Tšooana fights for terminal benefits

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Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

FORMER police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, has filed an urgent High Court application seeking an order directing the government to pay his terminal benefits.

Mr Tšooana was sent on early retirement by government in August 2015 after finding him unfit to hold office. Among the many charges levelled against Mr Tšooana was incompetence, polarising and politicising the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

However, according to the application Mr Tšooana filed in court on Tuesday through his lawyer, Attorney Khotso Nthontho, the former top cop is still yet to be paid his terminal benefits.

The Ministry of Police Principal Secretary (PS) ’Mapalesa Rapapa, the ministry’s Human Resources Manager ’Maqacha Phafoli, Police Minister Monyane Moleleki, Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa and Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe are cited as first to fifth respondents respectively in the matter.

Mr Tšooana wants the court to direct the second to fifth respondents to pay his terminal benefits “forthwith”. He also wants the court to issue an order directing the second to fifth respondents to facilitate for him a once-off option to buy a Lexus SUV he was using as commissioner of police at a residual value when his tour of duty ended.

In his founding affidavit, Mr Tšooana notes: “I was appointed as the commissioner of police on 16 January 2014. Following the political insecurity that faced Lesotho in 2014 and the intervention of SADC (Southern African Development Community), the political leadership in Lesotho signed the Maseru Facilitation Declaration on 2 October, 2014. “This declaration was meant to pave the way for the elections and bring normalcy to Lesotho. On 23 October 2014, another document was signed which was termed the Maseru Security Accord. In terms of the said Maseru Security Accord, I, together with the Commander of LDF-Lieutenant-General (Maaparankoe) Mahao and Lieutenant-General (Tlali) Kamoli, agreed to go on ‘leave of absence’ for specified periods.”

He says the leave of absence entailed working visits to African and Commonwealth countries.

“As part of the facilitation of the Accord, I went to Algeria for a period of three months. The SADC Facilitation Mission in Lesotho was formally wrapped up after the February 2015 general elections on 30 March 2015. I arrived (in Lesotho) on 2 April 2015.”

Mr Tšooana says upon his arrival in the country, he immediately reported for duty and met Mr Moleleki who “gracefully” directed him to go home and rest saying “I would be called into office later on”.

“I did not read much into these statements by the honourable minister and simply took it that he found it befitting that I take a little rest and time off with my family after such a long time away from home,” Mr Tšooana notes.

“In fact, I arrived in the country on Thursday just before the Easter holidays and I reasonably expected to be called for duty after the holidays.”

During a meeting with Mr Moleleki, the former LMPS commissioner says the minister told him he was not the appointing authority, “but the Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) is, and that issues pertaining to the office of the commissioner of police are still being addressed”.

“At the time, I did not understand the relevance of this statement and out of respect for the honourable minister, I did not bother asking him to explain further,” states Mr Tšooana.

“I simply went home as directed. I was thus understandably surprised to learn on 8 April 2015 that on the same day a memo was issued out addressed to all relevant offices to the effect that DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police) – Operations Keketso Monaheng had been appointed as acting commissioner of police.”

Mr Tšooana says he ultimately contested “this drivel” through a court application heard on 20 May 2015 and whose judgment was delivered on 25 June 2015.

“They lost, as judgment was granted in my favour. The matter was set down again for 21 August 2015 and the case was to be heard on the merits,” he says.

“On 21 August 2015, when the case was about to be heard, counsel for the respondents appeared before court armed with a gazette detailing that I had been retired on 18 August 2015.”

Mr Tšooana says there had been no formal notification of his retirement: “I saw the gazette for the first time while in court. The case was subsequently withdrawn. I was informed the respondents argued that it had been overtaken by events.”

He says there was no word since then about his dues by the respondents.

“I have never been contacted or informed of the progress regarding my terminal benefits by the office of the second respondent or any other relevant office.

“The only thing I could hear from time to time was that my arrest was imminent as allegations abound, that I was involved in mutinous acts with the late army commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.”

