Lesotho Times

Setback for recalled diplomats


Brian Chiwanza

The High Court yesterday dealt a body blow to four diplomats who were challenging government’s decision to prematurely end their tour of duty.

The envoys—Bothata Tsikoane (New Delhi, India), ‘Malejaka Letooane (High Commissioner to South Africa), Johannesburg Consul-General Mophethe Sekamane, and High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr ‘Mabaphuthi Moorosi-Molapo—were recalled through letters dated 21 August 2015, and asked to report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations headquarters on 9 November 2015.

However, the diplomats are challenging their premature return on the basis it is “politically motivated”.

But in her ruling delivered yesterday, Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane said she could not interdict the recall because the reason for the applicants’ delay to challenge their return was not justified.

The diplomats’ lawyer, Advocate Monaheng Seeiso Rasekoai, argued in his application that the decision had “ripple effects of rupturing one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s foreign relations”.

Advocate Rasekoai also said government should not proceed with the “large-scale termination” of the contracts which he noted was “politically-biased.”

He prayed for the court to “interdict the respondents (Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, the ministry’s Principal Secretary and Attorney General) from executing the proposal to recall and or terminate the applicants’ employment from foreign service,” and “declare the decision to recall the applicants as breach of contract of their employment”.

Advocate Rasekoai also wanted the court to declare the recall “both selective and discriminatory in nature, hence unlawful”.

He continued:  “There are three other diplomats who were engaged by the government in similar posts but have been selectively left out and their appointments remain intact.

“The said diplomats are Advocate Kelebone Maope (KC) who is in New York representing Lesotho in the United Nations, High Commissioner in China Mpeo Mahase- Moiloa, and Lebohang Ntšinyi who is the ambassador of Lesotho in Belgium.

“The ambassadors who have been selectively left out from recall are politicians who are aligned to the ruling regime.

“It can safely be concluded that the selective, discriminatory and arbitrary decision-making process relating to the termination of the diplomatic posts of all the applicants is driven and inspired by political considerations than anything else.”

But in opposing the application, Deputy Attorney General, Tsebang Putsoane submitted there was no urgency in hearing the case.

“They did nothing for two months and are now rushing to court on an urgent basis asking for an interdict.

“It was just unreasonable delay and the prayer to interdict the letters should fail with no alternative remedy,” he said.

In her ruling, Judge Hlajoane noted: “There is no explanation for the delay from mid-August to October for them to have filed their application as they had ample time.

“It has not been stated as to why even those based in South Africa could not react to the letters earlier than has been the case.

“I decline to grant the prayer on interdicting the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations and Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from executing the proposed recall of the applicants.

“The court will be loath to be seen to be interfering with the business of government where there are no justifiable reasons to do so.”

Judge Hlajoane postponed the matter to 4 November for arguments.

Meanwhile, the other envoys who have been ordered to prematurely return home include Felleng Makeka (United Kingdom), Sempe Lejaha (Italy) and Nkopane Monyane (Switzerland).

All the recalled officials assumed their posts during the three-party coalition government led by Dr Thomas Thabane, and which ceded power in February this year.

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  • A diplomat serves the country whether at Headquarters in Maseru or within Lesotho’s missions abroad. Diplomats engaged on contract may challenge the premature termination of their employment, but never their assigned duty station as is the nature of diplomatic practice worldwide. Transfer or recall from a mission to headquarters does not mean ejection from the foreign service, but a mere change in duty station, while employment status is another matter. Deployment and employment can’t both be challenged in the courts thanks to Lesotho’s Foreign Service Regulations which form part and parcel of the employment contract. This incident highlights the fact that the politicization of Lesotho’s public service is a hugely significant problem; but in the same token, it is a sad day that diplomats find it appropriate to challenge the decisions of their deployments within the courts, completely going against the decorum that is demanded out of a foreign service officer anywhere in the world. It becomes plain to see that politics desperately need to vacate the public service which in itself has deteriorated to a point where; just like the military, requires some heavy reinvestment and professionalization. Many will recall the BCP government coming into power in 1993, naming the seemingly political inclinations of the public service at the time as a problem which they were determined to handle with sensitivity, but it has been the very same animal in all of its subsequent guises that has turned a seeming problem into an epic disaster. The engagement of Principal Secretaries on contract was the icing on the cake and the result of 22 years since the return of democratic rule is a civil service that is well trained to serve the egotistical interests of the leadership rather than to perform in humble and patriotic service to the nation. The disposition of the current coalition government is very disturbing, holding very little promise for any improvement to this situation, because right now all it seems to be doing is to work hard to once again swing the civil service pendulum to their side, for their own interests. It is my humble opinion that government employees (PSes, Ambassadors etc) engaged under contract should have been allowed to serve their contracts through, paving the way for better tolerance, professionalism and unity in service of the nation. With our political reality, government will change hands, but our public service should be a constant, professional establishment Basotho can rely on and be proud of.

  • @ Lenyoere – I don’t agree with you on this one; political appointees are just that – they are appointed by the government of the day and can be removed by the government of the day. The esteemed ex-ambassadors should just take a chill pill and accept that 7 stooges don’t like them and have every right to appoint their own people in those positions. As convenient to the stability of families as this whole recalling issue is, the ambassadors are smart enough, I’d like to believe, to know that their appointments are a “risky” political ones, thus prone to political interference.
    Hard luck guys.

  • @Sampo. You’re certainly correct that diplomatic appointments are always risky, which is why its a regulatory requirement in a large percentage of countries for diplomats to tender their resignations at the change of government. It is then up to the incoming government to decide if they accept the resignations or not. As much as I am a supporter of the current government and can sympathize with the reasons for recall, the issue of employment is a different matter that is setting a very bad precedent that will only repeat itself ad perpetuum while also working very well at taking the country nowhere. Firing people hired by a previous government is not redressing any issue, but rather exacerbating a glaring problem of nepotism and cronyism. My concern here is that of sustainability and the need to align our leadership and our limited resources to serve our collective aspirations as a people. In almost 50 years of independence, there is no reason why at the very least we don’t have a mature civil service. Political appointments in a mature civil service should only rest within the offices of the PM, Ministers (i.e their supporting staff), District Administrators and Heads of SOME Diplomatic Missions, not all. There are technical missions, such as the UN, the UN Office, the EU, the FAO and the African Union which should be reserved for career diplomats who are conversant in multilateral politics. Besides these, all other civil service positions; from PSes downwards, should be reserved for qualified personnel who are promoted on merit in a system that is protected and untainted by politics.The hiring of PSes should be made more transparent through vacancy announcements in papers where those who qualify; minus other nominated candidates, should be given the opportunity to apply. Shortlisted candidates should also undergo an interview and vetting process with the relevant Parliamentary Committee who can give their stamp of approval or not. Students in South Africa are busy fighting for a level paying field, while here we are creating rifts and hills, cliffs and gullies that are only succeeding to keep Lesotho in the doldrums of poverty while our neighbours continue to develop around us. A strong and professional civil service as well as a strong and professional army are the ubiquitous ingredients necessary for a stable country that is able to successfully and sustainably pursue its development aspirations. The people who are being recalled are not my own when it comes to politics. I don’t mind them being recalled, but instead of terminating their contracts, they can serve the remainder of their employment at Headquarters or simply resign. I hate to say this, but its actually better to frustrate someone in their job rather than fire them for reasons that don’t hold water.

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