Corrupt politicians crippling DCEO: Manyokole

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OVER a year and half has passed since Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) director general, Mahlomola Manyokole, was suspended by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for alleged incompetence.

Following Adv Manyokole’s 7 January 2021 suspension, the premier appointed a three member tribunal headed by retired Judge Teboho Moiloa to probe his fitness to remain in office. Other members of the tribunal are High Court Judge Polo Banyane and retired judge, Semapo Peete.

This week, the Lesotho Times (LT) engaged Adv Manyokole to find out the current status of his case after he challenged the legitimacy of the tribunal.

This publication also took the opportunity to discuss with him the widespread allegations that the DCEO is ineffectual in fighting graft. Successive director generals including Adv Manyokole himself have been accused of being beholden to the prime ministers who appointed them instead of effectively fighting corruption.

Excerpts of the interview:

LT: More than one and half years have passed since your suspension by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on 7 January 2021. You were suspended to pave way for a tribunal to determine your fitness or lack thereof to remain in office. What is the status of that matter? 

Manyokole: I appeared before the tribunal and raised several objections to the unprocedural manner in which the tribunal was operating. These included my unhappiness with the appointment of retired Judge Teboho Moiloa as head of the tribunal. I wanted him to recuse himself because I felt he wouldn’t be impartial as he had been under investigations by the DCEO over the improper leasing of his house to then Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara. There were many other issues I was unhappy about and I appealed to the High Court. The matter is pending.

LT: Dr Majoro said you were suspended for incompetence. What is your take on that?

Manyokole: I find the suspension preposterous and unjustifiable, bearing in mind the efforts that I had put in to make that office perform better. Unfortunately, all that couldn’t satisfy my bosses, including Prime Minister Majoro. I was shocked when I received a letter from then Law and Justice Minister, Professor Nqosa Mahao, asking me to show cause why I should not be suspended. I tried calling Dr Majoro to ask if he had indeed approved my suspension but I couldn’t get hold of him. I then texted him but he didn’t respond.

I then proceeded to court seeking to stall the intended suspension, but I failed. I’m still baffled because I had a very good relationship with Dr Majoro. I was therefore astonished to receive the letter. From what I have heard from my sources, Prof Mahao wanted me out so he could appoint someone of his choice to serve his own interests. He was also working in cahoots with some DCEO staffers who wanted me gone because I had disciplined them for misbehaviour.

My suspension had nothing to with incompetence, it was political. I was shocked at one point when Prof Mahao asked me if the DCEO was investigating Dr Majoro on allegations of corruptly awarding a government fleet tender to a local taxi organisation in 2019 when he was still Finance minister. He wanted me to prosecute the prime minister over those allegations. I confirmed that we were working on the case but I could not discuss its merits with him because my office was autonomous. He was not happy with that and that must have strengthened his resolve to suspend me.

LT: You then took your fight to the High Court where you alleged that Dr Majoro and then Law and Justice Minister Mahao were “crusaders of corruption” who had only suspended you because you were investigating them and other high-profile people for corruption. What exactly did you mean by this? 

Manyokole: They were interfering with my duties to investigate corruption by harbouring criminals and protecting them from prosecution. They would ask me about progress in cases that they had interest in. They would also tell me who to investigate. I found all this unprofessional. One day Prof Mahao inquired about progress in former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane’s treason and murder case.

I don’t know why he was asking me because he knew that at that point the case was with the DPP. I told him plainly that I could only confirm that we were working on that case but I could not give him specific details. But he insisted that he needed that information because one senator, whom he didn’t mention, wanted to know. He told me that he was going to address a political rally the following day and he needed to give feedback to the public as justice minister.

He also wanted to know why specific cases, especially high-profile ones, were not being taken to court. I got a feeling that he wanted to fix his political enemies. But I stood my ground and told him to go and ask the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, for any information that he wanted.

LT: One of the cases the DCEO was investigating under your watch pertained to the bribery allegations against former Finance minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla. She was accused of attempting to solicit a M4 million bribe from a joint venture company shortlisted for a multi-million-maloti government vehicle fleet tender. She has since been cleared after the DCEO and DPP failed to prosecute. What have you got to say about this particular case? 

Manyokole: I feel very much vindicated that she was cleared as I had indicated that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. It had been alleged that I withdrew the case without consulting the DPP on Dr Khaketla’s case. I spoke to DPP Motinyane over the phone and informed her that the DCEO wished to withdraw from the case because we did not have water tight evidence. I had earlier liaised with the DCEO chief prosecutor who indicated that we did not have a winnable case. There were several meetings between the DCEO and the DPP’s office and DCEO officers on the ground came to the same conclusion.

