PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has accused the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry of losing the plot by failing to rein in witnesses whose testimonies were outside the agreed terms of reference.
Addressing the Democratic Congress’s (DC) leadership conference in Maseru yesterday, Dr Mosisili said the commission’s “disappointing” conduct compelled him to write a letter to SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (OPDSC) chairperson, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. In the letter, the premier urged Mr Nyusi to “call the commission to order” so that it would “act within the scope of its mandate”.
“We wrote a letter to the chairperson of the organ (Mr Nyusi), to complain about the conduct of the commission, and that it does not stick to its terms of reference or rein in witnesses when they testify on terms of reference that are outside its scope,” Dr Mosisili said.
“The commission seems to have lost the plot in that it has allowed witnesses to testify on terms of reference that were rejected. We, therefore, asked the organ to call the commission to order.”
The SADC Judicial Commission of Inquiry was established on 3 July 2015 at Dr Mosisili’s behest to investigate the killing of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by the military.
Apart from probing Lt Gen Mahao’s death, the commission is also mandated to review of investigations into the alleged kidnapping of former soldiers and the alleged murders of members of the opposition by the LDF.
Additionally, the body is supposed to investigate the legality and manner of the removal of Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli as LDF commander in August 2014 and his reappointment in May this year.
According to Dr Mosisili, during the meeting he held in Mozambique with Mr Nyusi and SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, last Tuesday to brief them on the progress made by the commission, he slated Justice Phumaphi for moving the commission to Thaba ‘Nchu to interview Basotho living in exile in South Africa.
“I did not mince my words as I told them that the commission was established under the laws of Lesotho and that Justice Phumaphi took it to Thaba-‘Nchu against those same laws,” Dr Mosisili said.
“I told them that there should have been prior arrangements made by the commission to have those witnesses in SA come to Lesotho under tight security to testify.”
Former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party leader Thesele ‘Maseribane, Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Keketso Rantšo, several members of their parties and the LDF testified before the commission during its nine-day stay in Thaba ‘Nchu in the Free State Province. Most of the exiles fled the country this year after alleging some LDF elements were plotting to assassinate or arrest them.
The DC leader told the party faithful they decided against trying to stop Justice Phumaphi from moving the commission to SA to avoid being perceived as impeding the inquiry’s operations.
“I told them (Mr Nyusi and Mr Ramaphosa) that the government of Lesotho should have barred the commission’s move through the courts of law,” Dr Mosisili said.
“But we did not because we did not want to seem to be hampering the commission doing its work. I then appealed to them to rein in the commission.”
Government’s legal team, headed by King’s Counsel (KC) Salemane Phafane, has argued that moving the commission to SA was against the laws of Lesotho. Advocate Phafane said the Public Inquiries Act of 1994, under which the commission was established, did not make provision for extra-territorial application.
The solicitor told the Sunday Express last week that they would challenge the admissibility of the evidence collected in Thaba ‘Nchu.
Meanwhile, Dr Mosisili also lambasted Justice Phumaphi for claiming that the government was not cooperating with the commission and that senior people were withholding information.
“The Phumaphi commission’s claims that government is not cooperating in its investigations are total hogwash. We told the meeting as much,” the premier said.
“I, for one, have been very cooperative. I remember the day I appeared before the commission. It was at about 8pm when I was told to report before the commission the following morning at 9am. It was at short notice, but I complied.”
Justice Phumaphi lashed out at government and LDF officials last month for being uncooperative and “pleading ignorance on issues that you are supposed to know”.
The Botswana High Court judge took particular issue with the testimonies of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
However, Dr Mosisili retorted that if they were not being as cooperative as Justice Phumaphi alleges, senior government and army officials who have already been grilled by the commission “would not have gone there in the first place”.
On the reasons for convening a court martial for 23 LDF members accused of mutiny, Dr Mosisili said he told President Nyusi it was because the detained soldiers had sought freedom before being tried. The court martial has since been adjourned to 1 December 2015.
“When the suspects made a court application for their release, we realised we had no choice but to set up the court martial. We wanted to avoid a situation where they would flee from the country upon being released, like their counterparts who have fled to South Africa,” Dr Mosisili said.
“To ensure a fair trial, the LDF has engaged a retired judge from SA as the court’s Judge President. People should face the music when they have broken the law and when one breaks the law, they should know that there are always consequences.
“That is the only way we can rebuild a dignified military. There is no way that the court martial can await the proceedings of a civilian commission of inquiry.”
He said the meeting also touched on talks the premier is holding with Dr Thabane towards his return from exile in South Africa.
“I told them that I am trying to convince Ntate Thabane to return home. I also told them that I had promised to provide a police escort for him since he feared being guarded by the army, even though it is against the law since our security is provided by the military,” Dr Mosisili said.
“I further revealed that we went against the law guiding the benefits of a retired PM by providing a house for him in Maseru West, which is barely a hundred metres from State House. As we speak, the house is being guarded day and night by the police who are waiting for him to move in.”
The premier also expressed his concern to Mr Nyusi that Dr Thabane’s prolonged stay in exile was a “charade” meant to solicit SADC’s sympathy and create the impression there was instability in Lesotho “when in actually fact there is none”.
“I told them I was suspicious that it is just an act and that Ntate Thabane and his mates are simply begging for SADC’s sympathy. I told them that there was more to it than met the eye,” Dr Mosisili added.
“I appealed to them to urge Ntate Thabane to return home as the official leader of the opposition who we need in parliament as we are about to embark on security, constitutional, parliamentary and public sector reforms.”