- sacking seen as ‘punishment’ for the duo’s support for Prof Mahao
- Hlaele comments on his firing
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has fired Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Lebohang Hlaele and his Social Development counterpart, ‘Matebatso Doti.
The Prime Minister did not give reasons for his decision, which is effective from 18 February 2019. But the Lesotho Times is authoritatively informed that the duo has been axed over their support of Professor Nqosa Mahao at the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s recent elective conference.
Prof Mahao, who is also the vice-chancellor of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), surprised all and sundry when he clinched the deputy leader’s post, effectively casting himself in good stead to be the country’s next premier should the ABC retain its majority support and, in the event, that the ageing Thabane bows out.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Temeki Tsolo, and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Mokhele Moletsane have been appointed to act in the Social Development as well as the Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights portfolios respectively until Dr Thabane appoints substantive ministers to fill the two vacant positions.
“I, King Letsie III, pursuant to section 87(7) (d) of the constitution of Lesotho and acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister direct the removal of Honourable ‘Matebatso Doti and Honourable Lebohang Hlaele as ministers of the government of Lesotho with effect from 18 February 2019,” part of the legal notice signed by the Head of State, King Letsie III, on 18 February 2019, states.
Earlier that same day, Dr Thabane had written to His Majesty advising him to fire Mr Hlaele and Ms Doti.
“In terms of section 87 (7) (d) of the constitution of Lesotho, I wish to advise Your Majesty to remove Honourable ‘Matebatso Doti and Honourable Lebohang Hlaele as ministers in His Majesty’s cabinet.
“Acting in accordance with the provision of section 89 of the constitution of Lesotho, I further wish to advise Your Majesty to be pleased to appoint Honourable Temeki Tsolo as Acting Minister of Social Development and Honourable Mokhele Moletsane as Acting Minister of Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights, until the substantive holders may be appointed. If it pleases Your Majesty, I advise that these changes be with immediate effect,” Dr Thabane wrote.
Although Dr Thabane did not disclose his reasons for firing the ministers, the Lesotho Times has been informed by well-placed government and ABC sources that the duo paid the price for siding with Prof Mahao at the ABC’s elective conference on 1 and 2 February 2019.
“They (Mr Hlaele and Ms Doti) had to go and we are happy that they have been dismissed. They had it coming because you cannot betray the leader and expect to continue to serve as a minister in his cabinet,” said one highly placed ABC source opposed to Prof Mahao.
“The plan to dismiss Ntate Hlaele and Mme Doti was put in motion immediately after it became evident that they were siding with Prof (Mahao). Choosing to stand with Prof Mahao is a betrayal of our leader and it didn’t help matters that all strategic positions in the new national executive committee (NEC) were won by individuals coming from Prof Mahao’s slate including the post of secretary general (which was won by Mr Hlaele),” the official said.
Prof Mahao garnered an unassailable 671 votes to beat his nearest challenger, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro who garnered 524 votes.
Others who took part in the much-hyped contest were the former acting incumbent, Public Works and Transport minister Prince Maliehe who got 236 votes and former party chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe, who brought up the rear with a meagre 89 votes.
Mr Hlaele secured 618 votes to wrestle the secretary general’s post from the former incumbent Samonyane Ntsekele who polled 422 votes.
Ms Doti was elected deputy spokesperson after polling 766 votes to beat Joel Mohale (510 votes) and Foreign Affairs and International Relations minister, Lesego Makgothi (325 votes).
The rest of the new NEC line-up is as follows: Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Chalane Phori (deputy chairperson), Nkaku Kabi (deputy secretary general), Tlali Mohapi (treasurer), Likhapha Masupha (secretary), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and ‘Matebatso Doti (deputy spokesperson).
Prof Mahao contested and won the elections despite the apparent opposition from Dr Thabane who had described him as “a useless rag” who should not be allowed to succeed him at the helm of the ABC.
Dr Thabane alleged Prof Mahao was not even a member of the ABC and challenged backers of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Vice-Chancellor to leave the ABC and join a new party the prime minister alleged Prof Mahao had started.
The premier subsequently apologised for the blistering attack, saying he had used “harsh words” on Prof Mahao which were “not acceptable”. However, the party’s then NEC insisted on disqualifying Prof Mahao from the party polls. He only contested at the 11th hour courtesy of a Court of Appeal verdict which nullified his suspension.
