Thetsane, Makhethe recount “horror eviction”
Public Prosecutor Leaba Thetsane and Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe still coming to terms with their unceremonious removal from office
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Advocate Leaba Thetsane (King’s Counsel) and Attorney General (AG) Tšokolo Makhethe say they are in a state of “shock” after being “forcibly evicted” from their respective offices by the police this week.
The two state legal gurus say they were “evicted” from their offices early this week shortly after being served with letters asking them to go on special leave pending the finalisation of their cases.
Narrating their ordeal in separate interviews this week, Advocate Thetsane and Mr Makhethe said two separate groups of police officers had stormed their offices at the Government complex in Maseru and literally frog marched them out.
Advocate Thetsane says he tried to resist his eviction, albeit unsuccessfully while Mr Makhethe says he offered no resistance because “I did not want to be moved out like a bag of potatoes”.
Both men say they are in a state of “shock disbelief” following their unceremonious evictions which they say are not befitting men of their stature.
Their ordeal followed Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s directive that they quit their posts because they have reached the official retirement age of 55.
In almost identical letters dated 16 June 2014, Acting Government Secretary (AGS) Moahloli Mphaka had ordered both the DPP and AG to quit “with immediate effect”, because they were now over the retirement age of 55 years. Advocate Thetsane is 56 years of age, while Mr Makhethe is 58.
Both men then opposed the AGS’s directives through the courts, filing petitions in the Constitutional Court demanding that they be allowed to keep their jobs until the ages of 60.
Advocate Thetsane has since lost on the retirement age aspect of his application with the Constitutional Court ruling that he is indeed compelled to retire at 55. However, he also scored a partial victory after the Court ruled that power to remove him from office vested in the Public Service Commission (PSC) and not the Prime Minister. He has since taken his case on appeal while Mr Makhethe’s application is still pending at the Constitutional Court.
The PSC is yet to pronounce on Advocate Thetsane’s case and he , alongside Mr Makhethe, insist that they should remain in office pending the finalisation of all the court processes.
Mr Mphaka nonetheless wrote to both of them early this week asking them to instead go on special leave until their cases have been finalised.
Mr Mphaka’s letter to Advocate Thetsane dated 25 August 2014, and headlined Notice to Proceed on Special Leave, partly read, “I observe that on 18 June 2014, you launched an application in the High Court, sitting to consider an application involving constitutional issues under Section 22 (1) of the Constitution in Constitutional Case No 5/2014.
“In the said application, you sought, among other reliefs, a declaratory order that you are entitled to retire ……..upon attaining 60 years. The rest of the reliefs that you sought are not relevant to refer to for purposes of this letter. Of relevance is the fact that the court refused to grant you the relief which you sought, namely, that you are entitled to retire as Director of Public Prosecutions upon attaining the age of 60 years.
“Taking into account the legal implications and inherent constitutional problems that may eventuate if you remain in office and carry out functions as the DPP in the meantime, it is considered that it would be inappropriate for you to do so. It is therefore neither desirable nor in the public interest that you should remain in office pending a final decision of the courts on the matter.
“In these circumstances, I am hereby directed by the Right Honourable the Prime Minister (Thomas Thabane) to request you to proceed on special leave by close of business today, 25August 2014. You are also directed to take special leave until judgment is delivered by the Court of Appeal in your case.
“Proceeding on special leave pending the judgment of the Court of Appeal in your matter will, in no way, deprive you of the privileges, benefits and perks that you presently enjoy as the DPP.”
Advocate Thetsane says the tone of the letter and the manner in which he was literally evicted from his office by four police officers have left him in a state of “shock disbelief”.
Advocate Thetsane narrated his ordeal to the Lesotho Times in an interview at his home in Maseru, describing the events of Monday as “unforgettable” .
“It was around 4:15pm when my secretary came into my office with a letter, which she said was from Mr Mphaka. I read the letter, and the secretary said the messenger was waiting for my immediate response.
