By Utloang Kajeno
I DO not want to spoil the party. Congrats Likuena for beating mighty Kenya. AFCON 2015 in Morocco beckons. I argued a while ago that tiny Lesotho can emulate Costa Rica and Botswana. I am very elated. However, back to business.
Last Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing was served with court papers upon his arrival from an official trip, accompanying the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and deputy leader of the Basotho National Party, Joang Molapo, in Namibia.
The court papers ordered Mr Metsing, together with four other high-ranking officials of his Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs ministry, as well as other officials from the Maseru City Council, the country’s largest metropole, to appear before Maseru Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud, theft and abuse of power of around M53 million.
Last Friday hordes of Mr Metsing’s supporters, media, police and on-lookers gather on the court premises in the early hours of the bitterly cold and wintry winter morning to witness the spectacle.
The tiny courtroom is filled to the rafters and, to add to the spectacle, army and police marksmen as well as senior cabinet ministers and members of parliament of all political parties, including the main opposition Democratic Congress, jostle for positions both in the courtroom and the grounds outside.
After about two hours, Mr Metsing and his co-accused, as well as the masses and his bodyguards, emerged from the courthouse. The result of the day’s proceedings: The charges were all withdrawn by the prosecution.
There is ululation, singing and a media frenzy as Mr Metsing addresses the huge media contingent and the crowd. Some in the media are even heckled to the dismay of the day’s self-appointed director of ceremonies.
He calls on the party regalia-clad supporters to listen to their leaders and stop the haranguing.
Some of the accused cry uncontrollably because of the sheer emotion of the event. Mr Metsing, to his credit and as an accomplished leader, belying his young age, calmly addresses the crowd and media, quoting extensively from the Holy Book.
There is talk about an unsolicited platform to make political mileage out of a horribly bungled-up prosecution.
Much as I might not agree with him in many respects, Mr Metsing is an accomplished and seasoned politician. He made considerable political mileage out of the fiasco. Those who were hoping to discredit him were made to eat humble pie. They had egg all over their faces.
My argument is that from the first time it was rumoured that criminal charges were being contemplated against Mr Metsing, to the time of service of the court papers on him and subsequent appearance in court, the whole process was mishandled by, I dare say, novices and amateurs.
Mr Metsing is right. He is the second-in-command in this country. His powers are virtually equal to that of the prime minister. In the absence of the prime minister, he takes-over the reins.
Further, he is the leader of the second largest political party in the coalition government. For instance, he has on several occasions been acting prime minister and recently led a multi-sectoral high-powered delegation to New Zealand.
He is leader of government business in Parliament. He is even the most senior cabinet minister after the prime minister. On his call this coalition government can be brought down. If he withdraws his party’s support to the coalition government and pledges it to the Democratic Congress, then this government will collapse.
I am not the one to argue that there are people above the law save for the Sovereign. Everyone is equal before the law. So is Mr Metsing.
However, my argument is that the whole spectacle was mishandled or was it sabotaged, as others argue.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom to this debacle of seismic proportions to this country and the coalition government and indeed to the Basotho National Party (BNP) and All Basotho Convention (ABC), as the partners in government, investigations should be ordered and undertaken as to how a flop of this magnitude can occur.
Preferably, the country’s most senior civil servant, the Government Secretary, should be tasked to lead these investigations, if only for the sheer magnitude of the flop.
Further, much as Mr Metsing might be the subject of possible investigations or charges against him, for the sake of transparency, respect for his high office, being the leader of a major political party and a cabinet minister, my take is that he is owed an explanation.
The events of that fateful Friday morning have far-reaching repercussions for our young democracy, respect for high office and stability of our country. True, he is not above the law, but there are civilized and established protocols and procedures of dealing with such high profile public figures.
And their cases need not be handled by up-and-coming lawyers and judicial officers who will inevitably, owing to their inexperience, not accord Mr Metsing and other high-ranking officials like him, the respect he deserves.
Further, in fairness to the other coalition partners, ABC and BNP, cabinet, other state dignitaries, the coalition government, and above all else, His Majesty and the nation, whoever is responsible for this mess and humiliation of Mr Metsing and our democracy, owes all an apology.
Mr Metsing is the second-in-command in His Majesty’s government. He deserves to be treated with respect. We do not need some over-enthusiastic young novice prosecutors to handle cases of such high magnitude.
The whole deputy prime minister gets served with criminal summons at the airport, as if people do not know where his offices are, or where he stays.
Established protocol and procedures dictate that even for the lowest-ranking civil servant, let alone the DPM, to be charged, the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General must be obtained.
For a high ranking government official such as the DPM or a minister in His Majesty’s cabinet, the ought to be, I reckon, formal notice and approval of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, as well as the A-G and DPP and the Government Secretary. In this case apparently, none of these protocols were followed.
It is ironic that the DPM is the second-in-command in the coalition government yet the very same government in which he is a senior partner, has meted-out degrading treatment to him, simply because ostensibly somebody did not do his homework properly.
The DPM for all his shortcomings, like all politicians, has throughout his short yet high profile political career, been subjected to degrading treatment, ironically by the same governments he was a senior partner in.
A couple of years back, prior to the 2012 general elections, whilst still a minister and secretary-general of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, the Pakalitha Mosisili-led government booted him out of office with not even a house to stay in.
While still acting prime minister, in this coalition government, the then Government Secretary, who was then in the absence of the Prime Minister, shown the door without the DPM’s knowledge.
Perhaps, this has to do with his reputed personality of being soft-spoken that the DPM is always subjected to humiliating treatment.
Common sense, civility and due process have to prevail. These investigations have to, if ever undertaken, do this nation justice such that its leaders are accorded the respect they deserve.
All those responsible for the mishandling of this saga have to be reined-in and if need be, heads have to roll. It is an indignity, discourteous and humiliating treatment that cannot be visited on any high ranking state official.
Even if there are investigations against the DPM or charges to be preferred against him, somebody owes him an apology for the utterly disrespectful and humiliating manner in which he was treated.
Otherwise, to gloss-over this humiliation and pretend it never occurred is a serious indictment on us as a democratic and free society.
Further, it will send wrong signals to not only the international community but also to loose cannons out there who think they can ride roughshod over our protocols and humiliate our leaders. The DPM is the leader of this country, regardless of political persuasion.
I am not trying to pre-empt the investigation, if one will ever be held, but merely trying to point-out the inherent dangers that might arise if this unfortunate route is followed.
Let us accord all our leaders the respect they deserve irrespective of political persuasions. What’s more the findings of such investigations shall lay the blueprint for handling such high profile cases in future.
Whoever, did this the DPM has ironically embarrassed only themself. The sooner the authorities get to the bottom of this debacle the better.
Lastly, to his credit, the DPM, despite his high social status, felt obliged to present himself before the courts despite the botched procedure. He never, like a humble politician, he always is, felt that he was above the law. He deserves better. To say the fiasco was comical is an understatement. It was shambolic in the extreme.