Exiled officers return
LESOTHO Correctional Service (LCS) Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane Percy Bereng and police procurement officer, Senior Superintendent Lebohang Setsomi are back in the country.
Asst Supt Bereng fled to South Africa in August 2018 after being called for questioning by the police over the leaking of a government gazette. SSP Setsomi skipped the country in July 2017 claiming that he had been tipped-off of an imminent arrest over charges of inflating costs of some procurement quotations.
Clad in a black and white tracksuit, Asst Supt Bereng could not hold back his tears before a packed police authority room during a press conference organised by the acting Police minister Prince Maliehe.
To his left sat SSP Setsomi, in jeans and a blue jacket. Emotions also got the better of him as he told the media that his return afforded him the chance to mourn his only brother who died earlier this week.
“I feel comforted to return home since fleeing in July 2017,” SSP Setsomi said adding: “I have just lost my only brother two days ago but at least I will be able to bury him”.
On his part Asst Supt Bereng said: “There is nothing much that I have to say except to thank everyone who has facilitated my return as a responsible citizen of this country who has a lot to give towards its development”. He then broke down again.
The duo’s return follows a directive from Prime Minister Thomas Thabane that Acting Minister of Police Mr Prince Maliehe should ensure their safe return.
The directive comes a fortnight after Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing’s historic meeting with Dr Thabane where the return of exiled citizens was allegedly part of the agenda.
Although some of the details of the meeting are still unclear, speculation is rife that the two parties discussed a coalition to save Dr Thabane from an impending motion of no confidence in parliament. However, the LCD has since refuted the allegations.
Asst Supt Bereng fled from the police headquarters in Maseru where he and another man, Mohau Lebajoa, had been called in for questioning in relation to the leaking of a government gazette which announced the appointment of South African judge Yvonne Mokgoro as acting president of the Court of Appeal.
Asst Supt Ramahetlane alleged that he fled for his life fearing that he would be tortured like his co-accused, Mr Lebajoa.
The leaked government gazette was used by three prominent lawyers, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Qhalehang Letsika as the basis for their successful March 2018 lawsuit against the appointment of Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane as the acting Court of Appeal President.
On the other hand, SSP Setsomi skipped the country claiming he had been tipped-off of an imminent arrest, accused of inflating costs in some of procurement quotations.
The return of this duo leaves the likes of former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa and former Director of the National Security Services (NSS), Tumo Lekhooa holed up in the neighboring South Africa.
Mr Letsoepa stands accused of murdering Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016 along with former minister of Defence, Tšeliso Mokhosi.
Mr Letsoepa stands accused of murdering Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016 along with former Defence minister, Tšeliso Mokhosi, who has since returned to the country after a Southern African Development Community (SADC) brokered deal. The deal entails that: “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.
Mr Maliehe said he was directed by coalition leaders to facilitate the return of the duo.
“As the Police minister, I was directed by coalition leaders to facilitate the safe return of these two gentlemen and have not received any correspondence from others who are still outside the country.
“I will ensure that they will be safe. Their return comes after thorough investigations into their alleged crimes, and in the case of SSP Setsomi, there was a communication between the Commissioner of police and one of SSP Setsomi’ friend to help us reach him and there were requirements which they (Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Setsomi) could not reach because it now called for two governments to ensure his safety.
“After the first attempt it took the government only two weeks to complete the investigations into the alleged cases against both of them (Setsomi and Bereng). The decision was made in a government meeting which I was not a part of and they have been cleared as they have no cases to answer,” said Mr Maliehe.
He said he would make sure that SSP Setsomi resumes his duties as a police officer and hopes that LCS Commissioner will take up on Asst Supt Bereng’s issue at the directive of the minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
Mr. Maliehe said he has also been directed to make sure that the duo is safe but there are no special arrangements in place.
“I have been directed to tell the Commissioner to ensure their protection and safety and police will ensure that,” said Mr. Maliehe.
“I do not sit in the coalition leaders’ meeting and I was only tasked to ensure that in two weeks’ time both officers should be back in the country and this I did. I worked hand in hand with the leader of LCD for their safe return for the past two weeks.
“My suspicion is that we have made our public servants a part of our politics and when the hands of government turn those who have affiliation feel unsafe and flee. I have pleaded with them to teach their colleagues upon their safety on the dangers of political affiliation. I suspect that they felt unsafe and unprotected,” Mr. Maliehe said.
He said there is a likelihood that those who are still in exile might also come back as well.
“Those left behind shall have to be vetted as well and there will be conditions for their return and if investigations yield that they have cases to answer to, they shall come but will have to appear before the courts of law to stand trial,” Mr Maliehe said.
Meanwhile, the duo’s return was met with mixed feelings by different political parties.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu said the return was indicative of the petty nature of Lesotho’s political landscape.
“We are happy to have them back in the country because they have come home where they rightfully belong. However, it shows how petty Lesotho’s politics is, as well as how politically influenced the judiciary is.
“This goes to show that our politicians are very unprofessional and weak hence they can even go to the extent of persecuting people whose views vary from theirs only to see and deem the same people innocent when they want their political support.
“It also goes to show how our justice system can be manipulated by politicians. This is very cheap,” Mr Mokhothu said.
The sentiments were shared by leader of Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, who said government always finds a reason to persecute people when they see things differently.
“This goes to show that the government has got nowhere to hide anymore. They have run out of options and are now in a vulnerable position and are trying to dodge the motion of no confidence that’s looming against Prime Minister Thabane in parliament,” Mr Rakuoane said.
On the other hand, Basotho National Party (BNP) spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe warned the government against making decisions to settle political scores.
“It could be true that there are no cases to answer and it could also be true that this is a settlement of a political score; but we should be very careful not to compromise the rule of law just because we want to settle some political scores…We should stay true to the principles of good governance and the rule of law because this could set a bad precedence,” Mr Mofomobe said.
LCD spokesperson Mr Teboho Sekata also said it was clear that the “government had little respect for the law”.
“They just make decisions based on emotions. If they wake up angry with you, they take you to task and if they feel you could be useful to them, they see you as one of them,” Mr Sekata said.
He said they are happy to see that their talks with PM Thabane are finally yielding fruit.