By Tefo Tefo
MASERU — The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao yesterday told his on-going court martial that the responsibility of appointing the army commander lies with the government, not individual soldiers.
Mahao, who is on trial for “behaving in a manner unbecoming of an army officer”, said it was his responsibility as a senior officer to warn Commando Captain Tefo Hashatsi against challenging decisions which are beyond his capacity.
Mahao has been court-martialed for allegedly confronting Captain Hashatsi two months ago about his reaction regarding the anticipated change of leadership in the LDF.
Hashatsi had reportedly reprimanded members of the Special Force Unit about some “elements of subversion” during a meeting held on January 13 2014 at Makoanyane Barracks.
But Mahao yesterday insisted Hashatsi’s argument that soldiers should be loyal to the commander were against regulations which govern the army, hence his advice to the captain.
“I am surprised that I am now before this court after serving this army and the entire country with loyalty. I just said to the captain that we should not be loyal to individuals, but the state.
“It is embarrassing that those people with little understanding, instead of asking what I meant, just accused me of not being loyal to the office of the commander.
“In fact, soldiers do not campaign for positions in the army, neither do they vote for such positions. It is only the executive authorities’ responsibility to appoint the commander and this is enshrined in the laws governing the Lesotho Defence Force. We, as soldiers, cannot stand against such appointment once it is made,” he said.
Mahao further said he was only giving advice as opposed to Hashatsi’s earlier testimony that he had confronted and asked him to resign from the LDF if he was not happy about the procedure followed in appointing the army commander.
He further said in giving advice to Hashatsi, he was still within his rights as brigadier.
“Being aware that the captain is an upcoming vigilant soldier, I felt bound to warn him against going astray in his line of service. It is my responsibility, as a senior officer in the army, to advise and even reprimand my juniors. I have a duty to ensure that all is well within the army.
“Actually, what I was told the captain had said when addressing the meeting is, in my legal opinion, a serious military offence,” he said.
Mahao, who told the court he is a lawyer by profession, further said he had carefully chosen his words when he spoke to Hashatsi.
“I am an advocate in all courts in this country. I have also been a prosecutor in the military court. I carefully chose my words when talking to the captain. I told him that I advised him to resign if he felt he couldn’t stand the way things are done regarding the change of command in the army.
“I used the word ‘advise’ deliberately because I was aware that I was merely offering an advice. I was not giving him orders as he alleged in his testimony,” Mahao said.
Mahao also dismissed Hashatsi’s testimony that he did not afford him an opportunity to ask questions after the conversation.
The brigadier further said the reason why he did not want to talk to Hashatsi near the buildings was that he wanted to keep their conversation confidential.
Hashatsi has already told the court he advised the Special Force Unit to be loyal to the commander and the army after he had seen some posts on social media regarding the change of command in the army.
The trial continues, before a six-member tribunal headed by Major General Lineo Poopa.
The case is prosecuted by Major Bulane Sechele, while Mahao is represented by Advocates Patrick Tšenoli and Thabang Letsie.