LESOTHO Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner Khothatso Tšooana is on the verge of being fired for “gross incompetence, corruption and mismanagement” as the new coalition government intensifies efforts to remove allies of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from all key state positions.
In a highly charged letter yesterday, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili told Commissioner Tšooana that it was no longer in the national interest for him to remain at the helm of the LMPS and should thus retire.
Accusing Commissioner Tšooana of creating “rot” within the LMPS, Dr Mosisili slams the police commissioner for effectively converting the police service into an arm of Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC).
He also attacks Commissioner Tšooana over the manner in which he had arrested opposition leaders accused of corruption, mainly Democratic Congress (DC) deputy leader Monyane Moleleki. The prime minister is also highly critical of the style in which the police had served criminal summons on Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing over multi-million maloti graft allegations in a road construction tender. Dr Mosisili said the manner in which the police had conducted themselves in both these cases was meant to embarrass both Messrs Moleleki and Metsing. Mr Metsing served as deputy premier under Dr Thabane but the two had a spectacular fallout which resulted in the collapse of their coalition. Mr Metsing has retained his position in the new coalition after reaching a pact with Dr Mosisili.
Commissioner Tšooana confirmed receiving the letter yesterday, the same day it was dated, but flatly refused further comment saying he needed time to apply his mind to the whole issue.
The letter written on behalf of Dr Mosisili by the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, further blasts Commissioner Tšooana for “failing” Lesotho in the two years that he has held the post.
The letter chronicles a number of transgressions against Commissioner Tšooana since he was catapulted to the helm of the LMPS in January 2014 amid muffled grumblings that the then 36-year-old was too young and inexperienced for the post.
Apart from allegedly politicising the LMPS to benefit the ABC, Commissioner Tšooana also faces accusations of overseeing heightened corruption in the LMPS, mismanaging the organisation and violating individual and community rights.
Commissioner Tšooana is then given seven days to respond, if he so wishes, explaining why he should not be retired from office.
However, considering the harsh language used in the letter and the brutal manner in which Dr Mosisili attacks the commissioner, it is difficult to see how Mr Tšooana will retain his job. It seems safe to conclude that he is essentially fired even though the actual process may require some time to be completed.
The 14-page letter, dated 3 June 2015, and of which the Lesotho Times has a copy, is prefixed with a reminder to Commissioner Tšooana that Dr Mosisili had extensive knowledge of how the government worked after having originally served as prime minister for 14 years from 1998 till 2012 when he handed over power to Dr Thabane. Because of this vast experience, Dr Mosisili claims that he was in a very good position to judge the competence of public servants and was therefore “appalled” by Commissioner Tšooana’s performance.
Under Commissioner Tšooana, the LMPS had become “highly political” with some of its members seeing no shame in wearing party political regalia, mainly ABC, and participating in political rallies, Dr Mosisili charged.
The premier says it had become a matter of public knowledge that under Commissioner Tšooana’s tenure, some unnamed high ranking members of the LMPS had “………often declared their loyalty to a political party (ABC), pledging their support for it in its political pursuits, such as assisting it in its electoral campaigns.”
“The Right Honourable Prime Minister recalls that, besides reliable reports made to him, he had come across media reports of policemen who had been seen at political rallies of the said political party, in full colours and regalia of the party.”
No specific names and incidents are highlighted in the letter but Dr Mosisili expresses “shock and disbelief that the police can behave in this way, in this era.” The letter claims that these incidents had been a subject of wide media publicity, and had never been refuted by the LMPS and Commissioner Tšooana.
It further reads: “The Honourable Prime Minister regrets what he considers to be a state of retrogression within the police institution. He pins this down to your leadership. It is common cause that in 2012 the Right Honourable Prime Minister and his political party (the DC) became the official opposition. It is self-explanatory (sic) that in that capacity he (Dr Mosisili) had continued to monitor governance issues. Thus, he observes that ever since you assumed office as Commissioner of Police, police affairs have gone horribly wrong. He very much wonders whether it would serve the interests of Lesotho for you to continue to hold the office. He has serious doubts in the matter”.
Dr Mosisili accuses Commissioner Tšooana of taking back the LMPS to the pre-1993 period when the country was saddled with political upheavals, partly blamed on lack of professionalism in the uniformed forces.
