FIRED Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Commissioner, Thabang Mothepu, has petitioned the High Court to nullify his dismissal by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on the grounds that he was not afforded a hearing before he was sacked.
Dr Majoro fired Mr Mothepu on 24 July 2020. This after Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao recommended his dismissal over a host of issues including his alleged irregular appointment by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
LCS head of legal affairs, Chabana Majara, was appointed as acting commissioner.
Prior to recommending his dismissal, Prof Mahao had written to Mr Mothepu on 2 July 2020 demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be dismissed from the LCS over his alleged irregular appointment by Mr Thabane, the ex-premier who still leads the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). Incidentally Prof Mahao fell out with Mr Thabane after the latter rejected his candidature and subsequent election as deputy leader of the ABC.
However, Prof Mahao, who enjoys the support of the party’s powerful national executive committee (NEC), masterminded the ouster of Mr Thabane from the post of prime minister on 19 May 2020 and his replacement with Dr Majoro.
Prof Mahao also accused Mr Mothepu of failing to implement the 2018 recommendations of retired ombudsman, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane, to put in place clear promotion guidelines for LCS officers to be adhered to at all times. This ought to have been done within two months of the ombudsman’s report but Mr Mothepu did not implement those guidelines.
Shortly after the ombudsman’s report, Mr Mothepu trashed it. He told the Lesotho Times that the ombudsman was out of order and misguided. He alleged Adv Thoahlane was serving someone else’s interests rather than those of the office he occupied.
In his court papers filed last week, Mr Mothepu argues that his dismissal on the basis of his failure to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations is unlawful as he could not have been expected to implement recommendations which directly affect him as an individual. He argues that the recommendations ought to have been implemented by Prof Mahao’s predecessor in the Justice ministry.
Mr Mokhele Moletsane was the Justice and Correctional Service minister at the time the recommendations were made by the ombudsman.
Dr Majoro, Prof Mahao, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry Law and Justice, Sello Lebeko, the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Attorney General are first to fifth respondents respectively in the lawsuit.
“The second respondent (Prof Mahao) appears to have misconstrued the powers conferred upon him to recommend my removal and blames me for things that the law and proper administration place on other office holders in the government,” Mr Mothepu states in his court papers.
“Regarding the recommendations of the ombudsman, the minister has failed to appreciate my efforts to direct his attention to the fact that I cannot be a judge in my own cause. The ombudsman made recommendations which concern me.
“In fact, the second respondent clearly appears to fail to appreciate how the bureaucracies work. He even failed to direct his mind to the very recommendations he is purporting to enforce. The ombudsman makes a recommendation regarding promotions to the Minister of Justice. I could not have been at fault in this matter.”
Mr Mothepu also argues that his dismissal should be nullified on the grounds that he was not given a hearing before he was fired.
“The Prime Minister (Dr Majoro) has abdicated his duty to give me a hearing, a duty inherent in the provisions of section 149(3) of the constitution.”
The section states that “the power to appoint a person to hold or act in the office of the director of prisons and the power to remove that person from that office shall vest in the defence commission”.
Mr Mothepu argues that he should have brought before the defence commission for a hearing and only then could he be dismissed. He says this was not done and therefore his dismissal was illegal.
He further accuses Dr Majoro of firing him on the basis of a non-existent section of the Correctional Service Act.
“The extent to which he (Majoro) abdicated his responsibility is reflected further in that he purports to have acted in terms of section 149(3) of the Correctional Service Act 2016 to remove me. The said act has no such section.”
Mr Mothepu therefore wants the High Court to nullify his dismissal and order his reinstatement.
Mr Mothepu had been acting commissioner from June 2017 when Mr Thabane came to power. He was appointed substantive LCS boss on 31 May 2018.
He is the latest in the growing list of Thabane appointees to challenge their dismissals by Dr Majoro since he took power on 20 May 2020.
Others who have challenged their dismissals include former Attorney General Haae Phoofolo and former principal secretaries, ‘Mabotle Damane (Communications, Science and Technology), Mothabathe Hlalele (Public Works) and ‘Maseithati Mabeleng (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation).