Judge to rule on Metsing’s benefits case
HIGH Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi, on Wednesday reserved judgment in a case in which Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, is fighting to continue receiving deputy prime ministerial benefits.
Justice Monaphathi made the decision after hearing a lengthy argument between Mr Metsing’s lawyer, King’s Counsel Motiea Teele, and government lawyer, Attorney-Tumisang Mosotho, in the judge’s chambers.
In August this year, Mr Metsing filed an application before the High Court seeking to nullify the government’s decision to deny him benefits accrued from his service as deputy prime minister from 2012 to June this year.
Mr Metsing took the legal route after Public Service Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane stated that the LCD leader was not entitled to the deputy prime ministerial benefits because he did not serve in the position for 36 continuous months. This is according to Section 3, subsection 1b of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (Retirement and Spouses’ benefits) Act of 2011.
A former deputy prime minister is entitled to a chauffeur-driven vehicle, free medical treatment, a bodyguard, free telephone, water and electricity, a gardener and house maid and a diplomatic passport.
Mr Metsing first occupied the office of deputy prime minister in June 2012 when the LCD formed a coalition government with the Thomas Thabane-led All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Chief ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP).
Dr Thabane led that government until the 28 February 2015 elections when it made way for a seven-party coalition administration led by former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.
Mr Metsing retained his position as deputy premier in the seven-party government which was inaugurated on 17 March 2015 until the 3 June 2017 snap elections which brought back a Dr Thabane-led four party coalition including the BNP, Reformed Congress of Lesotho and the Alliance of Democrats.
All in all, Mr Metsing served 60 months under the two governments, although his tenure was briefly interrupted by the change of regimes in 2015. By the end of the first coalition government, he had served around 31 months as deputy premier.
Chief ‘Maseribane, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro, Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka and the Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe are cited as first to fourth respondents respectively.
Mr Metsing has since fled to South Africa citing a tip-off from a “trusted source” about a plot to assassinate him.
During the argument in Justice Monaphathi’s chambers, Atty Mosotho urged the judge to dismiss Mr Metsing’s claim asserting that he failed to serve as deputy premier for the stipulated time.
“When he vacated office in 2015, the Act came into operation and he definitely did not qualify. Then he started a new period from 2015, which ended this year. Still, he did not qualify because he did not serve for a period of 36 months,” averred Atty Mosotho.
“The law specifically says one qualifies when ceasing to be deputy prime minister after completing 36 months. None of the two periods he served reached 36 months.”
He alluded to a hypothetical scenario of a ‘crazy prime minister’ who would appoint a person to the position of deputy prime minister for one month for 15 years.
“If that person, when adding the months he served as deputy prime minister, amounted to 36 months, does it mean he qualifies for such benefits? Certainly that’s not what the law is contemplating.”
Atty Mosotho also asserted that when Dr Thabane’s government collapsed in 2015, all ministers, including Mr Metsing vacated their offices.
“It means he ceased to be the deputy prime minister,” he said.
“That is why he had to subscribe to the oath of office again when he was reappointed under Dr Mosisili’s government.”
He cited a Malawian case in which a certain deputy president resigned after shortly serving in that role and wanted the government to give him pension benefits.
Atty Mosotho said the Malawian Court of Appeal dismissed his claim, saying the same rationale should be applied by Justice Monaphathi.
However, Advocate Teele counter argued that Mr Metsing’s vacation of office when Dr Thabane’s government collapsed in 2015 did not mean he ceased being deputy prime minister because he continued to occupy the same office.
He drew a distinction between “vacating the office” and “ceasing to be deputy prime minister”.
He said Mr Metsing would have been considered to have ceased holding the position if he was not reappointed to the same position in 2015.
“Vacation does not mean ceasing to occupy office. Vacation is just a transitional step here,” he argued.
“He served under one employer, which is the government of Lesotho; not Dr Thabane’s government or Dr Mosisili’s government because a government is a perpetual entity and it has perpetual succession.”
Advocate Teele further posited that the government’s contention of Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili’s regimes was a political argument and not a legal issue.
“The position of the deputy prime minister has no personalities,” he said.
“What is important is to arithmetically count the period when one started serving as deputy prime minister and the time he ended his service.”
After hearing the arguments, Justice Monaphathi reserved judgment to a date he would announce “in due course”.