Berea. That is when he had revealed plans to build a mall in the area, he said.
He said he had earmarked the land in question for business projects many years before he joined politics.
He denied moving construction equipment to Ha-Mphele to create the impression that he was about to start constructing the mall as alleged by his rivals. He said he had only done so to create space for new equipment he intended to bring to his Ha-Ntjabane premises where the moved equipment had initially been parked.
Mr Lephema’s lawyer, Letuka Molati, said his client was at liberty to move his properties from one site to another as he wished.
In its judgement, the tribunal comprising of Sofonea Shale (chairperson), ‘Mantsoaki Moorosi, and Advocate Moeti Marai, stopped short of declaring Mr Lephema guilty of vote buying.
It however, ruled that the RFP stalwart’s actions in moving equipment to the site of the promised mall “was likely to influence voters in a manner that the Electoral Code of Conduct does not approve”.
“Being a well-established, known, and respected businessman, the respondent holds a status in society giving him a position, privilege and influence which he may not abuse for political purposes. Against this background, the tribunal finds the respondent guilty of violating the Electoral Code of Conduct. A fine of M3000 payable within seven working days beginning on the day of the dispatch of this judgement is imposed on the respondent,” the tribunal states in its 10 October judgement.
Nevertheless, the verdict does not affect the outcome of the Teyateyaneng election which Mr Lephema won after polling 4414 votes. His nearest challenger, former cabinet minister, Lebohang Thotanyana of the Basotho Action Party (BAP) garnered 1117 votes.