IN January this year, the Lesotho Times reported that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) was investigating allegations of corruption in awarding of the M140 million senate building tender. This publication also reported that the Public Works Principal Secretary, Mothabathe Hlalele, would be questioned over the corruption allegations.
The DCEO subsequently completed its investigations and told this publication that Mr Hlalele would be hauled before the courts to face charges of corruption and abuse of power. However, the acting Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Hlalefang Motinyane, later said that there was no evidence of corruption against Mr Hlalele in connection to the awarding of the tender.
The Lesotho Times’ (LT) Senior Reporter Pascalinah Kabi recently spoke to the Director General of the DCEO, Advocate Borotho Matsoso (AM), about the senate building and other issues concerning the DCEO’s operations. Below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: The Lesotho Times followed your office’s investigations into corruption allegations regarding the new senate building. Are there any pending arrests since the investigations have been completed?
AM: The case has been completed as far as we are concerned and our appetite is not on the arrests but seeing the case being prosecuted in the courts of law. We have since placed the case before the DPP who has been looking into case. She had her own opinion about the case and we told her what we thought. She undertook to revisit the case and up to now she has not come back to us.
But as far as we concerned there is a case. Remember the case was mainly about the award of the tender and the High Court pronounced itself on it what ought to have done. As long the court order was not followed then there is a case.
LT: What happens if the DPP stands by her initial opinion that there is no case against the principal secretary?
AM: In that case she could issue a certificate of non-prosecution which states that she has declined to prosecute in the matter. However, anyone who is interested in the case can continue to seek prosecution.
We, as the DCEO, maintain that corruption and abuse of power took place in relation to this tender. The DPP will have to give reasons why she thinks we should not proceed with the case and those reasons have to be convincing otherwise they will be challenged.
LT: What happens in a case where the DPP takes a long time to give its opinion on matters like this one?
AM: Unfortunately, that is where our law has its shortcomings because it is silent on this point. The DPP has to decide and if she takes a long time to decide, there is nothing we can do except to continue pushing her. In other countries the law gives a DPP only 30 days to decide whether or not they will prosecute such a case. If the DPP does not pronounce herself after 30 days it is presumed that she has granted a permission for that case to be prosecuted in court.
But unfortunately, our law it is not like that. We think this is one of the issues that should be addressed in the reforms. I think that in cases of corruption, the constitution should provide for the DPP to be given a timeframe to decide as to whether or not she is prosecuting the case.
Sometimes it becomes problematic for the DPP to decide on certain cases and I don’t know what pressures they encounter.
LT: Do you think the shortcoming that you have just alluded to has a bearing on the negative perception towards your office given that you are unable to act on any sitting government even if there is really a case to answer?
AM: I do not know if it would be correct to say we are unable to act. Fortunately, there is no law that says we should not investigate any sitting government. There is no law in this country which stops us from investigating any case except when the case is actually affecting His Majesty King Letsie III, that we cannot do but if it is anybody below His Majesty, the law allows us to investigate. Then when the case has to go to court that is the jurisdiction of the DPP. Actually, we have acted. We have done what we are supposed to do but putting a case before the court is somebody’s prerogative and if that someone does not do it, really what can we do?
Well, it will have an impact on us because for our product to be complete, cases have to be prosecuted in the courts so it is true that such shortcomings have a negative impact on our image. However, if the case does not end up in the courts, we can say as we will have done it up to where we could. I don’t think we should be blamed when someone empowered by the law to take matters further fails to do so. I think we should look somewhere else to say, guys we have done what we are supposed to do and then it is someone else’s responsibility to take the matter further.
LT: Besides this case, are there any similar cases whose completion (prosecution) were affected by the same legal framework?
AM: I cannot not talk about that one now but there is one. I do not want to talk about it now but there is one.
LT: What have you done to engage and educate the masses about the jurisdiction of your office?
AM: We have talked on several occasions. Every time I been on radio, spoken to the media and addressed public gatherings, I have tried all means possible to elaborate how far we can go in relation to the cases that we are investigating. So, it is a known fact. I understand that some people may not understand it properly because sometimes they even accuse us of not pronouncing judgements and things like that, whereas judgements are not made by us but made by the courts. So, we will continue to try and clarify how it we work.
LT: Anything you would like to add?
AM: I want to encourage the media to increase its coverage on cases like this one because we know that it is only through you that the public can know about what is going on since you can reach where we cannot. So, with the media we are able to spread the good message. We will continue soliciting the support of the media in all respects and want to go further to say we are prepared to share any information with you except that which we feel may not be ready for sharing.