MASERU — Lesotho’s police officers are mulling a national strike over poor salaries and work conditions, the Lesotho Times can reveal.
The Lesotho Times understands that morale in the police force is at its lowest ebb.
A source said calls for a strike have gathered momentum.
The source said a delegation from Police Staff Association (PSA) yesterday met Home Affairs Principal Secretary, Retšelisitsoe Khetsi, and acting Commissioner of Police Kizito Mhlakaza to discuss their grievances.
The delegation is understood to have initially requested a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla.
Lehohla, who is also the Home Affair minister, is understood to have instructed Khetsi and Mhlakaza to meet them instead.
He however agreed to receive their letter of complaints.
Yesterday evening Lehohla confirmed receiving the letter of complaints from the PSA.
“The Police Staff Association (PSA) has given me a letter of their grievances and I am pondering on it to find long-lasting solutions to problems the police are facing,” Lehohla said.
“They held a meeting with the principal secretary and the police commissioner today (yesterday) and I believe their discussions were warm,” he said.
Several sources that spoke to this paper said the PSA was now contemplating a strike if the government does not address their problems on time.
A police inspector, who refused to be named, said although the PSA had submitted the letter of grievances to Lehohla they were worried that the government will not address their concerns.
He said most of the problems they listed in the letter have not been addressed for years.
A PSA committee member said they were planning to call a press conference today following yesterday’s meeting with the government officials.
The source told the Lesotho Times that there has been grumbling in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service across all ranks that the government was turning a blind eye to their problems.
For the past seven years the police had been complaining about low salaries, meagre risk allowances, poor work conditions and the transfer policy which they say disrupts their family lives.
Some police officers live in dilapidated houses in various posts throughout the country while others work in rundown offices.
“We keep crime suspects in inhuman situations because the state has not provided us with adequate equipment,” a senior police officer who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week said.
“The Ombudsman’s report showed that at some police posts crime suspects are chained to chairs or tractor tyres while at other posts they are kept in dark, cold cells because the government has not provided suitable equipment.”
“The police are faced with lack of facilities and other logistical problems which lead them to inadvertently violate human rights.”
In some districts there were no police cells and the police detained suspects by tying them to vehicle tyres, the officer said.
The source said police authorities procured uniforms only when most officers go to work wearing “embarrassing uniform from head to toe.”
“These things have always been raised in many meetings but were never adequately addressed in the past seven years,” he said.
Lehohla said the government is aware of the challenges the police are facing and it is doing its “utmost to change the situation but funds are not permitting”.
“We are not turning a blind eye to the problems of the police,” Lehohla said.
“The police institution is an important contributor in the rule of law and no government can succeed with a weak police service,” he said.
“The fact that their offices are not up to standard and that the houses they live in need refurbishment does not mean that the government has abandoned its own police.
“No, we are working around the clock to correct that,” Lehohla said.
Concerning a salary increment Lehohla said, “There is no way the police can be treated separately from other civil servants.”
The issue of public servants’ salaries is dealt with once every year and that is when the police get their increment like the rest of the government employees, he said.
“The government is however aware that the police have a special duty to protect lives and property and in doing that they risk their own lives and properties,” Lehohla said.
“It is the issue of their allowances that needs to be reviewed, funds permitting,” he said.
The lowest paid police officer earns a gross salary of M3 600 per month while an allowance per mountain patrol mission is M275.
For other allowances a police officer is paid M50 like any other civil servant.
The police threat to down tools comes hardly a week after trade unions and their members took to the streets to protest against what they said were poor salaries and working conditions.
The labour unions, joined by taxi operators and several dissatisfied groups, are now planning a series of protest marches in Maseru.
A police strike could sink the country into lawlessness.
Police officers last went on strike in 1994.
The strike was quelled by the army.