Mokhosi grilled by SADC inquiry
DEFENCE and National Security Minister Tšeliso Mokhosi came unstuck on Friday after being quizzed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability over the conflict of interest in the investigations into the alleged mutiny within the army.
Mr Mokhosi was testifying before the nine-member commission which commenced its inquiry last Monday.
Among other terms of reference the commission is mandated to probe, is reviewing the investigations into the alleged mutiny plot and the alleged kidnapping of former members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Twenty three members of the LDF were arrested between May and June this year ostensibly for planning to topple the LDF command. The soldiers, who are still remanded at Maseru Maximum Security Prison, save for one who is under house arrest, have accused their LDF colleagues of torturing them while in custody.
However, addressing parliament in May this year, Mr Mokhosi said the government uncovered a plot to rebel against authority by some Lesotho LDF members and issued a “convening order”, on 13 August 2015, to assemble a court martial against the detained soldiers.
The soldiers have since filed an urgent application before the High Court seeking release and permanent immunity from prosecution. Appearing before the inquiry headed by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi.
Mr Mokhosi was asked by Advocate Tumisang Mosotho the reason LDF advocate general, Colonel Bulane Andrew Sechele, was involved in almost all aspects of the investigations into Brigadier Mahao’s death and the court martial proceedings.
Adv Mosotho, is representing the family of slain former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao, the detained soldiers and their families. The solicitor said while they did not object to the investigation into the alleged mutiny, “we are concerned with the by whom and how aspect”.
“Will you agree with me that for those who were allegedly to be attacked (in the alleged mutiny), should be involved in the investigations of the attack?” asked Advocate Mosotho.
In his response, Mr Mokhosi said: “You seem to know already who is conducting the investigations.”
Adv Mosotho then referred to an interview the minister granted the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC), in which he said it was unacceptable for former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana to be actively involved in an investigation in which he was also a victim.
This was in reference to the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of Mr Tšooana’s Ha Abia residence and the Moshoeshoe II homes of Liabiloe Ramoholi (former premier Thomas Thabane’s wife), as well as ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane.
The police had then requested the release of eight soldiers to the police to help with the investigations into the matter. However, the LDF refused to hand over the officers, arguing that the police was already convinced of their guilt.
Advocate Mosotho: We know that Colonel Sechele has appeared before the commission. He has told the commission that he was involved in the (mutiny) investigations. As per the charge sheet, he was one of the people who were supposed to be killed (in the alleged mutiny). So, would you agree with me that it was wrong for Colonel Sechele to be part of the investigation?”
Mr Mokhosi: I have already said it is the commander of the LDF who makes decisions on who should be part of what.
Justice Phumaphi: This is a principled question. Would you consider it appropriate that somebody who has an interest in the matter as a victim is put in charge of an investigation of those people who pose a danger to his life? As a matter of principle, whether Sechele or anybody else.
Mr Mokhosi: It’s a question of whether I understand his involvement. And, if I did understand his involvement, then I would be able to say in principle, it’s wrong. But the fact that I don’t have full information on how far. . .”
Justice Phumaphi: Suppose this was a hypothetical question, we are not talking of the LDF. We are just talking about that hypothetical situation, where somebody is a complainant, saying so and so wants to kill me. Then that same person is detailed to take charge of the investigation of the alleged prospective killer. Wouldn’t you consider that a conflict of interest?
Mr Mokhosi: There is the likelihood of that. But I want to say in this particular case where we are saying people were going to rise against the command, there’s very little chance that if the exercise is to be done by the army, you would say that you would get somebody outside of that who was probably going to be a victim of whatever was going to happen.
Justice Phumaphi: Earlier on in your evidence you said, when you told me about the people who were arrested, you said you had thousand other members of the army. If you wanted somebody of the rank of Sechele, you could get another person from another place, not affected by these complaints.
Mr Mokhosi: Yes Your Lordship, I agree with you. This is a question of whether such people did exist within the army.
Justice Phumaphi: When you have thousands and you think this is the monopoly of Sechele alone in that big army? What is the compliment of the army?
Mr Mokhosi: No, that’s a security issue.
Justice Phumaphi: Oh?
Mr Mokhosi: Yeah!
Justice Phumaphi: But you have said thousands. Unless you’re saying Sechele is the only colonel. I’m sure there are others.”
Mr Mokhosi: People in the army have different roles and expertise.
On the the plight of the families of soldiers who fled the country over the mutiny allegations, Mr Mokhosi said they would be evicted from military residences and not paid “until the deserters return to work”.
“About nine or 10 soldiers fled the country because they had been fingered in a mutiny plot,” Mr Mokhosi said, adding that several others skipped the country for “several other reasons not related to the mutiny plot”.
The minister was also quizzed by Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, who is representing the detained soldiers facing court martial in the commission’s hearings.
The solicitor asked the minister whether he was aware the soldiers were still serving members of the LDF even though they were in exile.
Mr Mokhosi: Yes, I am aware.
Advocate Lephuthing: Are you aware that they are still entitled to their salaries until the termination of their salaries?”
Mr Mokhosi: Yes.
Advocate Lephuthing: Are you aware that their salaries have been terminated unlawfully?
Mr Mokhosi: You’re telling me but I am aware!
Advocate Lephuthing: Now that I’m telling you about that termination of their salaries, what is your take?
Mr Mokhosi: What is important is for those officers to come back to Lesotho and continue with their normal duties so that they can get their salaries for the job that they are doing. That’s what’s important.
If we had information on their whereabouts, we would get them back, if it was possible. But we don’t even know where they are.
Advocate Lephuthing: (With regard to) their families and their wives, are you aware that they have been evicted from the LDF residences they occupied? And that that was done without their husbands being afforded the opportunity to make representations on their status as LDF members?
Mr Mokhosi: Those people have deserted the institution (the LDF), so I wonder how you are saying they should have been given a hearing.
Advocate Lephuthing: Understand this, I am now talking about their families and occupation of LDF residences. That’s the premise. So my question is, are you aware the families have been evicted.
Mr Mokhosi: I am not aware but let me answer that again. My understanding is that those families were given the housing facilities because they were still in the army but now that they have deserted, the army does not know when they are going to come back.
So definitely, if the army feels it has to start using the facilities, I personally see no reason why the army cannot take back its facilities.
Advocate Lephuthing: So you think your government is justified in removing those people from the army residences?
Mr Mokhosi: Particularly when the husbands have deserted the army.
Advocate Lephuthing: Should the issue of the eviction of those families have been discussed at the level of the Defence Council?
Mr Mokhosi: The command of the LDF alone is competent enough to do that. The current management of the LDF is competent enough to do that.
Advocate Lephuthing: Who is actually responsible for evicting those people?
Mr Mokhosi: I wouldn’t know that one.
Advocate Lephuthing: Well, let me tell you that those things are all unlawful. You cannot evict somebody from their residence, you cannot terminate their salary without giving them a hearing.
Mr Mokhosi: Your statement is true but in a different situation, it’s not relevant in this case.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who was supposed to testify before the commission on the same day, cancelled at the last minute.
In his response to the cancellation, Justice Phumaphi said: “The DPM said he has an emergency. I apologise for this sudden change. We have to make do with what we have got. But we’ll make progress and get to where we are headed.”
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