I also sought counsel from Lesotho and South Africa. There was consensus that it would be impossible to secure a conviction on the basis of the evidence that we had. I later went to see the DPP and informed her that I had checked the status of witnesses in this matter and learnt that one of them had passed on. I interviewed one of the two remaining witnesses and I wasn’t pleased because the evidence was weak.

The DCEO and the DPP’s office discussed the matter further and agreed to withdraw the case for lack of evidence. I then left the matter in the hands of the DPP because it was no longer a case for the DCEO. So, I was shocked to receive a ‘show cause’ letter from Prof Mahao alleging that I had not consulted with the DPP before withdrawing from the case. 

LT: We have witnessed a trend wherein director generals of the DCEO are fired and new ones appointed whenever a new prime minister takes over. What do you make of this and how can this be addressed? 

Manyokole:  I’ve seen that, not just here in Lesotho but in many other countries across the world. When some leaders get into power they think that they’re above the law and therefore should never be charged or investigated. This makes work difficult for me as DCEO boss because I get resources and bodyguards from the prime minister or through his authorisation.

The DCEO should be answerable to parliament. As long as the prime minister has the powers to appoint, discipline or dismiss the DCEO DG as he deems fit, such officials will always be at his mercy. The law should be amended so that the premier appoints and fires the DG on the recommendations of parliament, and not at his own discretion. This will ensure that DGs are not removed willy-nilly. 

LT: DCEO bosses are generally regarded as stooges or allies of whichever prime minister has appointed them. In your case, you were widely seen as former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s blue-eyed boy. It was said that you were appointed to stop any criminal investigations against him, his wife and members of his ABC inner circle. Was this a fair assessment? 

Manyokole:  That was not fair at all. DGs are appointed by the prime minister. I don’t know why there was noise when Ntate Thabane appointed me. There were allegations that I was covering up for him but that was not true. I was never his blue-eyed boy.

It’s almost two years since I was suspended but I’ve not heard of a single corruption case being brought against Thabane, his wife, or his allies. Even in my ‘show cause’ letter there was no allegation that I was protecting any of them. The government has not taken them to court over corruption allegations because there are none.

LT: Another issue that has been raised with regards to DCEO bosses is that they have been vested with too much power. Unlike the police, army, prisons and intelligence services, a DCEO boss can obtain mobile phone subscribers’ information including records of telephone conversations without a court order. All that a DCEO boss has to do is write to mobile phone operators demanding this information. Don’t you think that granting you access to such information without a court order can lead to serious violations of rights? Isn’t it possible that you could actually obtain such information on behalf of politicians and other security agencies without a court order?

 Manyokole:  We can’t have a DCEO that is not able to do its work effectively because it can’t access personal information when investigating cases. People always claim their right to privacy. But how can the DCEO investigate if it cannot obtain critical personal information? If the department has to go to court first to access required personal information, there’s a risk of exposing our investigations — the judge and the public will know about it.

Even asking to see the judge in chambers is also risky. What if we’re investigating the judge’s colleagues? It is only proper that the DCEO is able to obtain information from institutions like banks and mobile telecommunication service providers without seeking a court order. That will make our investigations more effective.

But yes, information can be abused by investigators if they are manipulated by politicians or any other people. That is wrong. Information should remain confidential and not go beyond the scope of the case being investigated. If this abuse of power happens, aggrieved persons can take the matter to court.

LT: The DCEO has a dismal record of losing high-profile cases. The Victoria Hotel case and the ‘Mamphono Khaketla corruption probe easily come to mind. In your view, how can this dismal record of the DCEO be explained? 

Manyokole: This is largely due to lack of effective leadership and undue influence by politicians. In some cases, our investigators are simply incompetent. We have some good lawyers and officers from the police but sometimes they lack proper leadership and supervision.

There is need for more training so that investigators improve their skills on how to assess the potential of cases. We’ve conducted trainings in the past but more still needs to be done. We can’t always be relying on foreign lawyers to help us to do our work better. Sometimes we do good investigations but fail to prosecute.

We also have external influences from politicians who push the DCEO to pursue cases for their own interests, even when they have little or no prospects of succeeding. Also, the department has always been poorly funded and this prevents it from conducting proper investigations. Out of about M22 million allocated to DCEO this financial year, only M3 Million is meant for investigations. This is far from enough.

LT: What reforms do you think are required to make the DCEO an independent and effective crime-busting unit? 

Manyokole: Parliament needs to have a good statute to ensure that the DCEO operates independently and without political influence. A parliamentary committee should be set up to recommend potential candidates for the position of DG. The government needs to improve the conditions of service for the DCEO head such as renumeration, job security, bodyguards. This will make them less likely to be influenced or manipulated.

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