“She also told me that in addition to the messenger, there were four other men who wanted to see me as a matter of urgency. I told her to let the men in, and after the usual greetings, they introduced themselves as police officers, and that they had come to make sure that I abided by the instructions of the letter I had received from Mphaka,” Advocate Thetsane said.
“But I told the officers that I would not leave my office, not unless they carried me out of the building themselves. After realising that I would not leave, the officers said they would contact the person who had sent them to evict me, the AGS.
“In no time, AGS Mphaka entered my office and when I asked him what was happening, he instructed me to vacate the office immediately. Surprisingly, he told me that there was nowhere in the High Court judgment where I was told to stay on as the DPP.
“I had to remind him that I could not comment on anything that he had to say to me because of the pending case in the Court of Appeal.
“I refused to go out of the office in his presence and told him my appointment and dismissal had nothing to do with his office. He then left the police officers to deal with me,” Advocate Thetsane said.
The officers, he added, then denied him the opportunity to make “a mere phone call” to his lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele KC, to inform him of what was going on.
“They simply told me to surrender my office keys. I told them that I was not a key-holder or key-keeper, and they went to my secretary, who then gave them the keys.
“The officers then said I should remove all my personal property from the office, but I told them that if I was only going on leave, then that meant I would be back. So there was no need for me to take anything out of my office, but the officers would not listen,” Advocate Thetsane added.
The DPP said he was surprised that “the same people (Thabane and Mphaka), who were told that they had no powers to remove me from office by the Constitutional Court, are the same individuals who sent me on special leave”.
“I was appointed by the Public Service Commission, so I have to be removed from office by that body, and nobody else. I take that these two men acted in contempt of the High Court judgment by sending me on this leave.”
Advocate Thetsane said his age was being used as an excuse to remove him from office while “the real issue is being hidden”. He declined to outline the issue.
“I don’t know why these people are using my age as an issue to remove me from office. If ever this was indeed a real issue, why are they being impatient and not letting the Court of Appeal settle the case? The Public Service Commission is quiet about this matter and I was thinking this was because they were waiting for the Court of Appeal to deal with my case,” he asked.
Advocate Thetsane claims that then Public Service Principal Secretary, Tsukutlane Au, had on 10 September 2010, approved that he could remain DPP until he turned 60 years of age. Advocate Thetsane showed the Lesotho Times a copy of the letter to that effect.
On his next course of action, Advocate Thetsane said: “I come from a chieftainship background; I am a chief and a lawyer. I was oriented and grew within the courses of law, so I will definitely take legal action to ensure I remain in my job.”
Police Spokesperson Lebona Mohloboli said it was not true that officers had forced Advocate Thetsane out of his office.
“What happens is if a messenger is not comfortable to deliver certain documents, he or she asks for escort from the police, and the office of the GS did exactly that,” said Senior Inspector Mohloboli.
“The police were only escorting the messenger, and not to force anyone out of his office.”
On his part, Mr Mphaka told the Lesotho Times he went to Advocate Thetsane’s office to confirm the authenticity of the special leave letter he had written.
“I went to his office because I had been told that he was not sure that the letter was from my office, and I was only there to confirm that I had indeed, written the letter,” Mr Mphaka said.
“The powers of governance are with the Prime Minister and that gives Dr Thabane the authority to send Advocate Thetsane on special leave.
“He has not been fired from his position, but only sent on special leave. That is why he is still enjoying the benefits of that office”.
Attorney General Makhethe told the Lesotho Times that he had also been forcibly evicted out of his office by five police officers.
“The policemen were not cooperative at all. From the look in their eyes, I could see they had come to physically remove me from the office,” said Mr Makhethe.
“I am very shocked at how AGS Mphaka has handled this issue and equally surprised that I am being sent on special leave, which is my first time to hear about such leave. I have been a public servant for about 30 years now and this is my first time to hear about a leave of this nature.
“Yesterday, I agreed to leave my office without any fight because the police officers who were there threatened that if I didn’t go out voluntarily, they would make me go out.”
“So I did not want to be taken out like a bag of potatoes. After the police took my office keys, they proceeded to change the door-locks, to make sure I never go in again without their authority,” he said.