NATIONAL University of Lesotho (NUL) students intend to hold a demonstration to protest Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla’s alleged corruption among other grievances later this month.
However, Maseru Urban District Police Commissioner, Senior Superintendent Motlatsi Mapola has refused to grant the students a permit for the march, citing “reasonable suspicion and compelling circumstances” the procession would not be peaceful.
NUL Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary, Thato Ponya, told the Sunday Express yesterday the procession was scheduled for 27 September this year.
He said the march was meant to protest the alleged abuse of state coffers by Dr Khaketla by awarding a tender to South African firm Bidvest Fleet Company for the provision of vehicles and related services to the government “through corrupt means”.
Mr Ponya said the deal was prejudicing Basotho taxpayers and tertiary students since they were struggling to receive government sponsorship to pursue their studies.
“As students, we are concerned with two issues; the first one is we are aware that about 200 students pursuing their undergraduate studies at NUL have not received sponsorship from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) due to lack of funds,” he said.
“The funds should have been allocated and disbursed by the Ministry of Finance. We therefore want to petition the Minister of Finance because she is the one responsible for the funds.
“Secondly, we have realised with shock how the minister has recently caught attention for wrong reasons – corruption. We now understand why the 200 students are suffering for not getting sponsorship from the government. This means the money is going into somebody else’s pocket when the government is supposed to prioritise our education.”
The SRC wrote a letter to Snr Supt Mapola dated 13 September 2016 requesting a permit to hold the procession on 27 September 2016.
However, in his response Snr Supt Mapola asks the students to show cause why he cannot refuse to grant them the permit.
Dated 15 September 2016, part of the letter reads: “You may be aware of the provisions of section 4(1)(a) of the Meetings and Processions Act of 2010. National University of Lesotho students cannot have a control over any other person of goodwill who joins the procession.
“I therefore have full consideration to the fact that the procession of University students joined by people of goodwill with different views other than the one that the permit is granted for will have no direct control over all demonstrators. Your request to commence procession from 11:00hours to 17:00hours do not give any indication of a peaceful march since no mentioning of any other activity other than handing over the petition from 11:00hours to 17:00hours.
“I put it to you that I have a reasonable suspicion and compelling circumstances that your procession is intended to violate the provisions of section 4(1)(a). I therefore request you to show cause why I cannot grant you permit on the basis of the above mentioned reasons.”
On Friday, the students wrote back to Snr Supt Mapola, through their lawyer Advocate Tembo Lesupi, setting out reasons why the district commissioner should grant them the permit.
“Client has referred the matter to us and instructed us to respond to your 15 September 2016 letter as we hereby do. Your concern is that the students will not be able to have control over any other person of goodwill who joins the procession,” states Advocate Lesupi.
“Client’s attitude is that; quite frankly, you as the police are the ones charged with the responsibility to control crowd, not the students. It therefore would be unreasonable to refuse to grant permission on that basis. You as the district commissioner, have to instruct your officers to do their job and control the crowd.”
The lawyer argues Snr Supt Mapola should grant them the permit since he had done so for pro-government supporters who are expected to hold a march today in Maseru to show “full solidarity” with the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven party coalition.
“Clients further wish to place it on record that you have granted a permit to people who are going to hold a procession/demonstration in support of the Right Honourable the Prime Minister and the present Coalition Government on 18 September 2016,” Advocate Lesupi states.
“Logic dictates that the Right Honourable the Prime Minister and the present government enjoys the support of the majority of Basotho, our suspicion is that the crowd in that procession will be far larger than the crowds expected in the students’ procession.
“We have confidence therefore that if the police can control the crowd in the procession scheduled for 18 September 2016, it cannot refuse to grant our client permission on the basis that the students’ crowd will be uncontrollable. Your concern is the proposed time frame in the application for public demonstration; our attitude is that this cannot be a ground for refusing to grant a permit for the following reasons.”
He further argues: “Section 4(6) of the Public Meetings and Processions Act of 2010 gives you the authority to impose conditions relating to the time and place of the procession. It would therefore (be) unreasonable to refuse to grant a permit on the basis that the time frames proposed in the application are unreasonable; you have the discretion to alter the time frames.
“You inform clients that you have a reasonable suspicion and compelling circumstances that the procession is intended to violate provisions of section 4(1)(a), we submit that this cannot be a ground for refusing to grant permit on the following considerations; You have, for reasons unknown to us, elected to withhold the factual basis upon which your suspicion is based and also the ‘compelling circumstances’ that lead you to believe there are intentions to violate the law. Put differently, but with utmost respect, your suspicion is baseless.
“Lastly, we wish to impress it upon you that the right to freedom of assembly is a right protected by the Constitution of Lesotho under section 15, so your decision not to grant the permit should not be taken lightly. We are confident that this response will convince you to grant the permit requested on the terms and conditions sought.”
Efforts to reach Dr Khaketla yesterday were unsuccessful. However, the minister, this past week, denied allegations of corruption and has since demanded M6 million from her accusers, DC youth league executive committee members Thuso Litjobo and Letuka Chafotsa, as compensation for the “defamatory statements” the duo issued against her.
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