Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing says he realised he was in trouble with former prime minister Thomas Thabane, when then Police Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and other senior government officials openly disrespected him.
According to Mr Metsing, the first time he realised something could be wrong was a day after the simultaneous bombing of the homes of Tšooana, and Liabiloe Ramoholi in Abia and Moshoeshoe II respectively.
The homes were attacked by unknown assailants on 27 January 2014.
Testifying before the SADC Commission of Inquiry in Maseru on Monday and Tuesday this week, Mr Metsing said he had an unhealthy relationship with Dr Thabane.
The Commission, led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana, was established to investigate the 24 June 2015 murder of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Maaparankoe Mahao outside his Mokema farm. Brigadier Mahao was gunned down by the military allegedly while resisting arrest for being part of a foiled mutiny by a group of LDF members.
Mr Metsing told the Commission, which began its probe last month, that because he was the deputy prime minister (DPM) of a coalition government led by Dr Thabane, he was also chairperson of the Cabinet Security Sub-committee.
The DPM said because of that title, he summoned Mr Tšooana, LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and National Security Service (NSS) Director-General Seeiso Lerotholi, to discuss the January 2014 attacks and launch investigations.
Mr Metsing also told the Commission that Mr Tšooana had “a bad attitude” towards him, and would refuse to take his instructions. The surprising thing, he added, was Dr Thabane would never reprimand him for it.
“He showed signs of insubordination towards me on a number of occasions and I told the former PM, who said he would reprimand him but never did,” Mr Metsing said.
Earlier that same morning of the bombings, between 8-9am, Mr Metsing told the Commission he had received calls from former Sports Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane and former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Molobeli Soulo, informing him that Ms Ramoholi’s home had been attacked. Ms Ramoholi was Dr Thabane’s ‘partner’ at the time but the two have since tied the knot.
“I instructed them to go and inspect the place and later give me feedback. I then reported the matter to both His Majesty the King and the Prime Minister himself, who was out of the country and had travelled to Limpopo in South Africa,” Mr Metsing said.
“I also told them that I had already sent the two ministers to assess the situation at both homes, and had also facilitated for a meeting with the security committee later to discuss the situation.
“I then called the LDF commander and instructed him to inform his security colleagues of the meeting. That was because people who were supposed to be part of that meeting were the Commander, NSS Director and Commissioner of Police, as well as myself, Chief ‘Maseribane and Minister Soulo. Upon arrival at the venue of the meeting, we waited a long time for the arrival of the Commissioner of Police (Compol), until I realised he was not coming.
“We tried to call on his mobile phones but he was not picking. Eventually, his subordinate, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, came on his behalf but I told him I wanted his boss and not him at the meeting.”
Thereafter, Mr Metsing said NSS Director Mr Lerotholi received a call from the then Ministry of Defence and National Security Principal Secretary (PS) Moshoeshoe Sehlooho, who told the intelligence boss to ignore the DPM’s call for a meeting.
“The PS told the director that I would call them for a meeting but that they should refuse to come. But the NSS Director told him that he was already with me at the venue of the meeting,” Mr Metsing said.
“I was shocked that the PS, a government official for that matter, already knew that I’d call a meeting of that nature when I had only discussed the issue with the LDF Commander, His Majesty the King and Ntate Thabane, as well as Ntate Soulo and Ntate ‘Maseribane.
“Where did the PS get the information, I wondered? Where did he get the audacity to tell people to refuse to attend a meeting I had called? Then I could smell a rat that something was wrong. You cannot have an official that bold, telling others to refuse to attend my meetings in a proper, functioning government.
“That issue troubled me a lot and I realised things were getting out of order. We then agreed with the two ministers to confront the former PM with those issues.”
At the time, Mr Metsing said, Mr Tšooana was still relatively new as he had just been appointed Commissioner of Police hence his behaviour was a surprise.
“We were surprised by his behaviour. Nevertheless, we continued with our meeting, but it was not easy because Compol Tšooana, whose house had been bombed, should have been there to assist us so that we could agree on the way forward.”
