THE Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has vowed to take the government to court over its decision not to grant party leader Mothetjoa Metsing’s pension benefits as a former deputy prime minister.
This was after Public Service Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane stated earlier this week that Mr Metsing was not entitled to the deputy prime ministerial benefits because he did not serve in the position for 36 continuous months.
In an interview with LeNA, Chief ‘Maseribane said Mr Metsing was still entitled to his benefits as a legislator once he retired but not those of a deputy premier.
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 2017 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 59 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.
Section 3, subsection 1b of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (Retirement and Spouses’ Benefits) Act of 2011 stipulates that “a person who holds the office of Deputy Prime Minister shall, on ceasing office… if he has held office for a period of 36 months, be granted a monthly pension at the rate of 80 percent of their basic salary attached to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister on the last day which they held office”.
“Other benefits (include) a chauffeur-driven government vehicle, free medical treatment, a bodyguard, free telephone, water and electricity, a gardener and house maid and a diplomatic passport,” the act further stipulates.
Addressing a press conference held on Tuesday at the party’s headquarters near ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru, members of the LCD’s National Executive Committee said they would take the government to court for the decision not to grant Mr Metsing the benefits.
LCD deputy spokesperson Apesi Ratšele said the law did not stipulate that the deputy premier’s tenure had to be continuous, but only referenced the time they should serve to qualify.
“We are definitely going to court to challenge the cabinet’s interpretation of this matter,” he said.
“Nowhere in the law is it stated in express terms that the 36 months have to be consecutive.”
The editor for the LCD’s publications, Khotso Matla, said the government had been ill-advised in making the decision.
“Whoever gave that interpretation was telling the government what they wanted to hear. They chose to misdirect themselves on the interpretation of that law,” he said.
LCD deputy leader Tšeliso Mokhosi chimed in saying Mr Metsing was entitled to his benefits having served for 59 months as deputy premier.
“By virtue of that, he qualifies for the benefits. In a country that is governed by law, there is simply no way this matter could be contorted,” he said, adding that Mr Metsing’s interrogation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) earlier this month was meant to “harass and belittle” the LCD leader.
Mr Metsing was grilled by the DCEO over suspicious deposits that were made into his accounts three years ago.
This was after the controversial allocation of a road tender to a company known as Big Bravo Construction Company for the construction of roads in the Ha-Matala and Ha-Leqele villages of Maseru.
The company is alleged to have won the tender at Mr Metsing’s instigation, when he was a deputy premier, and the company left road works incomplete about two months before their contract ended in 2015.
“We don’t have any problem with the DCEO calling Ntate Metsing for questioning, but the way the matter was handled left a lot to be desired as he was not accorded privacy like everyone else who was called before the body,” Mr Mokhosi said.
“He was summoned in a malicious way, with journalists even called to witness his arrival.”
He added: “The decision to deny our leader his benefits is a continuation of a strategy to harass and belittle him by the current government. We will use all the legal options at our disposal to protect our leader from this malice.”