THE case of the 10 remaining principal secretaries (PSs) who are fighting to either keep their jobs or get hefty packages for the ‘premature’ termination of their contracts did not open yesterday as scheduled in the latest manoeuvre by their lawyer, Christopher Lephuthing, to bizarrely stall proceedings.
But the number of the PSs fighting the government is also reducing. At least five of those 10 PSs have abandoned the legal fight and elected to join those who have settled with the government, albeit on slightly different terms.
This means that Advocate Lephuthing is now left with five PSs who are fighting on. Their case did not proceed because Adv Lephuthing is now seeking the recusal of presiding judge, Keketso Moahloli, in the latest twist in the lawyer’s Stalingrad option to stall proceedings for his clients.
The PSs have now lost several cases in the High Court.
This week Justice Moahloli declined to grant the PSs leave to appeal his 5 May 2023 ruling in which he rejected their plea not to consider the second affidavit of the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Employment, Richard Ramoeletsi, which seeks to oppose their application in forensic detail. The PSs are now seeking the judge’s recusal, accusing him of bias.
The PSs were initially 16. The other group of six, who were represented by Advocate Sello Tśabeha, reached an out of court settlement with the government on 9 May 2023.
The six, who acted sensibly, are Matṥeliso Manaleli Phafoli, Maneo Moliehi Ntene, Mantsenki Nthabiseng Sekete Mphalane, Mole Khumalo, Moliehi Moejane and ‘Mamoeketsi Nkiseng Ellen Ntho. They will now get their three months’ notice pay and 30 percent of the remaining values of their contracts, among the key benefits.
The remaining 10 are Adv Lephuthing’s clients. He told the court yesterday that five of them had managed to reach a settlement with the government and therefore would no longer be part of his litigation efforts.
Those are Tlhopheho Sefali, Dira Khama, Retṥelisitsoe Mohale, Lira Moeti, Mamonyane Bohloko.
Adv Lephuthing said he would represent the remaining five who want to fight on. These are Thabo Motoko, Mamoho Matlama, Bereng Makotoko, ‘Masekhobe Moholobela and Matela Thabane. The lawyer had thus sought leave to appeal Judge Moahloli’s decision to allow Minister Ramoeletsi’s second affidavit, saying its filing was an “irregular step”.
“Appellants (PSs) contend that the extra affidavit of Mr Ramoeletsi ought not to have been admitted by this court,” Adv Lephuthing argued yesterday.
“The (5 May) ruling is final and therefore appealable. The Court of Appeal needs to interpret Your Lordship’s ruling. Our argument before the Court of Appeal is that Your Lordship had no jurisdiction to grant a prayer which was not in a notice of motion.”
However, the government’s lawyer, Darryl Cooke, counter-argued that the leave to appeal application should be dismissed as it was just a waste of the court’s time. He said the PSs had abused court processes for far too long now.
“This application is a pattern of disrespect to the court by the applicants (PSs). His Lordship had ordered on 30 March 2023 that they file their reply by 17 April 2023 but they failed even though the order was served on them.
“They cannot file an appeal before seeking leave to appeal. What were they waiting for from 5 May? It is a pattern of disrespect to the court to wait for the last minute to file papers.
“This is just a delay tactic in order for them to keep enjoying salaries and benefits. We need to put an end to this matter. If they were appealing a final order then they would not need a leave to appeal. Leave to appeal should be sought at the Court of Appeal,” Adv Cooke argued.
Justice Moahloli adjourned for 20 minutes after which he dismissed the PSs leave to appeal application. The judge said he would issue reasons for his ruling later on but would proceed with the merits of the case in the afternoon.
When it had been expected that the matter would proceed in the afternoon. Adv Lephuthing asked that they retire to Justice Moahloli’s chambers where he sought the recusal of the judge. He is yet to file a substantive recusal application after which the judge will set its hearing date.
It seems the remaining PSs have degenerated the proceedings into a circus. They first went to court in February wanting the matter to be heard urgently. They are however now doing all they can to stop the case from being heard.
A PS among the second group of six, who refused to be named, said the remaining five PSs must stop taking Adv Lephuthing’s ‘shebeen advice’ and settle the matter with the government.
“We decided to settle because we realised this was not going anywhere….You practically cannot stop the government from firing you if you are a political deployee even if you have a contract….It’s better to settle and give them a chance to put their own appointees….I urge my other colleagues to avoid being misled and opt out of this fight….We will be back if our parties win power again…Lephuthing is ill advising them …He has lost all the cases but he is urging them to fight on…That is shebeen advice…,” said the PS.
The five, who have decided to settle, have done so on slightly different terms from the group of six. The will apply to try and get their jobs if they are advertised. If they fail, they will then be paid for the remainder of their contracts but only for the time remaining after the finalisation of the process to appoint new PSs. The government has said it wants to appoint new PSs on merit only and will advertise the posts first as part of a restructuring exercise.