Herbert Moyo/Bataung Moeketsi
DESPITE beginning its reign with so much promise in the aftermath of its victory in the 3 June 2017 elections, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government has struggled to fulfil its promises of uplifting the lives of Basotho.
2019 was not particularly a good year as the Thabane regime battled infighting within Dr Thabane’s own All Basotho Convention (ABC) which not only threatened to split the party but collapse the government as well. While its attention and energies were diverted by the infighting pitting Dr Thabane and his ABC deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao, the country lurched from one socio-politico and economic crisis to another. Magistrates, police officers, teachers and other civil servants struck. Government failed to pay service providers and even failed to meet the Southern African Development Community (SADC) deadline for the implementation of multi-sector reforms. As the government begins in third year in charge, the Lesotho Times outlines some of the areas where implementation will be needed to restore local and international confidence.
Resolving the ABC conflict
Whole books would have to be written to adequately capture the gravity and scope of the socio-economic challenges that the government has to address. But for it to even begin to do this, it would have to first confront the elephant in the room- the power struggle within the ruling ABC which has thus far prevented the government from addressing national challenges.
Throughout 2019, the ABC unsuccessfully grappled with its internal divisions. Litigations and counter-litigations as well as rallies and counter-rallies failed to break the deadlock and the ABC ended 2019 as it had begun it- thoroughly divided and seemingly unable to extricate itself from the self-created mess. But in 2020, something must give and the ABC must somehow find a way of resolving its leadership wrangle for the sake of the country.
The other governing coalition partners, namely the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho all have their own internal contradictions that they will do well to address. However, all those are child’s play when compared to the infighting in the ABC. Dr Thabane and Prof Mahao will have to find each other or go their separate ways in 2020. Whichever way, the ABC must regroup under whichever leader to enable it to focus on the herculean task of addressing Lesotho’s socio-economic and developmental challenges.
Implementing the multi-sector reforms
In 2016, SADC recommended constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms as part of efforts to ensure lasting peace and stability which is crucial for socio-economic development in Lesotho.
Initially the reforms process was stalled by the bickering between the government and the opposition who listed a host of demands including the creation of a government of national unity (GNU), a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as well as the release of prisoners such as the murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as pre-conditions for their participation in the reforms process.
Thereafter the infighting in the ruling ABC became the stumbling block as it affected all government business including the implementation of the reforms.
2019 ended with the convening of the National Leaders’ Forum as well as the establishment of the National Reforms Authority to oversee the implementation of the reforms. In 2020, the processes should move into the implementation stage. Lesotho cannot afford further delays. Stability, continued confidence in the government as well as the unlocking of crucial development assistance hinges on the government’s ability to oversee the successful implementation of the multi-sector reforms.
Appointing a substantive chief justice
Lesotho began and ended 2019 without a substantive chief justice. This after Dr Thabane recommended the suspension of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara in September 2018. At the time it was said a three person tribunal had been appointed to impeach Justice Majara but nothing came of that. Twice in 2019 the government said it has reached an out-of-settlement with Justice Majara for her to resign rather be impeached but 2019 ended without any official announcement of her successor. In the entire period that Justice Majara has been on suspension, Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has held fort as Acting Chief Justice and her tenure has not been without its fair share of controversies. These will be discussed further in this article but for now it has to be said that in 2020, the government must ensure that it resolves the Majara issue and appoints a substantive chief justice whoever that will be.
As previously stated, the government missed a May 2018 deadline given by SADC for the full implementation of constitutional and security sector reforms. It was also envisaged that by now Lesotho would have implemented other, including judicial reforms.
In 2020, the government will have to move with speed to implement judicial reforms. Some pointers in terms of what needs to be reformed in the judiciary was given by a Judicial Reforms Committee (JRC), which was appointed by Justice Majara before her 2018 suspension by Dr Thabane.
In May 2017, Justice Majara appointed the JRC which comprised of Justices Semapo Peete, Teboho Moiloa and the now deceased ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane.
The three-member committee consulted various stakeholders that included the Law Society of Lesotho, the law faculty of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and civil society organisations before drafting a document of proposed reforms. Key among these are the proposals to abolish the role of the prime minister in the appointment of judges as well as in the impeachment of the chief justice.
A copy of the JRC’s proposals, seen by the Lesotho Times, proposes that the prime minister should not have any say in the appointment of the chief justice who should be appointed by the king on the advice of the JSC and with the approval of the Council of State.
To ensure transparency in the appointment of judges, it recommended that the JSC advertises the vacancy, invite stakeholders and the public to submit nominations. The JSC should also conduct public interviews of the aspirants and shortlist three nominees for the post of judge for the consideration of the King and the Council of State.
The JRC further proposes that the removal of the chief justice or any judge should only be initiated by the JSC. It proposes that the JSC should comprise of the chief justice as the chairperson, the deputy chief justice, the judge president of the High Court, the attorney general, a legal practitioner of at least seven years’ experience designated by the Law Society, a professor or senior lecturer of law designated by the faculty of law at the NUL and a person of high moral integrity representing civil society.
