. . . Court appearance meant to humiliate me, says Deputy Prime minister
THE prosecution made a sensational U-turn on Friday, withdrawing corruption charges against Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Communications, Science and Technology Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, before trial could proceed in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.
The Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Deputy Principal Secretary Ntai Makoetje and the ministry’s Chief Engineer Lillane Sekatle, as well as the Maseru City Council Town Clerk ‘Mantai Phaila and Treasurer ‘Mamolemo Moseme, who were also being jointly charged with Mr Metsing and Mr Mochoboroane, also had their charges withdrawn on a day of high drama in the city.
According to the charges, which were read in court before the prosecution announced their withdrawal, the accused allegedly contravened provisions of the Penal Code Act, No. 6 of 2010 in March last year.
“During or about 15th March 2013 to date, at or near Maseru, the accused did unlawfully and with intent to defraud, misrepresent to the Government of Lesotho and/or Minister of Finance that the M53, 095, 027.00 they requested from the Ministry of Finance and was allocated, was for the procurement of yellow plant and its insurance on behalf of the Maseru City Council.
“Alternatively, they are accused of failing to reveal to the Minister of Finance, information that they ought to have disclosed, that they had already obtained the M53, 095,027.00.
“This was done with the intent that the finance minister should act upon the said misrepresentation and as a result of the non-disclosure, the minister of finance granted a waiver for the procurement of new Caterpillars (road-construction machinery) worth M38, 057, 760.00.
“This waiver was used as a pretext for the unlawful and wrongful expenditure and use of the M53, 095, 027.00,” reads the charge sheet.
But soon after the charges had been read before the court, Crown Counsel Advocate Kananelo Khoboko drew gasps of disbelief from the packed courtroom when she announced the case was being withdrawn.
Advocate Khoboko said: “My instructions are that the charges should be withdrawn to enable the prosecution to reconsider its position in the case, as well as enable investigations to be completed.”
Advocate Motiea Teele (King’s Counsel), who was representing Mr Metsing and Mr Mochoboroane, and Advocate Salemane Phafane (King’s Counsel) for the other four accused, then told the court they had no problem with the withdrawal of the charges.
“We wish to confirm that the position by the crown was communicated to us in camera and we have no problem with that decision,” Advocate Teele said.
On his part, Advocate Phafane said: “Equally on behalf of my clients, we have no objection to the direction taken by the prosecution.”
Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya, then announced that the charges had been formally withdrawn.
“The prosecution says it withdraws the case against you, which means the charges have been formally withdrawn,” she ruled.
However, Mr Metsing, who is the leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) — which formed a coalition government with the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Basotho National Party (BNP) after the May 26, 2012 general election had failed to produce a single party with an outright majority seats — was far from impressed with the whole episode, and expressed his frustration and anger soon after the court appearance.
Addressing hundreds of his supporters, and those from the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) outside the courtroom and later at the LCD offices, the visibly emotional Mr Metsing criticized the manner in which he was served with the summons to appear in court, which he said was meant to humiliate him.
The LCD leader was handed the summons as soon as he arrived at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport on Thursday on his way from Namibia, where he had gone on a peace mission with ABC leader, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and BNP Deputy Leader Joang Molapo.
Relations between the three parties in government have soured over recent months due to Dr Thabane’s alleged failure to consult his fellow coalition leaders when making crucial decisions with a bearing on good governance.
Among those “unilateral” decisions was Dr Thahabe’s nine-month suspension of parliament last month, during which the premier said he hoped the three partners would have resolved their differences.
Mr Metsing told the chanting crowd: “No one in the entire police service can truly say that he or she does not know where I live.
It was therefore, uncalled for to be served with summons to appear in court while I had just landed at the airport.
The only explanation to what has transpired is nothing but a calculated move to embarrass me.
“However, the emotional pain that I have been subjected to was to prepare me to become a winner in every political challenge that I am going to face.
“I was made a sacrifice for Lesotho’s democracy; indeed, someone had to be sacrificed for the benefit of this country’s democracy. And who could that person be other than myself?”
However, the LCD leader suggested the police who served him with the summons were “just messengers”, although he was not specific as to who could have sent them to “humiliate” him.
“I know the poor police officers were only trying to please their master by humiliating me like that,” he said.
Meanwhile, soon after Mr Metsing’s address, Maseru City Council workers started singing and chanting as they cheered the Town Clerk, Ms Phaila, following the prosecution’s withdrawal of the corruption charges against her.
In her brief address, Ms Phaila commended the staff for the solidarity they showed her from the time she was arrested on Thursday until her appearance in court on Friday.
“I know some of you wanted to meet with us when we were still being detained in the police cells, but you were not allowed because of the police procedures.
That initiative alone was great support and I am glad that you still believe in us,” Ms Phaila said, her voice filled with emotion.