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Commissioner Molibeli has failed and must go; analysts

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Silence Charumbira | ‘Marafaele Mohloboli

THE recent deaths of four police recruits just two days into their training at the Police Training College (PTC) is a clear signal of Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli’s continued leadership and administrative failures which the country can no longer afford, analysts have said.

So grim are the failures that the only honourable thing left for him is to resign and leave the force in more capable hands, the analysts said this week. Alternatively, if Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro has any backbone, he should fire the commissioner and replace him with a more proven and competent candidate.

Under Commissioner Molibeli’s watch, violent murders and violence against women and children have almost become routine with no one being held accountable. Incompetent police officers, who fraternize with criminals, have become the order of the day.

At 41.00 per 100 000 people, Lesotho is now ranked as the 5th country, with the highest rates of homicide in the world, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  At the top of Lesotho is El Salvador with 61.80 murders per 100 000 people, Jamaica with 57.00, Venezuela at 56.70 and Honduras at 41.70.  Even South Africa, where a woman is raped every 26 second and 58 people are murdered every day fares better than Lesotho with a homicide rate of 35.90 per 100 000 people.

This invariably casts Lesotho as the murder capital of Africa, a dubious honour that scares away investors and stalls development.  It shares the distinction with these four other lawless Latin American and Caribbean countries which are synonymous with drug-lords and criminal cartels.

If ever Prime Minister Majoro was interested in putting this country first, ahead of politics, then he should fire Commissioner Molibeli on account of his glaring failures, said politician Apesi Ratšele.

The system of “jobs for the boys” and unashamed patronage was at the core of the rot in the police force and other entities in Lesotho and would ensure the country lives in perpetual mediocrity, said analyst Mahao Mahao.

The deaths of the recruits were a symptom of a generally rotten police system that required an urgent overhaul, various analysts interviewed argued.

The analysts said it was disheartening that Commissioner Molibeli had led the police force into a morass of failure and incompetence when he had all the structures and support to transform it into a professional force. He is the only commissioner to have benefited from the full support of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) yet he still had nothing to show for all the support he had received.

The displeasure with Commissioner Molibeli’s performance has been heightened by last week’s death of the four recruits at PTC, just two days after starting their police training. The situation has been worsened by revelations that some of the recruits were also pregnant, indicating a laxity in the police’s medical vetting processes.

The Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) had already come out guns blazing accusing the police command of ignoring its warnings that the recruitment process was being conducted irregularly.

LEPOSA has declared that the recruitment process was marred by nepotism and corruption. A competent police force begins with the recruitment of the most suitable and credible candidates.

LEPOSA spokesperson, Police Constable (PC) Motlatsi Mofokeng, has described the deaths as the “worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the LMPS”.

PC Mofokeng squarely blamed the deaths on Commissioner Molibeli who he said had proved to be “incompetent” and “unfit” to lead the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS). He called on Commissioner Molibeli to “do the honourable thing and resign” after the debacle.

He told the Sunday Express that the deaths were a sad loss that could have been avoided if the police command had heeded their advice and allowed for “a proper and transparent recruitment exercise”.

“All this wouldn’t have happened had the commissioner taken our advice.  He should have foreseen that this was bound to happen especially when we are in this unusual and unprecedented period of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not possible to undergo intense physical training while wearing face masks.

“More importantly, medical examinations should have been conducted before the recruits were chosen. Medical examinations are very key to police training and it beats us how these recruits were allegedly inspected by one doctor who is not even a specialist and they were not examined in a proper laboratory equipped with x-rays and other equipment to produce accurate results.

“We warned against the so-called examination but Compol Molibeli decided not to listen and unfortunately this has been at the expense of precious lives. Even the government has repeatedly ignored our grievances labelling us politicians. This time we want to see what they are going to do now that this has happened because we have always held that Holomo Molibeli is incompetent and unfit to hold office. We have always said he needs to be redeployed but the government has never listened because he is their payback for helping them to get into power and therefore, they can’t reprimand him.

“Holomo is even above the law because he decided to begin the training this week in contravention of the Covid-19 regulations which prohibit large gatherings. How did he convene so many people in one place? All other institutions have closed but not the LMPS. We have nothing more to say except to ask him to do the honourable thing and step down because he has failed dismally. He is total failure,” PC Mofokeng said.

Last Thursday, a day before the first death occurred, PC Mofokeng had already condemned the recruitment exercise.

He described the recruitment exercise as “bogus,” saying the recruits had been chosen without being vetted and subjected to medical examinations to ascertain their fitness for the rigorous physical training exercises that recruits undergo.

He said they had received reports that most of the recruits did not even possess the required qualifications as some of them had not even completed high school education. He said others did not even write the police’s entrance examination.

“There are processes which have to be followed to ensure that all those who are enrolled are fully deserving of that honour and they will surely serve and protect the nation in line with the mandate of the LMPS,” PC Mofokeng said.

“The failure to vet these new recruits is likely to bring us a bitter harvest. It is worrisome to think what the future of the LMPS will be like as we have been reliably informed that vetting and even medical tests were not conducted ahead of the recruitment of some of the trainees.

