COURT of Appeal President Kananelo Mosito faces the axe after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane recently slapped him with letter demanding that he “shows cause” why he should not be suspended over a litany of misconduct charges.
The suspension, which will pave way for an investigation into his suitability or lack of it to hold office, comes less than a year after Dr Thabane recommended his re-appointment to the apex court. He resigned from the same post in December 2016 after the then premier Pakalitha Mosisili moved to impeach him for alleged tax evasion. He was however, cleared of the charges.
In the latest development, Justice Mosito has been given seven days to respond to the Dr Thabane’s ‘show cause’ letter which is dated 5 July.
In his ‘show cause’ letter, the premier accuses Justice Mosito of interfering with the administrative functions of the Acting Chief Justice, ’Maseforo Mahase.
Justice Mosito is said to have interfered by entertaining an appeal by the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) against Justice Mahase’s alleged tardiness in hearing and delivering judgement in a case in which Prof Mahao and others’ election into the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) was challenged by three of ABC legislators, Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung constituency), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).
The trio approached the High Court on 11 February seeking the nullification of the election of Prof Mahao and others, claiming the 1-2 February polls were marred by gross irregularities including “massive vote rigging”.
Exasperated by the frequent postponements of the case by Justice Mahase on the grounds that she was ill, the Mahao camp appealed to the apex court who, on 24 May 2019, ordered that the case be heard by any other High Court judge (s) besides Justice Mahase.
The Mahao faction went on to win the case after the High Court bench comprising of Justices Thamsanqa Nomngcongo (presiding judge), Moroke Mokhesi and Sakoane Sakoane dismissed Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane’s application, ruling that the alleged vote rigging would not have changed the outcome of the elections.
Justice Mahase did not take kindly to the apex court’s decision to have the Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane application dealt with by other judges and she subsequently wrote a scathing letter to justice Mahase on 27 May. In that letter she accused Justice Mosito of interfering with her administrative powers at the High Court. She also suggested that Justice Mosito was an interested party in the case that involved Prof Mahao as the latter was his (Justice Mosito’s) boss at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Prof Mahao was until 31 May this year, the Vice Chancellor at NUL where Justice Mosito has been lecturing.
And on 5 July, Dr Thabane seized on Justice Mahase’s letter of complaint and served Justice Mosito with a letter demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be suspended to pave way for investigations to determine whether or not he is suitable to remain as president of the apex court.
In his 5 July ‘show cause’ letter, Dr Thabane said it had come to his attention that there were circumstances obtaining under Justice Mosito’s leadership of the apex court that had potential to bring the administration of justice in Lesotho into disrepute.
He said such circumstances include the issues that were raised by Justice Mahase in a letter that she wrote to Justice Mosito on 27 May this year.
The premier said that Justice Mahase “indicated that you…entertained appeals without leave of the High Court where such leave was necessary”.
“You (Justice Mosito) issued orders which interfere with the administrative powers of the office of the Chief Justice. You made an order in a recent case of the ABC versus Lehana and others that the matter be heard by a different judge despite the same matter being part heard in the High Court.
“You also seem to be turning a blind eye to the flouting of the rules of the highest court by some legal practitioners to the detriment and the smooth running of the administration of justice.
“On the basis of the afore-going I found it imperative on me as the head of government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to come to the rescue and preserve the reputation of the judiciary, which is likely to be eroded if not addressed on time.
“You are hereby directed to ‘show cause’ why I may not recommend that you be suspended from your office, in terms of Section 125 (7) of the constitution of Lesotho, on the basis of the aforementioned pending investigations to be made on your competency as the President and the Justice of Court of Appeal. Your response hereto should be delivered to my office within seven days of receipt hereof,” Dr Thabane concluded.
Dr Thabane’s spokesperson Thabo Thakalekoala confirmed the authenticity of the “show cause” letter to Justice Mosito. The apex court president was not reachable on his mobile phones and he did not respond to messages sent to him for comment.
Dr Thabane and other senior ABC officials have previously expressed their anger at what they saw as the apex court’s undue interference in the ABC power struggle.
Justice Mosito has only been back in office for less than a year after his 1 August 2017 re-appointment by Dr Thabane was challenged by four lawyers — King’s Counsels Motiea Teele, Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Attorney Qhalehang Letsika.
The quartet initially won their case against Justice Mosito’s re-appointment in the Constitutional Court on 13 February 2018. The Constitutional Court ruled that Justice Mosito “is not fit and proper person” for the job because he had been impeached by a tribunal which had been set up by the then premier Pakalitha Mosisili in 2016 to impeach him on the grounds that he had evaded paying taxes.
Justice Mosito was eventually reinstated in November last year following a landmark Court of Appeal ruling which nullified the February 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which had set aside his 1 August 2017 his re-appointment as head of the apex court.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Justice Mosito was validly reappointed as President of the Court of Appeal with effect from 1 August 2017.
If suspended, he will join Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara who is also out in the cold after she was suspended on 11 September 2018. Justice Majara was suspended on the advice of Dr Thabane over a litany of misconduct allegations including her alleged failure to timeously deliver justice and reduce the backlog of cases which some sources in the judiciary have estimated to be in the region of 4000 cases.