Prof Mahao had been disqualified on the grounds that he had not “served at the party’s branch and constituency levels for at least 24 and 36 months” respectively as required by the ABC constitution.
The Koro-Koro constituency committee, which had nominated him, however, challenged the ABC’s decision in the High Court and lost the case on 13 January 2019. It won the case on appeal during the evening of 1 February 2019 as the ABC’s elective conference got underway.
Another ABC official told this publication that Mr Hlaele and Ms Doti had paid the price for being “the only two cabinet ministers who openly threw their weight behind Prof Mahao” during the run-up to the party’s elective conference.
“They (Mr Hlaele and Ms Doti) got fired to instill fear in others and ensure that no other minister sides with anyone opposed by the party leader… What happened to Ntate (Motlohi) Maliehe and Ntate (Nyapane) Kaya is the same thing that has happened with Ntate Hlaele and ‘Mme Doti,” the source said.
Messrs Maliehe and Kaya were fired last year from their Health and Tourism portfolios respectively for speaking out against what they said was First Lady Maesaiah Thabane’s interference with party and government affairs. Their opposition to the First Lady put them on a collision course with Dr Thabane.
The Press Attaché in the Prime Minister’s Office, Thabo Thakalekoala, denied the sources’ claims that the sacking of the ministers was a result of the fallout from the party’s elective conference. He nevertheless would not elaborate on why they had been fired.
“The constitution gives the prime minister the prerogative to appoint and dismiss ministers. He never gives his reasons for appointing or dismissing ministers and that is a right accorded to him by the constitution of Lesotho.
“I take these speculations to be unfounded because the prime minister did not tell anyone his reasons for dismissing the two former ministers and even if he did, I suspect he would have told only the King as this is His Majesty’s government.
“Since Ntate Thabane became prime minister, he has never publicly stated reasons for appointing or dismissing a minister. That’s his prerogative and no one has a right to fight him over this. That’s the end of the story,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
On his part, Mr Hlaele was very diplomatic when asked to comment about his dismissal by Dr Thabane, who is also his father-in-law. Mr Hlaele, who is married to Dr Thabane’s daughter, Advocate ‘Mabatṧoeneng Hlaele, said there was no bad blood between him and the prime minister as the latter was well within his constitutional rights to dismiss and appoint ministers for reasons only known to him.
“I request everyone, just as I did, to accept and respect the prime minister’s decision to advice His Majesty to immediately dismiss me. I don’t think my dismissal had anything to do with the elective conference. I suspect that it was influenced by work-related issues and not the ABC election outcomes,” Mr Hlaele said.
He said he was leaving his ministerial post satisfied that he had performed his duties very well.
He listed among his achievements, the implementation of an online filing system in the courts of law which addressed the problem of the disappearance of manual files.
“The staff morale had reached rock bottom when I was appointed but now I can confidently say that the staff is happy to offer legal services to Basotho. That’s my legacy and I hope that whoever succeeds me will take it from there and move forward,” Mr Hlaele said.
He said he would now devote his energies to his new party role as secretary general and work for the unification and growth of the ABC.
“I am a senator until the government’s five-year term ends (in 2022) and I am the secretary general of my party until 2024. My agenda is to build a revolutionary party that is united and strong.”
Efforts to get a comment from Ms Doti were unsuccessful as her mobile phone rang unanswered.
Ms Doti and Mr Hlaele are part of the new ABC NEC whose legitimacy is being challenged in the High Court by two cabinet ministers, Habofanoe Lehana (Trade and Industry) and Keketso Sello (Mining) and the ABC’s legislator for the Rothe constituency, Mohapi Mohapinyane.
The trio want the High Court to nullify the election of Prof Mahao and others to the party’s NEC. They also want the court to order fresh elections within three months of the finalisation of their court application. Until that case is finalized, Prof Mahao, Mr Hlaele and other NEC members will not assume their positions.
The ABC, the ABC’s NEC, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN), Prof Mahao and all other winners in the ABC polls are cited as the first to 44threspondents in the lawsuit. The LCN are cited in their capacity as the entity that ran the polls on behalf of the ABC and subsequently announced the new NEC line-up.