Lesotho intervenes in Ramodibedi standoff

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RamolibeliLesotho High Commissioner to Swaziland, ’Malejaka Letooane, leads a high-powered delegation to Mbabane in a bid to save embattled Chief Justice

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

A high-powered Lesotho delegation led by the country’s High Commissioner to Swaziland, ’Malejaka Letooane, who is based in South Africa, went to Mbabane late yesterday to “negotiate” with the Swazi government over the fate of Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Mr Ramodibedi—a Lesotho national who was appointed head of the Swazi judiciary in 2010— had been holed-up in his mansion since Friday last week after the High Court issued a warrant for his arrest.

The former Lesotho Court of Appeal president faces more than 20 charges relating to conflict of interest, defeating the ends of justice and abuse of power.

However, Mr Ramodibedi had refused to leave his Mbabane residence to meet with the police while High Court judge, Justice Mpendulo Simelane, who allegedly acted in concert with Mr Ramodibedi in one of the crimes, was arrested on Saturday.

A minister was also detained in government’s crackdown on corruption, but efforts by the Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) to arrest Mr Ramodibedi had failed because of his refusal to come out of his home unless Lesotho authorities were present, according to Swazi media reports.

Meanwhile, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Tebello Metsing, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that because of the standoff, Ms Letooane would lead a “high-powered delegation” to Swaziland.

Mr Metsing said: “The ministry has been officially made aware of Ntate Ramodibedi’s issues in Swaziland. We can confirm that we are quite aware of what is happening between him and the authorities in Swaziland. The government of Lesotho, through the High Commissioner to Swaziland who is based in Pretoria, has since engaged in a process to negotiate with Swazi authorities on the issue.

“Because of Ntate Ramodibedi’s status and integrity, we need to make sure that at least he is not treated as if he has already been found guilty of whatever he is being accused of. We are concerned about his rights and dignity which need to be protected. However, we cannot interfere or intervene on the charges he faces in the courts of law. That remains between him and the law-enforcement authorities in Swaziland. Our role will just be to see to it that he is treated according to his status because he holds a high position in Swaziland.”

Contacted yesterday for comment on the matter, Ms Letooane said she was in a meeting and could therefore, not field any questions from the Lesotho Times.

Meanwhile, the Swazi Observer reported yesterday that the National Commissioner of Police, Isaac Magagula had assured Mr Ramodibedi that the police would not harm him should he surrender.

“Through various communications and from other sources, it has emerged that he harbours fears that he will be harmed, which is outrageous and couldn’t be further from the truth. We, therefore, once again assure him, as the prime minister has already alluded to the figment of such fears that they are without any substance or basis and cannot be expected from us as professionals,” Mr Magagula was quoted as saying by the Swazi Observer.

The publication further reported that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, had been instructed to inform the government of Lesotho about what was happening with Mr Ramodibedi.

The newspaper further indicated that Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini had said because Mr Ramodibedi was not a Swazi, government had found it proper to report the standoff to Lesotho authorities.

“Our Foreign Affairs ministry officials have already been instructed to inform their counterparts in the home country of the Chief Justice about the present circumstances,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.

Mr Ramodibedi’s arrest warrant, the Swazi Observer further noted, was issued at a time the State was planning to impeach him for, among other charges, allegedly:

  • Unlawfully recording a private telephonic discussion between himself and the prime minister.
  • Making acting appointments of judges to hear cases in which he had a direct interest.
  • Failing to cause the appointment of acting judges to be published in the government gazette, contrary to the law.
  • Bringing the judiciary into disrepute by permitting the registrar of the High Court to publicly address the Executive in a language whose tone and manner was inconsistent with dignity of the judicial office.
  • Directing the registrar of the Supreme Court to submit claims for allowances for Supreme Court justices for May and November 2014 sessions, which they were not entitled to.
  • Refusing to submit to the Executive arm of Government, a report of an accident in January 2015, in which his official motor vehicle was involved, contrary to the integrity expected of a judicial officer.
  • Refusing to allocate houses to High Court judges at the judicial complex, until he was ordered to do so by the King. As a result, a government house occupied by one of the judges and neighbouring government houses could not be demolished to make way for the construction of a building that would be home to United Nations agencies. The construction was delayed by three months as a result.
  • Abusing his powers by authorising the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to enter into contract for the provision of security services without the contract being submitted to the Attorney General (AG) for vetting as required by the Constitution.
  • Usurped the power, as chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), of other institutions by drawing contracts for the deputy ACC commissioners when their mandate begins and ends with recommendation of appointments to His Majesty the King and disciplinary procedures upon being reported to by the commissioner.
  • Engaged a certain lady, in his capacity as chairman of the JSC, as Deputy Commissioner-Operations of the ACC for a third term in breach of legislation which provides for a maximum of two terms.
  • Failing to take action when an ACC commissioner filed a report on the misconduct of the Deputy Commissioner of Operations.
  • Nominating the most junior judge of the High Court for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Court of Justice ahead of senior and more experienced judges. The conduct caused the country humiliation at continental level where the nomination of the junior judge had to be withdrawn and replaced at a late hour.

The Lesotho Times made numerous attempts to get Mr Ramodibedi’s comment to no avail.

Justice Ramodibedi, who was sworn-in as Lesotho Court of Appeal president in July 2008, resigned from the post in April 2014 after losing a case in which he sought to stop impeachment proceedings against him instituted by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who wanted him investigated for possible misconduct.

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