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Top civil servant loses court appeal

by Sunday Express
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Nat Molomo

MASERU — The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by principal secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Pont’so Lebotsa, against her conviction and sentence on charges of contravening the government’s Finance Order.
The High Court had slapped Lebotsa with a five-year jail term or a M10 000 fine for making unapproved and unbudgeted purchases of an information technology system from Telecom Lesotho in 2007 for the Ministry of Justice.
According to the Finance Order, an officer has to apply for a waiver to the Ministry of Finance for special arrangement to make a purchase. 
“Irregular state expenditure is an inherently serious matter, the sum involved was significant (some M750 000 for ordering information technology equipment) the appellant’s conduct entailed no single error or default, she wilfully and repeatedly disregarded the warnings of subordinates,” the Court of Appeal judgment said.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Jeremy Gauntlet said Lebotsa responded intemperately to her subordinates and even threatened some form of reprisal when they tried to resist her purchase.
“At no stage did she express remorse, her defence to the end has been ill-judged, casting aspersions on others in the ministry and the department of finance and even blaming subordinates despite her disregard for their warnings for not rectifying matters afterwards,” said the judgment. 
“She was advised by her financial controller that in these circumstances the order was impermissible, the appellant however, pressed on regardless and ordered the system, when the contract was concluded in February 2007, no form of authorisation existed and no provision existed in the ministry’s budget for it.”
“The factors raised by her counsel establish no adequate basis for interference by this court,” the judgment said.
“In the result, the appeal and cross-appeal are both dismissed, and the conviction and sentence by the trial court are confirmed.”
“In my view, the court clearly allowed for several mitigatory factors by not imposing a custodial sentence, which it had power to do,” the judge said.

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