The on-going go-slow in the prison service has severely affected police operations, according to the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) spokesperson Clifford Molefe.
Some Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) staff have been on go-slow since December last year, protesting government’s failure to review their salaries and rank-structure.
As part of the industrial action, warders are refusing to admit new inmates, take those incarcerated to court, and also denying prisoners their visitors.
Because the LCS cannot accept new convicts, police cells have had to serve this critical function, thereby stretching LMPS resources as the prisoners or suspects need to be fed. The LMPS, Senior Inspector Molefe added, had not budgeted for such expenditure, hence the challenging situation the police now find themselves in.
“A suspect is supposed to be in a holding cell for a maximum of 48 hours before he or she is taken to court, and our budget was based on keeping and feeding the accused for that specific period.
“But due to the current go-slow by LCS employees, police cells are now accommodating people who were supposed to be in prison and that means we have to pay for their upkeep. Our holding cells are now overcrowded because the space is limited since it’s only meant to accommodate a very few people,” Senior Inspector Molefe said on Tuesday.
“And because of the LCS go-slow, the courts are currently remanding people out of custody or giving out sentences that are accompanied with fines. But those who have committed serious crime are being remanded in our holding cells, which is stretching the police budget, like I said since this had not been planned before.”
Senior Inspector Molefe further said the police are now facing another challenge—that of placating members of the community angered by the release of suspects because they could not be sent to prison due to the LCS go-slow.
“Like I said, suspects are supposed to be kept in custody for a maximum of two days before they are taken to court. And because of the go-slow, even those who were supposed to be remanded in custody are being released while awaiting their next appearance in court. However, this has not gone down well with their victims, who feel betrayed by the justice system because they would have expected the criminals to be sent to jail. The police are having to counsel such community members and also explain the reason for the early release.
“We are also supposed to deploy more police officers to guard those who would have committed serious crime but released because of the LCS go-slow, so that they don’t leave the country. That also is very costly for the police.”
Meanwhile, there appears to be no end in sight to the LCS industrial action, with the warders insisting they would only call it off once their grievances are fully addressed.
Government, on the other hand, has called on the aggrieved LCS members to end the protest while their grievances are being looked into.