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NSS boss’ parly appearance deferred

by Lesotho Times
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… whilst he vows to shun the parly demand

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE much-anticipated grilling of the National Security Service (NSS) boss, Pheello Ralenkoane, by a parliamentary committee has been deferred to 25 July 2023.

However, Mr Ralenkoane said he would not reappear before the same committee, as it claims.

Mr Ralenkoane was supposed to appear before the Prime Minister’s Ministries and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information Committee on Monday this week over the involvement of the spy agency in the murder investigations of journalist Ralikonelo Joki, who was shot dead in Maseru on 14 May 2023.

However, his appearance had to be rescheduled after parliament was informed that the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Limpho Tau, who has been designated to take Mr Ralenkoane before the committee, had a tight schedule over the next two weeks.

The committee had last week written to Prime Minister Sam Matekane, in his capacity as the Minister of Defence, National Security and Environment, asking him to bring Mr Ralenkoane before it. Failure to bring Mr Ralenkoane before the committee would result in the spy boss being summoned and hauled before it by the police, the committee had also threatened.

The committee wants to interrogate Mr Ralenkoane regarding the mandate of the NSS and why he had involved the spy agency in investigations into the 14 May 2023 murder of Mr Joki.

The NSS boss had walked out of the first meeting on Tuesday last week after saying he was in no position to answer the committee’s questions.

After the walkout, the committee’s chairperson, Rethabile Letlailana, had said Mr Ralenkoane’s behaviour was unacceptable, prompting the letter to Mr Matekane.

“However, we have been told that the tasked minister, being the Minister in the Prime Minister’s office, has a full diary and can only be available on 25 July. It is only then that Mr Ralenkoane will be able to come as expected,” said Mr Letlailana.

He added that committee members had agreed to the new date because they believed Mr Tau’s excuse was genuine.

Mr Ralenkoane was first summoned to appear before the committee on 4 July 2023, but he immediately left the meeting after saying he was not prepared to entertain their questions.

Mr Letlailana last week told the Lesotho Times that the NSS boss did not even wait to find out if the committee had been satisfied with his answer.

The committee had wanted to grill Mr Ralenkoane on the NSS’ decision to involve itself in criminal matters, which the courts have ruled are the preserve of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

This followed Mr Ralenkoane’s legal battle with Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, and Democratic Congress (DC) youth leader and now party deputy spokesperson, Moeketsi Shale, over his quest to confiscate their mobile phones.

NSS officers seized Mr Shale’s phones on 18 May 2023, while Mr Mofomobe refused to hand-over his and rushed to the Constitutional Court to challenge the law used to justify the seizure.

Mr Ralenkoane had secured a search and seizure warrant from Mr Matekane through Mr Tau, on 16 May 2023.

According to Mr Ralenkoane, the duo was suspected of siphoning confidential information from the NSS. While Mr Ralenkonae did not state where Mr Shale was obtaining the information, he said Mr Mofomobe was getting his through an extra-marital affair with an NSS officer, Ithabeleng Pitso. He had also fingered Mr Mofomobe in the 14 May 2023 murder of Mr Joki.

However, the two politicians went to the Constitutional Court and successfully challenged the constitutionality of Section 26 (2) of the National Security Service Act 1998, which had empowered the NSS to seize their mobile phones to “conduct an investigation on such mobile phones and make copies of any information contained therein which has a bearing on the functions of the Service (NSS)”.

The constitutional case was presided over by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, alongside fellow High Court judges, Fumane Khabo and Moneuoa Kopo, who delivered their ruling on 20 June 2023.

Justice Sakoane, who authored the judgement, blasted the NSS, saying it had no business in investigating criminal cases as this was the duty of the police.

With the concurrence of Justices Khabo and Kopo, Justice Sakoane subsequently outlawed Section 26 (2) of the National Security Service Act 1998.

Mr Mofomobe has since demanded M5 million for defamation from Attorney-General Rapelang Motsieloa in correspondence also copied to Mr Ralenkoane.

The BNP leader also held a press conference at which he accused Mr Ralenkoane of trading NSS promotions for sex with junior female NSS officers.

The NSS boss has since dismissed the allegations as nonsense in an interview with the Lesotho Times.

However, the parliamentary committee still wants more explanations from Mr Ralenkoane. It wants him to explain why he had “overstepped” his mandate and brought the agency into “disrepute” when he advised Mr Matekane to issue the warrant to confiscate the two politicians’ phones.

But last week, Mr Ralenkoane allegedly refused to respond, saying it would be wrong for him to comment on matters which were still the subject of court processes.

He simply told the committee that he was going to appeal the Constitutional Court’s decision and was not going to entertain any questions pertaining to the issue.

Mr Letlailana said the NSS boss had then walked out of the proceedings at the parliament building in Maseru.  He further commanded NSS officers accompanying him, to follow him out.

Mr Ralenkoane could not be reached for a comment. However, the NSS spokesperson, Limpho Gugushe, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that her boss will not be going back to parliament.

“Mr Ralenkoane says I should tell you that he has not received any communication inviting him to reappear before that parliamentary committee, therefore has no intention of going back there,” Ms Gugushe said.

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