PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane must be applauded for his decision to step down. Whether his sudden departure, after he had initially vowed to cling to power till the late 2020s, is purely voluntary or has been foisted upon him by circumstances surrounding the death of his former wife, Lipolelo, is now largely irrelevant.
What is important is that he has realized his time is up. For that, he will be remembered among the rare breed of African politicians who quit when circumstances demanded it.
It is now in Dr Thabane’s own interests to ensure that he steps down in as dignified a manner as possible. The last thing he needs is to create an impression that he only stepped under pressure of the Lipolelo matter but otherwise he would have loved to cling on. Though he is not legally compelled to do so, he must now leave key decisions with far reaching implications to the future of this country to his successor while expediting his own departure to enable the country a fresh slate from which to move on.
Trying to stuff key state positions with his stooges before he departs is one thing that Dr Thabane must now avoid at all costs.
His recommendation to His Majesty King Letsie III to appoint ’Maseforo Mahase as substantive chief justice is problematic. So are his unrelenting efforts to replace Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli with Assistant Commissioner of Police, Janki Hlaahla, notwithstanding that the former has won several court interdicts against the Prime Minister.
Professor Nqosa Mahao, a constitutional law expert and deputy leader of Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), says while it is not unlawful for Dr Thabane or any outgoing leader to appoint government officials, such last-minute appointments are undesirable.
Prof Mahao describes such appointments as the “malicious” works of leaders who are hell-bent on continuing to rule from the grave. He says they are borne out of a self-serving desire to create pockets of opposition and resistance to the new leader while serving the interests of the former leader.
We couldn’t agree more with this assessment.
In all fairness to Assistant Commissioner Hlaahla, he is rarely in the spotlight and not known for anything untoward. That does not justify Dr Thabane’s unrelenting efforts to use him to replace Commissioner Molibeli when the latter is winning in court and still has pending court cases. Justice Mahase is a highly controversial figure who spent the entire 2019 in the headlines albeit for the wrong reasons. If at all, Judge Mahase has proved she is not fit to be chief justice. When a judge is routinely excoriated by his senior colleagues (Judge Mahase, has been routinely shellacked by the Court of Appeal), they become unfit to wear those colourful robes. A judge, a chief justice in particular, must inspire confidence in the judiciary. Judge Mahase has done exactly the opposite.
The biggest indictment and questions around her competency have come from her peers in the Court of Appeal who have overturned all the judgements she has handed down in favour of Dr Thabane in cases involving the ABC power struggle.
The apex court has gone as far as banning her from presiding over any of the cases involving the ABC factions. Judge Mahase has shown she cares little about her own reputation as a judge. All she wants is to please Dr Thabane so she can land the top post.
By her own admission, Justice Mahase does not command the respect of fellow judges.
In her court application for the recusal of all local judges from hearing ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele’s application for her removal from the bench, Justice Mahase accuses some of her fellow judges of insubordination, among other things. If she cannot trust all her colleagues to handle a matter involving her, then there is certainly a huge problem here. And what does it say of Dr Thabane himself when he rushes to appoint someone, to the apex job at the High Court, whose presence on the bench is not only being questioned, but is now subject to litigation?
Moreover, there is still the issue of criminal charges against Dr Thabane and the First Lady ’Maesaiah Thabane in connection with the Lipolelo murder. Commissioner Molibeli is on record saying Dr Thabane is desperate to save his own skin by replacing him with Assistant Commissioner Hlaahla. He says the move is aimed at ensuring a pliant police commissioner who will stop the murder investigations against Dr Thabane and Ms Thabane. Many also view the appointment of Justice Mahase as serving a similar purpose of ensuring a pliant judiciary which will rule in Dr Thabane’s favour should he ever be charged with murder.
All these points are enough to stop Dr Thabane from trying to proceed with these appointments. But above all, we believe all key appointments should have waited the conclusion of the multi sector reforms which must of necessity address the question of how key appointments should be made to key institutions to safeguard their integrity.
Dr Thabane has already done a noble thing by announcing his departure. His legacy will however, be soiled if he walks the all-too-familiar road of leaders who make last-ditch appointments to ensure they retain some measure of control of the state even after they have left office.
Our advice is for the prime minister to avoid unnecessary scandals and just gracefully walk away from power. New appointments should be left to the incoming prime minister who must make them after the completion of multi-sector reforms. Gone should be the days when a Prime Minister chops and changes a chief justice as per whim or caprice.