The JRC document further states that “all major judicial appointments …should be shielded from the influence of party politics in order that the legitimate authority (of the judiciary) and the confidence of people should be maintained”.
“The active role of the executive in the appointment and impeachment of process calls for a drastic overhaul in order to strengthen and ensure judicial independence, that is, the security of (judges’) tenure and the meaningful separation of powers. This is essential in a vibrant democracy and for the rule of law.”
The committee further states that any judge, including the chief justice, should be removed on the grounds of the judge’s inability to execute their functions, infirmity of mind or physical incapacity. The judge and chief justice can also be removed for “misbehaviour or misconduct constituting a breach of a code of conduct prescribed for judges”.
The proposals to abolish the role of the executive in the appointment and removal of judges comes against the background of clashes between the judiciary and the executive in recent years.
Former and current Prime Ministers, Dr Pakalitha Mosisili and Dr Thabane have both been accused of unfairly using their powers to target the late former Court of Appeal President Michael Ramodibedi, current Court of Appeal President Kananelo Mosito and Chief Justice Majara.
Judicial reforms are therefore needed to ensure the judiciary can ensure efficient service delivery.
Addressing the huge backlog of cases in the courts
Judiciary sources have estimated that there backlog of cases is as big as 4000. This year, the judiciary will have to work its socks off to reduce this backlog. Some of the high profile cases which need to be dealt with are the murder and attempted murder cases involving former army commander. Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. Lt-Gen Kamoli has already spent three years in remand prison and his lawyers and some human rights groups argue this is unfair punishment and he should be expeditiously tried or freed if the government cannot prosecute him.
There are other high profile cases involving soldiers and politicians which also need to be finalised this year. Some of these include trials of soldiers accused of murdering army commanders Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015 and Khoantle Motšomotšo in 2017.
Some of the trials are expected to begin this month and they will be heard by foreign judges specifically recruited for the purpose.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane could also have his day in court after the Law Society of Lesotho filed an application to have him barred from impeaching Justice Mosito allegedly for gross misconduct.
Addressing the scourge of police brutality
Having initially starting well in the Thabane era by solving some criminal cases and apprehending the suspects, the police force soiled its reputation in 2019 through reports of brutality against civilians.
Several cases of brutality against civilians were reported throughout 2019 but the worst accusations of sordid and sadistic behaviour leveled against the police, concerned the case of one Kabelo Ratia of Nazareth. After being arrested along with three others for allegedly stealing M30 000 from a local businessman, Mr Ratia alleged that he was tortured to the point where he soiled himself and was made to eat his own faeces by the police.
In 2020, the police will have their work cut out in addressing the scourge of police brutality. They are already facing lawsuits for torturing civilians including that of opposition Movement for Economic Change (MEC) legislator Thabo Ramatla. Mr Ramatla is suing for M2 million in damages for torture that he was allegedly subjected to by the police in May this year.
A Maseru widow, ‘Makeabetsoe Selete, is also suing the police for M1 million damages for “brutally killing” her husband, Lekhetho, in 2011.
The cases are among many that have put the spotlight on the police for brutality against civilians. There have been numerous other cases of torture and deaths of suspects at the hands of the police.
A 2019 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) report expresses concern over the “persistent allegations of police brutality” in Lesotho and calls on the government to capacitate the relevant institutions to enable them to investigate allegations of human rights violations.
“The government should incorporate the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in all its actions as well as in the legal, policy and institutional reforms which would be initiated as a result of the ongoing national dialogue,” the ACHPR report states.
In 2017, the then Police and Public Safety minister, ’Mampho Mokhele, torched a storm when she publicly admitted that the police used illegal methods including torture to extract confessions from suspects.
Ms Mokhele, who served as a police officer for 37 years, made the revelation at a ceremony where the LMPS was presented with forensic equipment donated by the Algerian government.
She said she hoped the equipment would go a long way in removing the need for torture as the police could now use it to determine whether or not a suspect had been involved in the commission of a crime.
“We, as the police, are often forced to use violence to get information out of people because at times we would be sure that the suspect committed the crime but due to lack of tangible evidence we have to use force,” Ms Mokhele said.
Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, has condemned police brutality and ordered the Ministry of Police and Public Safety to furnish him with a report of how the ministry has dealt with cases of police officers suspected of human rights violations.
The United States ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, has also warned that Lesotho risks losing out on the multi-million-dollar second compact under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) due to concerns about “unacceptable” corruption and police brutality against citizens.
Whether it be to ensure the continued flow of development assistance or simply to restore the credibility of the government and the police force, the government will need to act decisively against police brutality in 2020.
The government and the police have a huge task on their hands to stop the wanton, indiscriminate killings which rocked the country in 2019. Women, men, children and even police officers all fell victim and most of these murders remain unresolved. This is an issue which has to be addressed to ensure a sense of security particularly for the womenfolk and the children in the country.
Addressing civil servants’ grievances
2019 was remarkable for the unprecedented strikes by police officers, magistrates, intelligence officers, teachers and doctors among others. The common denominator in all these strikes were demands for salary increments and improved working conditions. Magistrates and doctors even took the unusual step of suing the government to address their demands. In 2020, the government will have to resolve these issues or face even more debilitating work stoppages.