Thabane leaps to Mphaka’s defence 

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  • accuses Prime Minister Majoro of dishonesty

Pascalinah Kabi

FORMER Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has leapt to the defence of embattled Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka saying Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro was wrong to accuse him of “unilaterally” and “fraudulently” renewing contracts of principal secretaries (PSs), ‘Mabotle Damane and ‘Maseithati Mabeleng, earlier this year.

Ms Damane and Mabeleng have filed a High Court application to stop Dr Majoro from removing them from office. They argued that their contracts are valid until 2023. They argued that their contracts were renewed by Mr Thabane a month before he was unceremoniously forced out of office by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party to be succeeded by Dr Majoro on 20 May 2020.

Last week Dr Majoro filed his answering affidavit to the application and he blasted Mr Mphaka for “unilaterally” and “fraudulently” renewing the contracts of Ms Damane and Ms Mabeleng earlier this year.

Dr Majoro said Mr Mphaka had no legal authority to renew PSs’ contracts.  That power was vested in him as prime minister and he acted in consultation with the Public Service Commission (PSC).

His claims were supported by the PSC chairperson, Moshoeshoe Sehlooho, who also deposited an affidavit in which he accused Mr Mphaka of “consistently arrogating to himself” powers he did not have to advise the PSC to renew the PSs’ contracts.

Mr Sehlooho says the PSC only agreed to renew Mr Mphaka’s own contract after receiving a request from Mr Thabane. He said the PSC refused to renew the PSs’ contracts because the request had not come from the prime minister but from Mr Mphaka whom he said did not have the power to make such requests.

Mr Mphaka insisted that the PSs’ contracts were renewed by Mr Thabane.

“The matter is now before the courts of law,” Mr Mphaka told the Lesotho Times last week.

“The courts will interpret who is wrong or right in this matter. But I wish to indicate that the contracts of principal secretaries were renewed by the prime minister (Mr Thabane) in terms of the law and Majoro was not the prime minister at the time.”

Mr Mphaka’s former boss, Mr Thabane has now backed the under-fire government secretary by filing an affidavit in which he absolves him of any wrong-doing.

Mr Thabane says Dr Majoro and Mr Sehlooho are wrong to accuse Mr Mphaka of unilaterally renewing the contracts of Ms Damane and Ms Mabeleng.

The former premier says he is the one who actually renewed the duo’s contracts earlier this year with the concurrence of the PSC.

“The contents of the affidavit of the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, and of Mr Moshoeshoe Sehlooho have been read and explained to me.

“In their (Dr Majoro and Mr Sehlooho’s) affidavits they suggest that the Public Service Commission did not approve the renewal of the employment contracts of the applicants and other principal secretaries. I must confess to the honourable court that I had taken a decision that I would not be embroiled in matters of the state and governance because I am currently on retirement and nursing my health at home.

“However, in view of the serious allegations made against the Government Secretary, Mr Moahloli Mphaka, and by implication myself, I decided to give the honourable court these facts so that it could be able to adjudicate over this matter fairly to all the parties involved. I also wish to inform the honourable court that I do not have any interest in this matter at all,” Mr Thabane said.

He says prior to leaving office, he received written applications from several PSs requesting the renewal of their contracts which were due to expire on different dates this year.

He says Ms Damane and Mabeleng’s applications were among those brought to him by Mr Mphaka.

“After considering each application and having considered the representations of the Government Secretary on the performance of each principal secretary I approved the renewal of such contracts.

“However, bearing in mind that I had to consult the Public Service Commission, I duly instructed the Government Secretary to seek their concurrence on the matter. They duly concurred in the renewal of not only the principal secretaries but also the Government Secretary’s contract as well.

“After I consulted the Public Service Commission and after they concurred with my desire to renew the contracts, I exercised my powers to renew the contracts. In that regard I instructed the Government Secretary to write to each of the principal secretaries to that effect. The Government Secretary reported that he did communicate my decision to the principal secretaries concerned.

“In all circumstances it is not correct that it is the Government Secretary who exercised the powers to renew the contracts of the applicants herein and those of other principal secretaries,” Mr Thabane said.

Last month, Ms Damane (Communications, Science and Technology) and Ms Mabeleng (Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation) refused to vacate their offices to make way for Mr Tšeliso Lesenya and Advocate Mole Khumalo who had been appointed by Dr Majoro to replace them in those ministries respectively.

The duo was sent on forced leave with effect from 10 July 2020 but they refused to accept the decision and they petitioned the High Court to nullify Dr Majoro’s decision to send them on forced leave. They also want the premier to be stopped from firing them from their jobs.

Dr Majoro, Mr Mphaka and the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are the first to third respondents respectively in the application.

Ms Damane and Ms Mabeleng are among eight PSs whose contracts are said to have been renewed in April 2020 by Mr Thabane after they wrote to him expressing their wishes to have them renewed.

The six others are Mothabathe Hlalele (Public Works), Nthoateng Lebona (Finance), Motena Tšolo (Development Planning), Malefetsane Nchaka (Water), Tšeliso Lesenya (Communications, Science and Technology) and Khothatso Tšooana (Health).

Dr Majoro has nevertheless only targeted Ms Damane and Ms Mabeleng for dismissal.

The premier had also revoked Mr Thabane’s April 2020 decision to appoint ABC member Nonkululeko Zaly as PS for Home Affairs with effect from 1 July 2020.

Mr Thabane had made the appointment without anticipating the collapse of his government a month later on 20 May 2020. He had largely ignored his party’s calls to quit over the controversy surrounding the June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo. He was eventually forced to step down after his ABC approved a new coalition deal with the then main opposition Democratic Congress (DC).

In terms of the two parties’ coalition agreement, each party has the right to appoint its own PSs to the ministries it controls.

The Home Affairs minister is the DC deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa. In terms of the two parties’ deal, his PS should thus come from his own DC party and not from the ABC.

In keeping with the spirit of that agreement, Mr Letsosa refused to allow Ms Zaly into office when she reported for work on 1 July 2020.

Dr Majoro subsequently revoked Ms Zaly’s appointment on 29 July 2020 and appointed Tumelo Raboletsi as new home affairs PS.

Ms Zaly has since filed a High Court application challenging Dr Majoro’s decision to revoke her appointment by Mr Thabane.

In her court papers filed last week, Ms Zaly insolently argues that Dr Majoro is only a “caretaker or regent prime minister” who is only finishing Mr Thabane’s term which would have ended in 2022 had he not been pushed out by his own party.

She argues that as caretaker prime minister, Dr Majoro cannot make independent decisions to undo those made by Mr Thabane who was a substantive prime minister. However, the argument appears disingenuous as a prime minister only gets the right to occupy that office after being elected by parliament. Dr Majoro was lawfully elected and cannot thus be deemed a caretaker prime minister.

The war over the PSs has strained Dr Majoro and Mr Mphaka’s relationship.  Mr Thabane’s relationship with Dr Majoro had already been strained by the time the former left office. Mr Thabane was miffed by Dr Majoro’s support for the coalition with the DC, which the ex-premier and his allies had originally opposed, as they sought to keep Mr Thabane in power.  Even though Mr Thabane had originally endorsed Mr Majoro for successor he was now under pressure to fire him as finance minister and scuttle the ABC/DC coalition.

 

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