- as successive communication ministers are accused of shielding convicted director Molise
Herbert Moyo/ Bereng Mpaki
CONTROVERSY continues to stalk the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) amid indications that one of its directors, Phakiso Molise, continues in office despite being a convicted criminal.
Mr Molise, who was appointed to the LCA board in 2018, is an ex-convict who spent 12 years in jail for violent crimes including kidnapping and sedition.
Successive Communications, Science and Technology ministers- from Thesele ‘Maseribane who appointed him- to the incumbent, Samuel Rapapa, have all baulked at reversing the appointment even after it emerged that he had a criminal record.
Section 6 of the Communications Act states that the “minister shall not appoint any person to be a member who has been convicted of a criminal offence”.
The Companies Act also prohibits the appointment of a convicted criminal to a company’s board.
Chief ‘Maseribane yesterday said he did not see any reason not to appoint Mr Molise because of a “discriminatory law which was after all in contravention of the constitution, a supreme law which prohibits any form of discrimination”.
“It was difficult for me not to employ a person of Mr Molise’s calibre based on the discriminatory law. The constitution is totally against any form of discrimination. And it has declared any law contrary null and void.
“I would not choose a subordinate law over the constitution. We see these kinds of clauses here and there but I would not treat Mr Molise differently. I’m am aware of Mr Molise ill-treatment in the past and I did not want to be party to his further persecution. Well if any person wishes to challenge his appointment, they are free to do so in the courts of law,” Chief ‘Maseribane said in an interview with this publication.
The Lesotho Times this week established that in one of her last actions before being suspended by then communications minister, Keketso Sello, LCA CEO ‘Mamarame Matela, had attempted to boot out Mr Molise over the issue.
In her 2 June 2021 letter to Mr Molise, Ms Matela informs the latter that she has been made aware of Mr Molise’s criminal record though an anonymous letter.
She alleges that she had verified that Mr Molise was indeed a convicted criminal and therefore unfit to remain in office.
She says his 2018 appointment to the LCA board is therefore null and void from the beginning and he should thus repay the authority all the allowances and benefits he had been paid as a board member.
“We refer to the above matter and a letter from a concerned anonymous person a copy of which we enclose for ease of reference,” Ms Matela states in the letter titled, “Vacation of Office as Director of Lesotho Communications Authority in accordance with the Communications Act of 2012”.
“The said letter alleges that you are disqualified from holding office due to your having a criminal record under case No. C of A No. 03/2001, a copy of which we enclose for ease of reference.
“After having perused the relevant judgment we have found that the citation is that Phakiso Robert Molise v Rex wherein the appellate division of the High Court of the Kingdom of Lesotho confirmed the conviction of one Phakiso Robert Molise for several criminal offences involving violence, without the option of a fine, for which you and others served a sentence of imprisonment stated therein.
“Section 6(7)(c) of the Communications Act, 2012 prohibits the appointment of a person who has been convicted of a criminal offence.
“Despite your knowledge thereof, you never made any declaration to the Authority while knowing of the existence of the statutory disqualification, with an intention to deceive and unduly derive a financial benefit from duties otherwise reserved for candidates that are not in law disqualified in terms of the Communications Act, 2012.
“It is against this backdrop that having failed to decline the appointment due to disqualification or make the material disclosure over an extended period since your appointment on or about 8 October 2018 to date and having failed to voluntarily vacate office in accordance with Section 8(6) of the Communications Act, 2012, the Authority shall not continue to allow you to participate in any business of the board of directors of the Authority while such impediment exists and no further payments shall be processed in your favour.
“We demand as we hereby do, that you arrange for payment of all allowances paid to yourself from date of unlawful appointment to date into the bank account of the Authority within 14 days of receipt hereof, failing which we shall have no option but to take legal action against you for the recovery of such unlawfully appropriated funds without further notice,” Ms Matela states.
The now suspended LCA boss was responding to a 31 May 2021 letter to the LCA from whistleblowers going by the name, Basotho Ba Tsoenyehileng (Concerned Basotho).
The whistleblowers had written to both Ms Matela and Mr Sello. The latter had replaced Chief ‘Maseribane in a 3 February 2021 cabinet reshuffle. Mr Sello has since been moved to the public service ministry and he has been replaced by Samuel Rapapa.
“We had complained to the previous minister (‘Maseribane) about the appointment of a member of Lesotho Communications Authority Board of Directors who has a criminal record and was convicted under case No. C of A No. 03/2001 and the previous minister never responded nor confirmed if the said director had declared his criminal record to the Authority.
“We realise that the Authority is cracking the whip so we believe that our cry for operation of the law will be followed this time around,” the whistleblowers state.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Molise said his past was “well-known globally” and Ms Matela must have also known about it when she joined the LCA.
“Everybody knows about my well-publicised past and she (Matela) must have also known about it. We in the LCA board are the ones who hired her. What she did by writing to me is outside her powers as my subordinate,” Mr Molise said.
He said he had ignored Ms Matela’s letter and continued to serve on the LCA board. He said the letter was a last-ditch attempt by Ms Matela to influence her superiors to drop the disciplinary proceedings against her.
“She was trying to use the matter as a way of diverting attention from what she has to answer for. But I continue to serve in the LCA board and anybody who has qualms about my appointment should approach the courts,” Mr Molise said.
This was in reference to the probe into Ms Matela’s alleged corrupt role in the awarding of a tender worth more than M500 million to South African company, Global Voice Group (GVG). The tender is for the supply of a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system. She has denied any wrongdoing and insists the tender award was above board.
On his part, Mr Sello questioned Ms Matela’s motives for only bringing up the matter now.
“I am reluctant to comment on this matter as she (Matela) has no business in the appointment of LCA board directors. I am just wondering when she first realised that Mr Molise’s appointment was irregular,” Mr Sello said. He would not be drawn into saying why he had not reversed Mr Molise’s appointment.
Ms Matela could not be reached for comment.
However, Mr Rapapa said the LCA CEO had “no business in the appointment of directors”.
“The LCA CEO does not have the authority to appoint LCA board directors. That is the responsibility of the minister. If the CEO has a concern on the appointment of LCA directors, they have to take the matter up with the minister,” Mr Rapapa told the Lesotho Times.
Asked what action he would take against Mr Molise, the minister said, “I am only dealing with issues that have been brought before me from 4 June 2021 when I became the communications minister and not before that”.