MASERU — The coalition government’s decision this week to fire Energy, Meteorology and Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane is a bold and positive step towards fighting graft and fostering good governance in Lesotho, analysts say.
Thahane was fired after his brief appearance before the Maseru Magistrate Court on Monday on two counts of fraud and bribery totalling more than M43 million.
The charges relate to the controversial block farming scheme, aimed at boosting agricultural production in the country, and to a wool and mohair development project.
Thahane’s firing was announced by Acting Prime Minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing on Tuesday. All the fraud and bribery charges relate to Thahane’s tenure as Finance Minister in former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government. Thahane is the LCD’s member of parliament (MP) for Likhetlane constituency.
Motlamelle Kapa, the head of the political science and public administration department at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), describes the move to fire Thahane over the alleged fraud and corruption allegations as an “unprecedented step in the right direction”.
He says there have always been allegations of corruption against ministers in the past but with very little evidence of serious action to act upon them.
Kapa says whenever ministers are implicated in cases of either corruption or fraud, and they in fact get charged in the courts, they should either resign voluntarily or be forced to quit.
“The Prime Minister has on numerous occasions been heard saying corruption is the worst enemy of Basotho. This action proves that they (the coalition government) are serious about fighting corruption in the country,” says Kapa.
The rules of the coalition government require the party whose minister is to be dismissed to give its consent to any such firing. Thahane’s firing thus proved that the coalition government was united in fighting corruption, he says.
“His dismissal also shows that the leaders in the coalition are acting collectively,” says Kapa.
The decision by Metsing to announce the firing himself, and not wait for Prime Minister Tom Thabane to do it also proved “the LCD’s commitment as a party to fighting corruption.”
Thahane’s case also proved that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) had been emboldened by Prime Minister Thabane’s hardline stance against corruption.
Kapa said his general assessment is that the coalition “is bringing in new things we had never seen before.”
Seabata Motsamai, the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations’ executive director, describes the decision to expel Thahane as an attempt by the coalition government to vindicate its stance against corruption.
The decision will generate more trust in the coalition government especially as it comes hard on the heels of the dismissal of former Trade Minister Temeki Tsolo over allegations that he assaulted a Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) employee.
Motsamai nonetheless says Thahane is one of the most knowledgeable ministers this country has ever produced. The onus is now on him to prove himself innocent of the charges and possibly return to government if the courts acquit him.
Tsoeu Petlane, director of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), says even though positive, the decision to sack Thahane did not come as much of a surprise to him as Thahane’s continued stay in office had become untenable.
“It did not come as a surprise to me . . . It’s supposed to be a procedure that one should not stay in public office when charged while still serving in office,” he says.
Petlane says a public official charged with corruption or under investigation should resign from office to avoid tainting the image of the government or the particular sector they represent.
He says Thahane should have voluntarily quit once he had been informed of the decision to charge him.
Petlane nevertheless cautions against any premature exuberance over the DCEO’s resolve to fight corruption saying Thahane’s case was only the first in which a sitting minister has been fired over corruption. The DCEO’s resolve and consistence would be tested over how it deals with similar future cases.
“This case has however set a positive precedent over how any similar future cases should be dealt with . . . ,” says Petlane.
He says the DCEO is not well capacitated and resourced. It thus deserves praise for its work in completing investigations and charging a sitting minister amid all its constraints.
Petlane urges the coalition government to fast-track the amendment of laws to give the DCEO more teeth and firepower to fight corruption.