- deal awaits approval of PM Thabane and coalition principals
THE government and the suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara have agreed on a M9 million exit package which will see her leave office without undergoing a potentially damaging impeachment process, the Lesotho Times has established.
The Government Secretary (GS), Moahloli Mphaka, confirmed that the two parties had concluded negotiations over Justice Majara’s exit terms and all that was left was for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his coalition partners to endorse the exit package.
Although Mr Mphaka would not be drawn into revealing how much the deal was worth, well-placed sources told this publication that Justice Majara would receive a M9 million golden handshake.
The amount is, however, way below the M17 million that Justice Majara had asked for in previous negotiations with the government.
Mr Mphaka recently told the Lesotho Times that Justice and Correctional Services minister Mokhele Moletsane and new Tourism, Environment and Culture minister Joang Molapo negotiated the deal on behalf of the government. At the time of the negotiations, Mr Molapo was the public service minister. He was moved to the tourism portfolio a fortnight ago.
Mr Mphaka said all that was left was for Dr Thabane and his coalition partners to give their approval before Justice Majara is given her package before officially leaving her post.
“The ministers of justice and of public service were tasked to handle the matter and I have heard that they have concluded the negotiations,” Mr Mphaka said.
“What remains is for them (ministers) to report back to their principals, that is, the Honourable Prime Minister and his coalition partners. And once they (principals) authorise this deal, she (Justice Majara) and the government will part ways.”
Mr Moletsane confirmed that they had been negotiating with the suspended chief justice. He however, said the negotiations were ongoing and the “government would inform the media once they have been concluded”.
“That is not true (that the negotiations are complete). Where is that coming from? Once I am done with the negotiations the media will definitely know. Since these negotiations affect a human being and the government, they have to be secretive but we will soon conclude the negotiations,” Mr Moletsane said.
Last October, Mr Moletsane had refuted reports that there were talks over Justice Majara’s exit. However, the talks were confirmed by other government officials including the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo.
Although both Messrs Mphaka and Moletsane would not be drawn into revealing the finer details of the deal, well-placed sources said a M9 million golden handshake had been agreed for the beleaguered chief justice.
“The two ministers have concluded a deal with Justice Majara. The two parties have in principle agreed that Justice Majara will get M9 million but that amount and other terms will have to be authorised by the coalition principals and the cabinet,” a source said.
Another source said the two parties had endured six months of “often frustrating and stressful negotiations” as they initially could not agree on Justice Majara’s financial package.
“The negotiations were very stressful for both parties and agreeing to a M9 million deal wasn’t easy. Both parties had to make a lot of compromises to get to where they are today.
“The two ministers are hoping and praying that the principals and the cabinet will bless the recently concluded negotiations because it took a lot to get to where they are today,” the source said.
Negotiations for the exit package have previously stalled over Justice Majara’s alleged demands for a whooping M17 million package which the government refused.
According to court papers filed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last May, Justice Majara not only initiated talks about her resignation but she also demanded M17 million to go.
Dr Thabane made the claims in response to a High Court application by Justice Majara for an order to interdict him (Dr Thabane) from recommending the appointment of a tribunal to impeach her over a plethora of misconduct allegations.
Dr Thabane said that Justice Majara had intimated that M17 million was a reasonable demand for her premature exit because she would have enjoyed security of tenure up to the age of 75.
Justice Majara is further said to have demanded that, as part of her exit, the government should aggressively support her bid to secure a post at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2017. This was because she did not want to be idle at home after retirement. Justice Majara subsequently failed in her bid for the ICC post.
“I had an audience with applicant (Justice Majara) in October 2017 or thereabout after she requested a meeting with me,” Dr Thabane states in his May 2018 court papers, adding that, this was after “she indicated that she had made a decision to resign as Chief Justice and from the High Court of Lesotho on her own volition”.
Dr Thabane wrote to Justice Majara on 27 April 2018, requesting that she ‘show cause’ why she should not be suspended and why a tribunal should not be appointed to consider impeaching her on various charges of misconduct including her alleged failure to preside over cases for two years.
According to his court papers, Dr Thabane tasked Mr Mphaka, the then Minister of Justice, Mahali Phamotse and other government officials to assist in negotiating the chief justice’s exit package.
Dr Phamotse concurred with Dr Thabane’s submission that Justice Majara voluntarily initiated talks about her exit and she was not coerced into doing so as she alleged in her court application.
Dr Phamotse said she only met Justice Majara after the latter had held a meeting met with the justice ministry’s principal secretary, Lebohang Mochaba.
“We discussed at the level of public functionaries and also as women exchanging notes.
“We then ventured into the process of exploring the facilitation of her exit and the attendant possibility of a reasonable exit package. She (Justice Majara) intimated that the proper amount that would be due to her ran to the tune of M17 million because she enjoys security of tenure up to the age of 75.
“I then countered by asserting that I felt that the said amount was too exorbitant and the two parties must meet each other half way particularly because government was clearly treading on dire straits following the many challenges that the country faced in the past two years.
“I cordially countered her proposal with an amount to the tune of M10 million which I undertook to negotiate on her behalf. I must be candid with this court and assert that she was very emotional and even literally cried complaining that the real reason behind her plight was a cabinet minister — Hon Thesele Maseribane who was bent on having her removed from office,” Dr Phamotse said.
However, the talks broke down and Justice Majara was eventually suspended from office on 11 September 2018 to pave way for a three-member tribunal to try her over a litany of misconduct charges including her alleged failure to ensure the timeous delivery of justice.
Another charge pertained to Justice Majara’s controversial deal to rent a house for M27 000 per month from a colleague, Justice Teboho Moiloa. The amount is way above the M4000 statutory allocation for her housing allowance.
The three members of the tribunal are Ugandan judge Frederick Egonda-Ntende (who was appointed Seychelles Supreme Court Chief Justice in 2009), Tanzanian judge Augustino Ramadhoni (who was elected to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in 2010) and Zimbabwe’s former Minister of Justice and High Court Judge Simbi Mubako.
However, the trio have not been able to begin their assignment due to a court case challenging both Justice Majara’s suspension and their appointment.