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PM accuses Ombudsman of bias

Caswell Tlali

MASERU – Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has accused courts and the Ombudsman of bias against the government, a statement the Law Society of Lesotho says could erode public confidence in the judiciary.

Mosisili told Parliament on Monday that a scrutiny of judgments, particularly those by the Ombudsman, showed that state institutions were being “oppressed” because of an inherent empathy towards people taking the government to court.

The Premier was responding to remarks by Lesotho People’s Congress leader, Kelebone Maope, imploring MPs and other officials to accept the Ombudsman’s judgments even if the rulings did not favour them.

 “You will notice that the courts, in a case where an individual accuses a government institution, sympathise with the individual,” said Mosisili.

Because of that sympathy the courts “tyrannise” government institutions, the Premier said.

The office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints from the public about government ministries, parastatals and individuals working for state institutions.

The Ombudsman’s rulings are binding.

Where the Ombudsman’s ruling is disputed, he forwards the case to the National Assembly.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times on Friday, Law Society of Lesotho president, Zwelake Mda, said lawyers were worried about Mosisili’s statements.

“The Prime Minister’s statement undermines the courts,” he said.

“The head of state is obliged to be seen conducting himself in a way that will help to maintain the dignity of the courts,” he said.

Mda said Mosisili’s remarks contradicted section 118 of the Constitution which stated that the executive should “accord such assistance as the courts may require to enable them to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness”.

Maope, a former attorney-general who taught law at the National University of Lesotho for decades, drew Mosisili’s ire after accusing ruling party MPs of rebuffing the Ombudsman’s judgments which were against the government.

 “His (Ombudsman) recommendations are based on in-depth analyses of evidence deeply investigated and given to him where the Honourable Members were not present,” he said.

Maope told the MPs that many times they rejected the Ombudsman’s reports and recommendations without analysing the facts.

He gave the example of a case in which the Ombudsman recommended the reinstatement of a woman who was fired from the Bureau of Statistics after allegedly rebuffing a top official’s demand for sex in 2006.

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane objected to the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the woman be reinstated and appealed to Parliament.

MPs aligned to the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy party subsequently sided with the minister.

Qhalasi MP, Palo Leteetee, said Parliament sometimes rejected the Ombudsman’s reports because the public was ignorant on which issues to take to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman, Leteetee said, in turn mistakenly forwarded the same matters to Parliament.

The issue of Parliament’s rejection of the Ombudsman’s reports surfaced barely six months after Sekara Mafisa, who has since left the post of Ombudsman for private practice, wrote a damning report about ministers who allegedly looted a credit guarantee fund set aside for block farming schemes.

Mafisa, in his investigations while still Ombudsman, concluded that Thahane, Ralechate ’Mokose, then minister of forestry and agriculture assistant minister, Ramootsi Lehata, abused taxpayers’ money by failing to repay funds they borrowed for block farming schemes they led.

Parliament rejected the Ombudsman’s report as baseless.

The ministers denied the allegations of looting.

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