“We have been informed that some of these recruits do not have required entry qualifications at all and some did not even write the police examinations yet they have been enrolled. We have also discovered that most of the recruits are related to some senior police officers and have therefore been given an unfair advantage over other candidates who don’t have any connections.

“The million-dollar question is what exactly is going to happen to those who have criminal records and don’t have a good disciplinary background? Are they going to be sent home after training?

“This is quite an unfortunate thing that has been done in the name of the police institution. We have always had a problem with recruitment based on political affiliations and this still remains the case. We have received reports from various constituencies of people claiming that their children were not enrolled, yet those of political office bearers have been taken in.”

Asked how the recruitment was done, PC Mofokeng said the police command had assigned some retired police officers to conduct the interviews “hence they took advantage to recruit their undeserving relatives”.

A National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer who refused to be named this week said the problems in the police force were multi-layered and required astute leadership to correct. He said while Commissioner Molibeli was “a good man at heart” he had failed in leading the force.

Some of the indications of the failures include the long list of unresolved murders and crimes some of which have never been investigated despite there being overwhelming evidence.

He said the challenges in Commissioner Molibeli’s tenure were simply symptoms of bigger institutional problems emanating from mainly nepotism that he said had always informed recruitment into the LMPS.

“Molibeli could easily have done well given the support that he received even from the region through trainings of his forces by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) standby force but that has turned out to be a wrong assumption,” said the lecturer.

“There are numerous cases that continue piling up and have not been solved. For instance, the Lipolelo Thabane murder for which they said they had evidence that would compel the courts to nail former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. However, that has not happened.”

While it was not confined to the police force alone, nepotism was one of the problems responsible for the poor service delivery and lack of accountability in key institutions, he said.

“It is difficult to get things done the right way in Lesotho because of nepotism. When officials fail, no one takes responsibility because someone in authority was instrumental in putting them into their jobs and they stand ready to protect them whenever they bungle.”

NUL lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Mahao Mahao, said the “jobs for the boys culture will forever weaken our systems and ensure we stagnate in perpetual mediocrity because those we trust to get things right continue to unashamedly burden our systems with those who do not deserve positions”.

“A system that thrives on patronage is not meant to advance but to kill any form of progress. This is unfortunate in an institution as important as the police service. Bad recruitment will ultimately give the nation the rotten apples disguised as police,” Dr Mahao said.

While it would be prudent for Commissioner Molibeli to resign, Dr Mahao does not see it happening.

“I’ve never seen anyone in Lesotho resigning over a scandal no matter its magnitude. In fact, here scandals seem to solidify the positions of those who are expected to do the honourable thing and exit the door. A scandal followed by a resignation would be a first in Lesotho,” he said.

Another analyst, who also refused to be named, citing the sensitivity of the subject, said nepotism was the root of all the problems in the police. He said while it is impossible to completely wipe it out, it is essential for nepotism to be at its bare minimum in key institutions like the police.

Instead of growing into a reputable institution, the PTC had degenerated into a “sham institution” with ill-equipped trainers, he said.

“What has been transpiring at PTC, LDF and many other public institutions over several years is gross nepotism and downright corruption, which ineluctably drown excellence and professionalism in the entities. This is all tragic.

“The vetting system at PTC has long been questionable. People with criminal convictions, forged documents, those who hold zero interest in policing, etc. have made it through based on connections. Look at the number of reported criminal cases that are linked to police officers. This points to fundamental system failures.

“The PTC is essentially a shadow of its former self. One would expect that today it would be a cradle of professionalism, an academy of police excellence. Rather, it is a place staffed with lowly qualified instructors, and a questionable and seemingly static curriculum.”

He said there was serious lack of transparency and accountability in the vetting and recruitment processes. He said recruitment should be done by a wholly independent panel with the names of recruits being made public.

Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, said the situation could only be remedied by a transparent independent commission of inquiry.

“There is need for an independent commission of inquiry comprising of independent foreign experts, and maybe inclusive of some Members of Parliament (MPs). Once the exercise is completed, the findings must be made public. The findings must be transparent and those found culpable must be prosecuted,” Mr Litjobo said.

Mr Litjobo’s sentiments were buttressed by Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) spokesperson Apesi Ratšele, who said only an independent commission of inquiry would get to the bottom of problems at PTC. In fact, he also holds the view that Commissioner Molibeli should be held accountable for the deaths.

“We have always held that Commissioner Molibeli is incompetent and must be redeployed. Whatever it is that’s still keeping him in office, only those in government know. They just don’t seem ready to let go of him,” Mr Ratšele said.

He said it was reckless of Commissioner Molibeli not to call off the training until the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had subsided.

“He acted negligently by gathering hundreds of recruits in one place during this hard time of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no way people can train with their masks on and observe social distancing. The commissioner has to be held liable for these deaths, together with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, the Minister of Police ‘Mamoipone Senauoane and Principal Secretary Matela Thabane because they could have suspended the recruitment exercise until the risk of contracting Covid-19 was over.

“This is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of police training and it is shocking. Any government that respects and takes itself seriously could have aborted this training and sent the recruits home until this virus had subsided,” Mr Ratšele said.

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