Ombudsman warns security agencies

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…says bullying and intimidating civilians has no place in a democracy

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Ombudsman, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane KC, has warned members of the armed forces against being a law unto themselves, saying the bullying and intimidation of ordinary citizens has no place in a democracy.

Adv Thoahlane welcomed the strongly-worded statement by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government in which it vowed not to sit back and watch the country being dragged back to the era of repression by officials entrusted with heading government institutions, particularly in the security sector.

Adv Thoahlane and the government’s comments follow a recent incident in which Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Commissioner Thabang Mothepu is accused of disrespecting the Ombudsman who had summoned him to explain how he had made promotions within the LCS.

Commissioner Mothepu was accompanied to the Ombudsman by heavily armed bodyguards who insisted on entering a room in which the inquiry was being conducted with their guns. This was because the commissioner “feared” that he could be attacked by the junior LCS officers who had complained to the Ombudsman of being overlooked for promotions on the basis of their political affiliations.

Commissioner Mothepu also refused to answer some of the Ombudsman’s questions and was accused of being rude to Adv Thoahlane throughout the proceedings.

The police had to be called in to bring his bodyguards to order.

Adv Thoahlane told the Lesotho Times this week that “the incident left people surprised, angry and it belittled the ombudsman”.

“I am happy that the government issued a statement …..to make sure that people in authority are allowed to exercise the authority bestowed on them.

“Members of the armed forces should realise that they are not a law unto themselves by using bully tactics because the ammunition that was (brought by the commissioner’s guards to the hearing) was intimidating to ordinary people. Therefore that (government) statement has brought everybody else to realise that we have to operate within the confines of the law,” Adv Thoahlane said.

Commissioner Mothepu has been in the spotlight after some officers complained to the Ombudsman that they were overlooked on political grounds when the former promoted 50 officers last month.

Adv Thoahlane said that Commissioner Mothepu, who did not attend the initial inquiry as he was out of the country at the time, behaved in an unprofessional manner by commenting in the media on issues that the Ombudsman had summoned him to explain.

“When he (Commissioner Mothepu) returned (to Lesotho) he decided to attend a session at the Lesotho Television called Tšetšetha where he addressed issues that he was supposed to talk to us about and that didn’t go down well with this office.”

Adv Thoahlane said although he had to deal with the issue of his armed bodyguards and his attitude, he was happy to have Commissioner Mothepu answer questions about “what he has done in terms of the LCS promotions”. Adv Thoahlane said they were looking to complete the inquiry as soon as Commissioner Mothepu returned from another trip to Angola.

Commissioner Mothepu torched a storm with his apparent hostility towards the Ombudsman.

He told the Ombudsman that, “I know that I have been saying this and I might be forced to say it another ten times. I have been called to answer for the promotions and now you come from your office and you impose your laws on me”.

“Listen here so that we may be on the same wavelength. If the office of the Ombudsman has issues pertaining to this matter… I used the Lesotho Correctional Service Act of 2016 and my boss’s directive to effect those promotions.

“I am telling you that your laws are yours and have nothing to do with those that govern the LCS. Yours is to make recommendations that can be effected elsewhere and not within the LCS so don’t make your issues mine. So whether you are right or wrong it’s none of my business,” Mr Mothepu told the Ombudsman’s panel.

Commissioner Mothepu’s behaviour was subsequently condemned by the government. The government spokesperson, Nthakeng Selinyane, said in a statement the government had noted with dismay the behavior of the LCS boss and the manner in which he had belittled the Ombudsman.

“The government apologises to the embarrassed public who were enraged by such behaviour.”

Mr Selinyane further said that the incident was a throw-back to the “dark days” when soldiers used to enter courts of law heavily armed and “walking behind their chained colleagues after they were kidnapped and assaulted just because they were following rule of law”.

This was in reference to 2015 incidents when soldiers who were accused of mutiny against former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, were detained at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison.

“The government will not sit back and watch when the country is taken back to times of cannibalism. The government will not stand the shame and embarrassment of state institutions that turn the country into a laughing stock of other countries.

“Everyone should abide by the law…..,” Mr Selinyane said.

 

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