Mr Metsing further told the Commission how Mr Lerotholi pleaded with him to intervene, as he had noted tensions between the Compol and LDF Commander.
“The NSS Director pleaded for my intervention as he said he had noted what seemed to be tension between the LDF Commander and the Compol and that he was trying to work on their differences,” Mr Metsing said.
“He added that despite his concerted efforts to bring the two security bosses together, the Compol did not seem to be cooperative. He said it was imperative that relations were healthy between the three of them because they were vested with the security of the country.”
Upon the PM’s arrival back home, Mr Metsing said he and Chief ‘Maseribane reported “with heavy hearts”, Mr Tšooana’s worrying conduct.
“We asked Ntate Thabane to reprimand the new commissioner of police on our behalf, and the PM promised that he would bring him to order. I also told him that with the police ministry in his hands, there seemed to be divisions between the police and the army,” Mr Metsing said.
“I also told the PM that new as the Compol was, there was suspicion already that members of the LMPS were securing promotions by paying bribes and that if that was the case, it would tarnish the image of the police service.”
Mr Metsing also told the Commission because when the coalition government was established, it was agreed Dr Thabane would preside over the police ministry for only six months, it would be prudent for him to handover that ministry to another political party because things seemed to be deteriorating under his leadership.
“I told him that maybe it was time for the ministry to be moved from him and it seemed as though we were on the same page. Then at a later meeting, I suggested that Mr Tšooana should receive some orientation as he had never held a senior position. This was with a view of teaching him how things were done,” Mr Metsing said.
“But when we went for another meeting, the commissioner of police still didn’t pitch. I later learnt that he had paid the PM a visit to seek advice on whether or not to attend that meeting. This was despite the fact that here was a standing arrangement that the security subcommittee would be chaired by the DPM.
“As I pursued the matter further, I learnt that the Compol was saying I was planning to force him to be part of a joint operation between the police and military, to investigate the bombing attacks.
“I also learnt that there were allegations to the effect that the attacks were aimed at the PM, because he used to rest at Ms Ramoholi’s home. He also admitted publicly that he rested there from time to time.”
It was at point, Mr Metsing said, that he realised relations between him and Dr Thabane had turned sour.
“He never took any measures against Tšooana for his behaviour. I also reached out to the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), informing them in a letter that our relations seemed to have deteriorated,” he further said.
Mr Metsing also said he was not happy Dr Thabane had appointed Mr Tšooana to the post in January last year without prior consultation with his coalition partners.
However, Justice Phumaphi cut in at this point, asking Mr Metsing why he sought the intervention of the CCL.
“Why did you seek the intervention of the CCL? Were you seeking their prayers? What type of intervention did you want?” Justice Phumaphi asked.
“In all honesty, I wanted everything. We needed prayers and mediation as they had done it before, the heads of churches. SADC would work with the CCL and they even guided us to the 2012 elections. The PM had ignored our complaints about the Compol and that was an indication of a government that was no longer united.”
Mr Metsing further complained about the disrespect shown him by the police during the prorogation of parliament in August 2014, when he was served with summons at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport. The summons instructed him to appear in court because a M53million fraud case had been opened against him.
“I was at the airport; the PM and I had just held a joint press conference after our arrival from Namibia where we had travelled to discuss how to go about lifting the prorogation of parliament with the then chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation,” Mr Metsing said.
“When we left that press conference, a junior police officer jumped on me with the summons. The PM was close by and seemed to be in a confused state. I asked him what was happening, and the PM said he didn’t know. He said he would call the Compol to establish what was going on and discuss the summons. He said I should just ignore them and not go to court.
“But I was later advised by my lawyer to comply with the order and go to court, which I did. In the summons, it was alleged that I had stolen M53million, which I had allegedly used to pay civil servants and buy petrol for a government plant used in the construction of roads.”
Meanwhile, although Mr Metsing was allocated two days to appear before the Commission, he did not finish his testimony, with his legal representative, Advocate Salemane Phafane, telling the Lesotho Times last night, that the DPM would be “allocated another spot at a later stage”.