Mr Tšooana says he was implicated in a plot to overthrow the army command along with soldiers detained at Maseru Maximum Security Prison for allegedly being complicit to the plot.

“I have also seen the charge sheets of the soldiers and my names appear there as well. I have been living a very difficult life, knowing I could be attacked and assassinated at any given point in time as I received intelligence from time to time from very reliable sources, sources I cannot disclose for fear of reprisals,” he says.

“I aver that despite these hardships, I have ardently contacted the office of the first respondent and other relevant offices since May 2016 about progress in the facilitation of my terminal benefits and payment thereof. “Unfortunately, there is no progress at all. I contacted the office of one Mr Mohau – a director in the Ministry of Police – I also contacted the office of the Human resources Manager, Mrs Maqacha Phafoli. All my efforts are in vain, everything leading to the payment of my benefits has been stopped.”

Mr Tšooana stresses his retirement was forced: “It is important to appreciate the fact that I did not voluntarily retire. I was retired in terms of Section 147(3) of the Constitution of Lesotho read with section 5(3) of the Police Service Act of 1998.

“I aver that the efficiency shown in retiring me from the police service should have been extended to the payment of my benefits. I am otherwise inclined to believe that failure to pay or facilitate payment of my benefits is agitated by malice and bad faith.”

Mr Tšooana states his official government vehicle was taken from him upon retirement.

“I had a legitimate expectation that I would be allowed to purchase on a once-off option to buy the vehicle used during my tenure as commissioner of police at a residual value when my tour of duty ended. This is not my creation but that of government,” he says.

“My predecessors, former commissioner (Kizito) Mhlakaza and former commissioner (’Malejaka) Letooane enjoyed this as a benefit and I cannot see why the same benefit cannot be extended to me. Is it is not a blatant act of discrimination?

“I am therefore requesting that the court should order that I should either purchase the vehicle at a residual value or get the equivalent of the vehicle in terms of its value or worth at the time I left.

Mr Tšooana adds: “It is an entitlement and a benefit which has been exercised and/or practiced across the board to senior officers of His Majesty’s government, to wit, police commissioners, principal secretaries and even others I cannot mention.

“I have a clear right to my benefits as they accrue from my tenure of employment as commissioner of police. I should not be pursing payment of such benefits through the courts of law but I have no choice but to enforce my rights in the light of sheer silence and non-cooperation from those who are supposed pay me.”

The former police commissioner notes the “discriminatory treatment” was in stark contrast to the “credible and courteous treatment meted out” to army commander Lt-Gen Kamoli.

“I have heard on television and read newspapers where the prime minister prefers negotiating with the army commander regarding his package/benefits before he is either retired or redeployed,” asserts Mr Tšooana.

“I have been retired (sic) in August 2015. No one has engaged me at any given point in time regarding my terminal benefits and a year has gone past. The treatment I am getting is clearly prejudicial and discriminatory in the light of the fact that others are even requested to furnish exit proposals.”

Vouching for the application’s urgency, Mr Tšooana argues he was no longer gainfully employed and needed the terminal benefits “to sustain myself and my family”.

“I have been prejudiced and harmed by not getting my benefits within an acceptable time. I was under the impression that government can take quite some time in facilitating such payment but I regard a year as a reasonable time, anything more turns out to be prejudicial and harmful. I run short of words to show how difficult my life is.

“My house has in the past been attacked and bombed though we survived. I receive threats on a daily basis and I cannot take them lightly. I am now extremely cautious about my security. I cannot go out and practice my profession because I know there is a possibility of an attack at any given point in time. Stifling me of my terminal benefits for a period exceeding a year is understandably too much and I have a right to act in the manner I have done, by approaching the courts for intervention,” he says.

Meanwhile, the respondents, through their lawyer King’s Counsel Salemane Phafane, yesterday filed a notice of their intention to oppose Mr Tšooana’s application.

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