Fresh calls for Molibeli’s ouster
- police boss under renewed pressure to go after theft of guns at police stations,
- LEPOSA leads the calls to sack “incompetent” commissioner,
- But Molibeli pleads for LEPOSA’s support.
Pascalinah Kabi | Mohalenyane Phakela
EMBATTLED Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli is facing renewed calls for his ouster from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service Staff Association (LEPOSA) and other quarters.
This in the wake of last week’s theft of 75 guns from Mafeteng Police Station which were allegedly sold to rampaging Famo gangsters who have been blamed for the rampant killings of people in Lesotho and in neighbouring South Africa.
LEPOSA blames Commissioner Molibeli for the “disappointing” theft of the weapons which police investigators and the Police and Public Safety Minister, Lepota Sekola, believe was an inside job. In a weekend statement, the militant police union said the Mafeteng debacle and a subsequent attempted break-in at the Hlotse Police Station armoury had both “eroded public confidence in the police force”.
Such incidents were due to Commissioner Molibeli’s incompetence and would not have happened had Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro heeded its call to fire Commissioner Molibeli, LEPOSA said.
Some government sources who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue also blamed the government for shielding Commissioner Molibeli “despite the overwhelming evidence of his incompetence, and deterioration of standards in the force under his watch”.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who has previously demanded Commissioner Molibeli’s ouster due to the numerous, credible allegations of police brutality under his watch, said it was incumbent on the government to hold the police chief to account. He called on Dr Majoro to “put his foot down”, saying failure to hold the police command to account would create the impression that the government was using the police force to further its own political interests. He said the government should set up a commission of inquiry on the matter and even enlist outside help from the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or Britain’s famed Scotland Yard police to get to the bottom of the matter. Failure to urgently act on the matter could affect Lesotho-South Africa relations as the stolen guns were shipped to the neighbouring country where they were used to commit all sorts of violent crimes, Mr Metsing said in an interview with the Sunday Express.
While the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader was very guarded, merely saying the government should hold Commissioner Molibeli to account, the militant LEPOSA was very clear in its demand that he should be fired.
“We write to express our profound disappointment at the twin house breaking and theft in Mafeteng and attempt in Leribe Police Station respectively (sic),” LEPOSA said in a weekend statement.
“These instances reflect the egregious erosion of public confidence in the police by the society which in the past reposed so much trust in us but now is left wanting because crime now knows no bounds. The LMPS is now a victim and less of an image of its former self (sic).
“The matter is regrettable because LEPOSA had expressed its displeasure at the incompetence and inefficiency of the current COMPOL (Commissioner of Police). Instead our concerns fell on deaf ears, leaving the morale of the personnel at its lowest ebb. This situation could have been averted if the government had not trivialised our grievances, which not only concerned the police but also the society,” LEPOSA said.
The police union said the theft of the guns, which were supposed to be used as exhibits in various criminal cases before the courts, was likely to undermine those cases thus contributing to the failure to deliver justice.
“The ripple effects of the theft of these firearms means a jeopardy in the cases before the courts of law, even rendering some cases non-prosecutable. This is an affront to justice. We therefore, once again call the government to take decisive action calculated at restoring the shredded image of the LMPS. Anything short of meaningful action will lead to irreparable harm because morale continues to plummet. We condemn this behaviour of breaking into police armouries and stealing firearms. We call on our esteemed members to remain vigilant and serve the nation even if they are disgruntled,” LEPOSA said.
LEPOSA has fought Commissioner Molibeli for over two years. It accuses him of bias and ineptitude in handling police issues. The union alleges that since taking charge in August 2017, Commissioner Molibeli has unprocedurally promoted his close allies like Deputy Police Commissioners (DCPs) Paseka Mokete and Beleme Lebajoa. The police union also accuses Commissioner Molibeli of allowing his blue-eyed subordinates to get away with acts of brutality against civilians which have been heavy criticised by the judiciary and resulted in the awarding of unprecedented hefty damages amounts to victims by the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The police had initially petitioned then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to fire him in 2019 over his alleged incompetence and maladministration of the police force.
