THE Thomas Thabane administration this week suffered a major legal defeat after the High Court ordered the reinstatement of 77 National Security Services (NSS) officers who were fired in January 2018. The governing coalition, which was formed in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 snap elections which swept away the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven parties’ coalition, fired the officers allegedly because they had been hired on political grounds.
However, Justice Semapo Peete on Tuesday ruled against the government and ordered their reinstatement. The officers’ court victory comes after a long-drawn legal battle which started on 26 February 2018 when they lodged a High Court application for an order to compel the government to reinstate them on the grounds that they were illegally dismissed from the spy agency.
The judgement was delivered in chambers on Tuesday and thereafter the applicants’ lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele King’s Counsel, told the Lesotho Times that the full, written judgement will be available next week.
“All our prayers have been granted but we were told that the written judgement will be available next week,” Adv Teele KC said.
The officers were hired during the tenure of former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, who headed the seven-party coalition from 2015 until the June 2017 snap national elections which ushered in the four-party regime headed by Dr Thabane.
The NSS officers were expelled with effect from 1 January 2018 on the grounds that their employment was “irregular”.
Part of the letter confirming the termination of their employment states that, “After considering your irregular employment into the National Security Service (NSS) … take notice that you are hereby discharged from the service with effect from 1 January 2018”.
In the notice of motion they filed in the High Court on 26 February last year, the dismissed officers asked the court to declare their expulsion as “null and void and of no force in law”.
They also asked the court to order their reinstatement with full payment from February as they allege they were last paid in January 2018.
The Director-General of the NSS, Pheello Ralenkoane; the then Minister of Defence and Security, Sentje Lebona; the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Attorney General were the first to fourth respondents respectively.
According to an affidavit by one of the dismissed officers, Lietsiso Mothala, “During August 2017 the first respondent (Director-General of the NSS) wrote letters requiring us to ‘show cause’ why he should not terminate our employment with the NSS”.
“We have been legally advised and verily believe the same to be correct that the Director General NSS or any of the respondents cannot lawfully terminate our contracts which were concluded before first respondent occupied office or at all because our employment was done by the appropriate authorities of the NSS before the present Director NSS could occupy office.
“Following our employment, we all signed contracts of employment and were allocated employment numbers in the public service. We were also deployed at various posts in the NSS in different districts and earned a monthly salary.”
Mothala added: “The Director General NSS has no lawful authority to change what his predecessor has done merely because he does not agree with it”.
The dismissed officers allege that only a court of law can set aside the employment contracts they signed with the government.
“By writing us letters to ‘show cause’ why our employment cannot be terminated, preparing lists and convening interviews, in which applicants already are employed, the Director NSS was purporting to treat our employment as non-existent and of no effect. He was clearly acting unlawfully in the circumstances,” Mothala alleged.