FIRST Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane yesterday rubbished allegations that she meddled in government affairs by instructing Cabinet Principal Secretary (PS) for Administration, Matieli Sekhantšo, to withdraw official vehicles assigned to Acting Prime Minister Keketso Rantšo.
Ms Rantšo, who leads the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), is Labour Minister in the Thomas Thabane-led four party coalition. Other principals are Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki of the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Communications Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP).
Ms Rantšo was this week Acting Prime Minister in the absence of Dr Thabane who is away in Japan together with Chief ‘Maseribane and Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka. PS Sekhantšo is the Acting Government Secretary in the absence of Mr Mphaka. Mr Moleleki, the deputy prime minister, was also out of the country this week. In the absence of both the prime minister and his deputy, Ms Rantšo was the acting Prime Minister. Her acting capacity was widely hailed as an advancement of women in politics. Lesotho has never had a female prime minister before.
A gender activist, Tšepiso Moloi, said it was quite commendable that Ms Rantšo had been acting prime minister particularly during this women’s month. Her status as acting prime minister also disproved claims by one Retšelisitsoe Lesane, who claimed last week to be deputy secretary general of her party, that she had been toppled as leader of her RCL.
“There is no way that she can be said to be no longer leader of her party while at the same time she is being elevated to acting Prime Minister,” said Ms Moloi.
“We should all celebrate the elevation of Mme Rantšo to act as prime minister as a step in the right direction and an advancement of the women’s rights agenda.”
But instead of celebrating ‘M’e Rantšo’s elevation, social media was instead abuzz with allegations that PS Sekhantšo phoned Ms Rantšo on Friday morning to inform her that the First Lady had ordered the withdrawal of two escort vehicles assigned to her in her capacity as acting prime minister.
The two escort vehicles that were assigned to Ms Rantšo were parked at Qhobosheaneng and they are normally used as standby vehicles for the premier during emergencies. The vehicles are also used by an acting prime minister in Dr Thabane’s absence. They were therefore assigned to Ms Rantšo on Thursday morning but were withdrawn on Friday between 8 and 9 am allegedly on Dr Maesaiah Thabane’s orders.
But Dr Thabane rubbished the allegations in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday. She said Ms Rantšo should know that she had nothing to do with the withdrawal of the vehicles and there were people who were using her as a scapegoat.
“It is not true that I gave an instruction to withdraw those vehicles from ‘M’e Keke. ‘M’e Keke must know that I never issued such an instruction. What happened is that on Wednesday, a senior officer at State House, ‘M’e Tiisetso Rabolinyane, came and informed me that there was a soldier requesting that Ntate (Thomas) Thabane’s vehicles parked at the State House be released for ‘M’e Keke’s use as acting Prime Minister.
“I then told ‘M’e Tiisetso that they were now involving me in duties that are way beyond my jurisdiction. I did not feel comfortable with that request because Ntate (Monyane) Moleleki and Ntate Thesele (Maseribane) have acted before and I have never been asked to release Ntate Thabane’s vehicles for their use,” Dr Thabane said, adding she then called Government Secretary Mr Mphaka to seek a directive on whether or not to release the vehicles.
She said Mr Mphaka told her to not release the vehicles. She said it was then that she learnt for the first time from Mr Mphaka that there were vehicles parked at Qhobosheaneng for the prime minister’s use whenever those that he normally used had to be taken for servicing.
“After Ntate Mphaka told me not to release the vehicles, I immediately called PS Sekhantšo to inform her that I had just talked to Ntate Mphaka, who told me not to release the vehicles. She (PS Sekhantšo) confirmed that there were standby vehicles that could be used by ‘M’e Keke. I called Ntate Mphaka because I didn’t find it proper for a mere soldier to come to me and ask for the release of Ntate Thabane’s vehicles. Ntate Mphaka or PS Sekhantšo as acting GS should have talked to me about this matter, not a mere soldier,” Dr Thabane said.
Dr Thabane said she does not and will never have any interest in assigning official vehicles to ministers. She however, said she had realised that to “err is human”, urging those responsible to admit to their mistakes instead of using her as a “scapegoat”.
She said that she had realised that many people were using her as a scapegoat for their own mistakes. She said there were many things that were happening behind closed doors regarding this drama and that she would only talk about those behind closed doors if pushed to the wall.
“The truth of the matter is that I didn’t refuse with the vehicles. I did not deny ‘M’e Keke the use of those vehicles. People should tell the truth or else I will talk. Ntate GS (Mphaka) and Mme PS (Sekhantšo) should tell people the truth or I will tell the whole truth. People have used me as a scapegoat for far too long now.”
Asked why people would use her as a scapegoat, Dr Thabane said, “I really don’t know but I have since realised that I am a six gun (type of spices) used to spice either potatoes or meat. People use me as a scapegoat even in situations where I have excused myself, given them space to do their job and this is annoying me.
“I know what really happened but I am not in a position to tell you. Ntate GS (Mphaka) and ‘M’e PS (Sekhantšo) must tell the whole world the truth or I will talk. I am tired of being used as a scapegoat. I cannot be told by a mere soldier to release the prime minister’s vehicles.
“I don’t like that that they withdraw the vehicles from ‘M’e Keke hiding behind my name and I never will (like it). I am not happy that they are dragging my name through the mud. ‘M’e Keke should know that I didn’t do that, I never issued an instruction that vehicles assigned to her must be removed and I want it on record that I did no such thing. I am really tired of people hiding behind my name,” Dr Thabane said.
The army has since issued a statement informing “the Basotho nation at large about a slight miscalculation that occurred in regard to the security arrangement accorded the Acting Prime Minister, Honourable Keketso Rantšo”.
“Given the situation, the LDF command met Honourable Rantšo on Friday afternoon to discuss the matter. And the Honourable Minister (Ms Rantšo) said she would rather stay with the normal security arrangement she had always been accorded even as the acting prime minister.
“The LDF command regrets this development which has caused undue confusion among the public. The command deems it an uninformed, hasty decision and therefore makes a commitment that such a mistake would never be repeated. The command, as always, continues to ensure that the security of Honourable Rantšo is at all times adequate,” Acting LDF public relations officer Lieutenant Kelebone Mothibi said.
Efforts to get a comment from both Ms Rantšo and Ms Sekhantšo were unsuccessful yesterday as their mobile phones rang unanswered.