Mr Thabane did in fact fire Commissioner Molibeli only for his decision to be overturned by the High Court early last year. LEPOSA subsequently renewed its quest to have him dismissed when Dr Majoro replaced Mr Thabane who had been forced to step down by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party in May 2020.
LEPOSA has previously accused the Majoro administration of siding with Commissioner Molibeli and refusing to fire him because it is “indebted” to him for allegedly helping them to bring down Mr Thabane’s government last year.
Mr Thabane was pressured into stepping down by his own ABC which said at the time that it was necessary for him to step aside and concentrate on clearing his name. This after Commissioner Molibeli had named him and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, as the chief suspects in the 14 June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo. There has not been any progress in the Lipolelo murder case, with the police command and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) accusing each other of stalling the matter.
Mr Metsing yesterday referred to the issue when asked to about LEPOSA and other critics’ demands that Commissioner Molibeli be fired for his alleged incompetence.
“I can’t be talking about the Commissioner in isolation without discussing the government’s apparent lack of action in tackling the theft of guns and the general problems within the police force.
“The government must act on the theft of guns. There has clearly been a lapse on the part of the police and the government, resulting in the theft of the guns. The government should take the commissioner and his command to task over the issue.
“Remember when Ntate Molibeli was appointed, some of us had a problem with that because we felt the government was bringing in people to settle political scores with us. Even when Ntate Thabane was removed, the timing and actions of the police raised suspicions that that they were working with the ABC faction that wanted him gone. The suspicions appeared to have been borne out by the fact that once Thabane was out of the way, the police no longer pursued him and actively pushed for him to be charged with Lipolelo’s murder as they had done when he was still premier. There is an unfortunate tendency in Lesotho by politicians in power to weaponise the police and other state institutions against their opponents. Now because of that, you don’t know whether he (Molibeli) is just doing the government bidding.
“He is not the only one whose appointment we had problems with. You also have to look at the National Security Service (NSS) Director General (Pheello Ralenkoane) who was also appointed in contravention of the laws which stipulate that active politicians must not be appointed to head any of the security agencies,” Mr Metsing said.
Mr Ralenkoane was appointed after he had contested and lost the 2017 elections on a Basotho National Party (BNP) ticket. The BNP is a traditional ally of the ABC and is a junior partner in the governing coalition.
Mr Metsing called for urgent decisive government action, saying the theft of guns could lead to bad blood between Lesotho and South Africa.
“Stolen guns usually end up in South Africa where they are used in the commission of violent crimes. This is not good for our relations because we will be seen as a source of illegal weapons. Some of us having been lobbying for greater ease of movement between our two countries and this won’t happen if we are viewed as the source of illegal weapons.
“Apart from affecting relations with South Africa, there are already all sorts of rumours flying around that the stolen guns could even be used by some political parties to intimidate their rivals ahead of next year’s elections, hence why the government needs to get to the bottom of the matter.
“The government must set up a commission of inquiry to establish what actually transpired and why such things (theft of guns from the security agencies) keeps happening. It could call for outside help just like what used to happen when the state would enlist the help of the FBI of even the Scotland Yard,” Mr Metsing said.
Contacted for comment, Commissioner Molibeli yesterday said this was not the time for LEPOSA to taking aim at him and the police command.
Instead, the police union should be joining forces with him to ensure the speedy completion of investigations into the theft of the guns.
“They (LEPOSA) must correct their statement to say that they are strongly appealing to their members who have been assigned to investigate this matter to work extra hard because those stolen guns are dangerous wherever they are. They must appeal to their members to work diligently to bring back those guns because they could be used to harm Basotho.
“They (LEPOSA) must appeal to their members who may know what happened to assist the police with investigations. They must also condemn any of their members if they are involved in the theft of these guns. LEPOSA should also distance itself from such members’ actions.
“This is definitely not the time for us to be throwing stones at each other. We should not be using this life-threatening incident to fight our battles. As long as those guns are not in police hands, they will obviously be used for criminal activities which threaten the lives of police officers and the public,” Commissioner Molibeli said.
He said police investigations were at an advanced stage.
“I can safely say that we are on the right track. Our investigations will enable us to establish what happened and the guns will be brought back into police custody,” Commissioner Molibeli said.