“The police had lost direction, focus and mission, for the same reason of having allowed themselves to be influenced by partisan political considerations, instead of being a service to the nation, without fear, favour or prejudice…. They (the police) had a serious image problem, in the same manner they do of late. As a result, the country had paid a price of years of undemocratic and unconstitutional rule. … The army had played no lesser role,” read the letter, effectively accusing Commissioner Tšooana of having taken the LMPS to the pre-1993 era.
While conceding that corruption was rife in Lesotho, Dr Mosisili, however, insists that it is worse in the LMPS and blames Commissioner Tšooana for that.
“While the Prime Minister concedes that corruption is rife in Lesotho, as it is in many countries of the world, he finds it pertinent, for the present purposes that a research survey (by Afrobarometer) has just been released showing that the police institution (LMPS) tops the charts in Lesotho,” the letter said.
It then blames all this on Commissioner Tšooana.
“A damning allegation is rife and has been doing rounds for some time in the media that promotions in the institution (LMPS) are effected on the basis of monetary payments to certain individuals, or in kind. It is interesting that no comment has ever been made by your institution on this.”
Says the letter of the manner in which criminal summons were served on Mr Metsing:
“Mention is made …..of a well-known public incident when a criminal summon was served upon the Deputy Prime Minister at Moshoeshoe I International Airport, on arrival from an official trip in Namibia….There is nothing wrong with the police serving a legal process upon any individual when there are justifiable reasons to do so; but there was everything wrong with how the police dealt with this particular matter of the Deputy Prime Minister (Metsing). Several better ways could have been devised to serve the summons…. The stratagem was to embarrass and humiliate the Deputy Prime Minister to the maximum impact possible to satisfy political whim. It apparently worked. It is the Honourable Prime Minister’s view and belief that you knew, or ought to have known, about the unfortunate operation, and you had authorised it. He notes that what proves this to have been a political ploy is the known fact that at this point in time there was a serious political fall-out between the Deputy Prime Minister (Metsing) and the Prime Minister on issues of government. The police had decided to join the fray.
“It is in the observation of Right Honourable Prime Minister that an efficient and effective police institution is a sine qua non of a peaceful and stable democracy, but regrets that of late the Lesotho Police Service has proved to be awfully inadequate as an efficient and effective machinery to achieve the cherished ideal of a democratic nation at peace with itself.
“A further incident is mention by the Prime Minister when, at a political rally of ABC, the ABC leader had directed the police to arrest Mr Monyane Moleleki, the deputy leader of the then opposition party, Democratic Congress. Indeed the police had obliged. He had directed that they shave his beard and cut his hair, being a metaphor for exacting upon him maximum embarrassment and humiliation possible. He had been arrested in a dramatic fashion escorted by heavily armed police officers in the full glare of members of the public, and accompanied by a sensationalised announcement of the incident by the police spokesperson over the broadcast media.
“The Prime Minister observes that indeed it became a norm that at a whim of some politicians occupying high offices of state, supposed opponents of so-called enemies of the then ruling regime were regularly targeted for unfounded arrests, detentions and prosecutions filled with deliberately induced fanfare, drama and sensation, in order to feed the media; but specifically with a view to maximise embarrassment and humiliation courtesy of the police spokesperson who would ensure that he effectively liaises with the broadcast media, for these ends. The publicly known and widely publicised incidents of the Deputy Prime Minister having to appear in court, Bokang Ramatšella being arrested, detained and remanded in custody, Selibe Mochoboroane having to appear in court etc.
“The individuals affected are no doubt well known political activists who were viewed as “enemies”, so called, of the then ruling ABC aligned administration. In the consideration of the Prime Minister, while it may be debated whether or not the police were genuinely believing that these individuals were involved in some wrongdoing, in all the circumstances, and objectively speaking, he sees this to have been a well calculated and designed move to tarnish the image of, embarrass and humiliate the members of the opposition for political ends under the guise of investigating crime.”
Similar letters asking key officials appointed by Thabane to show cause why they should not be fired have already been served on former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao and Principal Secretary of Health Lefu Manyokole.
Commissioner Tšooana had already petitioned the courts asking to be allowed to return to his job as police commissioner. The matter is still pending in the courts but Dr Mosisili letter shows the new coalition will now wait for that process.
Dr Mosisili further blames Tšooana for collaborating with Dr Thabane in the failed removal of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leaba Thetsane and attorney general Tsokolo Makhethe from office, among a litany of allegations.