DEPUTY Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki yesterday denied allegations that he had told South African special envoy Jeff Radebe that he wanted to be appointed interim prime minister as soon as embattled Prime Minister Thomas Thabane steps down.
Mr Thabane has previously said he would retire at the end of July but he has come under intense pressure from his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) to go now. Some government sources have alleged that Mr Moleleki had told Mr Radebe that in the event that Mr Thabane goes sooner, he (Mr Moleleki) should take over in an interim capacity at least until July 2020.
By then Mr Moleleki would be eligible for his retirement benefits. He was appointed deputy prime minister in June 2017 at the formation of the governing four party coalition comprising of his Alliance of Democrats (AD), Mr Thabane’s ABC, Communications, Science and Technology Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
He only qualifies for his terminal benefits in June 2020 after the required three years of service. Any premature collapse of the government will see him go home empty-handed. Hence his alleged desire to take over from Mr Thabane in the event of the latter stepping down at least before the end of June.
But Mr Moleleki rejected all those allegations. The deputy prime minister told the Sunday Express yesterday he never told Mr Radebe he wants to take over in an acting capacity when Mr Thabane retires.
“I am not responding to this issue (of taking over from Mr Thabane) because I have never expressed such a wish to anyone,” Mr Moleleki said, adding, “let’s leave it as it is”.
Pressed for more information, Mr Moleleki said, “I haven’t commented on the matter because I have never expressed such a wish”.
He said he had refrained from commenting on the current political situation in the country lest he be misinterpreted by the warring factions within the ABC.
“Allow me to start by being general on this matter. I am in a coalition government with a party that is fighting with its leader and it is generally not advisable for me to comment in such a situation. By commenting publicly, I will be interpreted by the one side as supporting the other side.
“So, I have to be careful. I know that I am regularly accused of being quiet… There is no accusation that I enjoy more than that one. Who do people expect me to support between the two factions in the party that I am in partnership with….?” He asked rhetorically.
He said Mr Radebe had told them that Mr Thabane would issue a statement regarding his future after the South African envoy met Mr Thabane and other stakeholders. Mr Moleleki said he was not aware of what Mr Thabane’s plans were and would only learn about them once they were revealed to the nation in his statement either today or tomorrow.
“I request that you wait for that (Mr Thabane’s) statement. I will be hearing the contents of that statement for the first time when it is published for the nation. That is all I can say,” Mr Moleleki said.
Meanwhile, ABC chairperson Samuel Rapapa claims that Mr Radebe told the ABC’s NEC that Mr Moleleki and his delegation had on Wednesday told South African President Cyril Ramaphosa that there was tension between the army and the police in Lesotho.
“He (Mr Radebe) told us that Moleleki led a delegation to South Africa on Wednesday and that the delegation told President Ramaphosa that there was looming instability in the country because of the tension between the army and the police.
“They (Radebe and team) told us there is a standoff between the army and the police. We recently saw the old man (Thabane) sowing divisions between them (army and police) by ordering armed soldiers to arrest the police commissioner (Holomo Molibeli),” Mr Rapapa said.
He said the ABC’s NEC told Mr Radebe that it was not aware of such tensions and that all it wanted was to see Mr Thabane leave office “as soon as possible”.
Mr Rapapa said the NEC also told Mr Radebe that it had done everything Mr Thabane had requested of it as a precondition for his exit and it was time for him to keep his end of the deal by leaving immediately. He said the premier asked them to choose his successor and they had complied by choosing Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro.
“He (Mr Thabane) said we must choose a successor and we did. He must go now. It is in his best interests to go because he is now being heckled in parliament and that is embarrassing,” said Mr Rapapa.
He said the ABC’s deal with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC)to form a new government still stood.
“We are not backing down and it will be embarrassing for him to go the way (of a no confidence motion). It is in his best interests to leave today (Saturday) or tomorrow because we are going ahead with our plans (to oust him).
“They (South Africa) didn’t ask us to halt our plans. They were just briefing us about the deteriorating relations between the army and the police which could affect the country’s stability. The committee (ABC NEC) told them that Thabane must leave office now,” Mr Rapapa said.
Army commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela referred all questions about the alleged army-police tensions to the army’s head of public relations, Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi.
Brigadier Ntoi’s mobile phone rang unanswered yesterday.
Commissioner Molibeli denied the claims, saying, “there are no tensions between the army and the police. That is a pure lie”.
Asked to react to allegations that there was a standoff between the army and the police last week which prompted Mr Radebe’s weekend visit, Commissioner Molibeli said, “that was just propaganda and I know the names of the people that are peddling that propaganda”. He however, refused to name them.