Four police recruits dead
- LEPOSA blames deaths on police command’s alleged incompetence and corruption,
- demands Commissioner Molibeli’s resignation.
WHAT was supposed to be a proud moment and the beginning of a bright future for police recruits as they began training ahead of absorption into the force turned into a horror show as four them died within the first week of training.
The four recruits died within the space of two days at the Police Training College in Maseru. The deaths occurred barely 24 hours after the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) had on Thursday expressed its displeasure over what it described as a flawed recruitment exercise riddled by bias, nepotism and corruption including the failure to do background checks on the recruits to ensure they were fit for purpose.
LEPOSA bemoaned the police command’s alleged failure to ensure that the recruits were not only certified as medically fit for training but did not also have criminal records.
Yesterday, LEPOSA spokesperson, Police Constable (PC) Motlatsi Mofokeng, said the deaths were the “worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and we would like to pass our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families”.
PC Mofokeng blamed the deaths on Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli who he said had proved to be “incompetent” and “unfit” to lead the force. He called on Commissioner Molibeli to “do the honourable thing and resign” after the debacle. The police boss’ mobile phone rang unanswered yesterday when the Sunday Express called him for comment.
Police Spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli yesterday confirmed the deaths but said it was still too early to say what had caused them.
“I can only confirm that we have lost four new trainees whose identities will be revealed in a statement by the Police and Public Safety Minister, ‘Mamoipone Senauoane,” Senior Supt Mopeli said in an interview with the Sunday Express.
Ms Senauoane, who had initially answered her mobile phone, immediately dropped the call upon learning that this reporter was from the Sunday Express.
However, some well-placed sources within the police force blamed an interplay of several issues including alleged incompetence and corruption by the police command in the recruitment exercise for the deaths of the four trainees who included three females and a male.
The sources said more recruits could die as three were in serious condition at the Makoanyane Military Hospital in Maseru yesterday. They accused the police management of bias in the recruitment of trainees. More importantly, they said the recruitment process was flawed in that the trainees were not subjected to the necessary medical examinations before being selected to undergo police training. This and the fact that the trainees were required to undergo strenuous physical exercises with their masks on could have contributed to the deaths, the sources said. They also said without medical tests, it was possible that the police management had authorised the recruitment of trainees who were already suffering from the deadly Covid-19 disease.
When these allegations were put to Senior Supt Mopeli, he said it was premature to say what had killed the trainees. Only pathological tests would reveal the cause of the deaths, he said.
“It is premature to say what could have caused the deaths. We have to wait for the postmortems before jumping into any conclusions,” Senior Supt Mopeli said yesterday.
While the causes of the deaths are unclear at the moment, what is however certain is that the LMPS has never had a similar experience in which it loses four trainees in the first week of the training project which usually lasts six months.
Apart from the deaths, the police sources said three females at various stages of pregnancy had been recruited as trainees, something they said pointed to the flawed recruitment process. Such things which would have been easily detected had the proper medical examinations been conducted, they said.
“These (deaths) are a disaster but it was not altogether unexpected given the corruption and flawed recruitment process,” a source said yesterday.
“Meritocracy was thrown out of the window and there was a lot of bias and nepotism in choosing recruits. The first recruit to die on Friday is daughter to one of the support staff at the Police Training College while another who died today (yesterday) is a wife of a senior officer in the Special Operations Unit (SOU),” the source added.
LEPOSA’s PC Mofokeng yesterday weighed in on the saga, saying the deaths were a “sad loss which would not have happened if the police commissioner had heeded our advice to allow a proper and transparent recruitment exercise”.
“All this wouldn’t have happened had the commissioner taken our advice. He should have foreseen that this was bound to happen especially when we are in this unusual and unprecedented period of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not possible to undergo intense physical training while wearing face masks.
“More importantly, medical examinations should have been conducted before the recruits were chosen. Medical examinations are very key to police training and it beats us how these recruits were allegedly inspected by one doctor who is not even a specialist and they were not examined in a proper laboratory equipped with x-rays and other equipment to produce accurate results.
“We warned against the so-called examination but Compol Molibeli decided not to listen and unfortunately this has been at the expense of precious lives. Even the government has repeatedly ignored our grievances labelling us politicians. This time we want to see what they are going to do now that this has happened because we have always held that Holomo Molibeli is incompetent and unfit to hold office. We have always said he needs to be redeployed but the government has never listened because he is their payback for helping them to get into power and therefore they can’t reprimand him.
“Holomo is even above the law because he decided to begin the training this week in contravention of the Covid-19 regulations which prohibit large gatherings. How did he convene so many people in one place? All other institutions have closed but not the LMPS. We have nothing more to say except to ask him to do the honourable thing and step down because he has failed dismally. He is total failure,” PC Mofokeng said.
On Thursday, a day before the first death occurred, PC Mofokeng had already condemned the recruitment exercise.
He described the recruitment exercise as “bogus,” saying the recruits had been chosen without being vetted and subjected to medical examinations to ascertain their fitness for the rigorous physical training exercises that recruits undergo.
He said they had received reports that most of the recruits did not even possess the required qualifications as some of them had not even completed high school education. He said others did not even write the police’s entrance examination.
“There are processes which have to be followed to ensure that all those who are enrolled are fully deserving of that honour and they will surely serve and protect the nation in line with the mandate of the LMPS,” PC Mofokeng said on Thursday.
“The failure to vet these new recruits is likely to bring us a bitter harvest. It is worrisome to think what the future of the LMPS will be like as we have been reliably informed that vetting and even medical tests were not conducted ahead of the recruitment of some of the trainees.
“We have been informed that some of these recruits do not have required entry qualifications at all and some did not even write the police examinations yet they have been enrolled. We have also discovered that most of the recruits are related to some senior police officers and have therefore been given an unfair advantage over other candidates who don’t have any connections.
“The million-dollar question is what exactly is going to happen to those who have criminal records and don’t have a good disciplinary background? Are they going to be sent home after training?
“This is quite an unfortunate thing that has been done in the name of the police institution. We have always had a problem with recruitment based on political affiliations and this still remains the case. We have received reports from various constituencies of people claiming that their children were not enrolled, yet those of political office bearers have been taken in.”
Asked how the recruitment was done, PC Mofokeng said the police command had assigned some retired police officers to conduct the interviews “hence they took advantage to recruit their undeserving relatives”.
“It remains to be seen if those who will be later found to have criminal records will be taken to task as Commissioner Molibeli did against me when he instituted a case saying I lied to the police when I was recruited 18 years ago.
“The new recruits are already undergoing training and yet they have not even gone through medical fitness tests as has always been the procedure. This year things have really changed.
“Even the few medical tests done on some of the recruits were done by a doctor who is not even a specialist. We doubt if any of these recruits will be declared medically unfit.
“We have also been approached by some candidates who paid bribes to be recruited but they were not considered. It is quite sad because there is nothing we can do to help. We have advised victims to open cases at their nearest police stations but they should be aware that they will also be incriminating themselves,” PC Mofokeng said.
The deaths are yet another stain on the image of the police force under the leadership of Commissioner Molibeli.
LEPOSA and other sections of the population have accused the police boss of failing to deal decisively with the thorny issue of police brutality. They have also accused the police boss of failing to investigate serious crimes including murder.
An inter-ministerial inquiry into instability in the force has cleared Commissioner Molibeli of any wrongdoing. However, LEPOSA believes that the police chief is being protected allegedly because he is an ally of some members of the current government.