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Judiciary snubs Thabane daughter, chief magistrates

  • as six shortlisted for vacant judges’ posts

Mohalenyane Phakela

FORMER Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s daughter, ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, is among the high-profile applicants who have been snubbed for the seven vacant High Court judges’ posts.

Chief Magistrates ‘Matankiso Nthunya, ‘Makampong Mokgoro and Manyathela Kolobe have also been snubbed in the list prepared by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over the weekend.

Ombudsman Tšeliso Mokoko, a former Defence and National Security principal secretary, has also been overlooked.

They had all submitted their applications but the JSC list, seen by the Sunday Express, contains just six people. These are Fumane Malebana Khabo, Moneuoa Kopo, Realeboha Mathaba, Makhele Julius Sekati, Kuena Mabotsoa Thabane and Mamotšelisi Khiba.

Messrs Kopo and Mathaba worked at the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) as Senior Manager: Internal Affairs and Senior Manager respectively.

Ms Khabo is Labour Court president while Mr Sekati works at the Law Office in the Ministry of Law and Justice. Ms Thabane is a former NUL law lecturer who is now in private practice. Ms Khiba, a former LRA board member, is now in private practice.

The names are contained in circular by JSC secretary, ‘Mathato Sekoai, to the Attorney General, Rapelang Motsieloa; Law and Justice principal secretary, Lebeko Sello; the Dean of the law faculty at the National University of Lesotho (NUL); the president of the Law Society of Lesotho and all legal practitioners. The 22 July 2021 circular is also addressed to civil society groups and the public at large.

“On 15 February 2021, the Judicial Service Commission published an advertisement calling for nominations and applications to fill seven vacancies of puisine judges of the High Court,” Advocate Sekoai states in her circular.

“The closing date for the submission of applications and nominations was the 16th of March 2021 and the advert attracted a total of 36 candidates.

“At its 204th meeting held on 22 July 2021, the Commission considered the applications and nominations and came up with the six candidates who have met the shortlisting criteria published under the Judicial Service Commission Circular N0.1 of 2021 dated 31 March 2021. The six are Fumane Malebana Khabo, Moneuoa Kopo, Realeboha Mathaba, Makhele Julius Sekati, Kuena Mabotsoa Thabane and Mamotšelisi Khiba. The interviews for the candidates will be held on 16 August 2021,” Adv Sekoai states.

In a subsequent interview with the Sunday Express over the weekend, Adv Sekoai said “the number of those who will make it to the High Court bench will be determined by how many of the shortlisted six will pass the interview”.

This publication has not seen the JSC criteria for shortlisting the candidates. Adv Sekoai would not be drawn into revealing what criteria was used to shortlist the six from the original list of 36 applicants who included Ms Hlaele and Chief Magistrates Nthunya, Mokgoro and Kolobe.

Ms Hlaele, a daughter of former premier Thabane and wife to ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general and former law minister, Lebohang Hlaele, is a seasoned lawyer and law lecturer at NUL.

Chief Magistrates Nthunya (central region), Mokgoro (northern) and Kolobe (southern region) have several years of experience at the helm of the magistrates’ courts.

Magistrate Nthunya has been a magistrate for more than 25 years since she was first appointed in 1996.

Adv Sekoai could also not be drawn into saying why they were no longer recruiting seven judges as originally planned. Instead, the number could even be less than the six shortlisted as they will still have to go for interviews on 16 August 2021.

The entire recruitment process has been shrouded in controversy ever since last year when the government first resolved to find new judges to ease the shortages of judges and the consequent huge backlog of cases said to be more than 4000.

Former Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase and former Attorney General Haae Phoofolo’s August 2020 bid to recruit five new judges was nullified last December by the Constitutional Court.

Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo had met on 20 August 2020 in their capacity as JSC members and recommended that His Majesty King Letsie III appoints Deputy Attorney General Tšebang Putsoane, lawyers Tšabo Matooane, Mokhele Matsau, Maliepollo Makhetha and Adv Kopo as High Court judges. Adv Kopo was also initially shortlisted by Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo in 2020.

But the five were not appointed with authoritative government sources saying that King Letsie III had refused to appoint them on the grounds that Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo could not just sit on their own and make recommendations without the input of the other two JSC members.

Current Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane was the other member of the JSC, then in his capacity as a nominated High Court judge. The other JSC member is Public Service Commission (PSC) chairperson, Moshoeshoe Sehloho.

Former Justice and Law Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao publicly lambasted Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo, saying the duo could not sit on their own and recommend the appointment of five new judges without the active participation and input their JSC colleagues.

The stand-off prompted the obscure White Horse Party to file a September 2020 constitutional application to force King Letsie III to appoint the five as judges as per Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo’s recommendations.

The little-known political outfit also petitioned the court to declare that Prof Mahao had actively interfered with the independence of the JSC by publicly questioning Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo’s moves to have the five appointed without his or the government’s knowledge and input.

But Prof Mahao fought back in October 2020 by filing a counter-application for the nullification of Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo’s 20 August 2020 meeting and their subsequent recommendations for the appointment of the five as judges.

The Constitutional Court consolidated the White Horse application and Prof Mahao’s counter-application and heard them as one case.

The constitutional bench comprising of Justices Tšeliso Monapathi, Moroke Mokhesi and Keketso Moahloli dismissed the White Horse Party application on the grounds that Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo did not constitute the JSC quorum.

They also ruled that the White Horse Party did not have the legal standing to file the application because it had no interest in the appointment of judges.

The court ordered a fresh process to recruit judges hence the latest move by the JSC to undertake a fresh, transparent recruitment process.

The JSC went back to the drawing board and on 15 February 2021, it published an advertisement calling on qualified people to apply or be nominated to fill the seven vacancies of judges of the High Court.

However, the process was halted on 23 April 2021 after the judiciary had been allocated a meagre budget of M937 366 for the April, May and June expenses of all the courts countrywide.

Adv Sekoai refused to say whether they had since been allocated funds to resume the recruitment process.

The successful candidates will fill the vacancies left by a spate of deaths, retirements and forced resignation of the judges.

Currently there are only eight judges. This after the May and June 2020 deaths of Justices Lebohang Molete and Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane and the retirement of Justices Semapo Peete and Teboho Moiloa on 31 July 2020.

Before that in 2019, former Chief Justice Ntomeng Majara was forced to step down on the grounds of alleged incompetence by the then Thomas Thabane government.



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