21 July 2017

Lesotho: LCD Vows to Scuttle Security Reforms

THE Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has accused the government of politicising the security sector by appointing former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, as Police and Public Safety ministry principal secretary (PS).

The opposition party has also taken issue with Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Holomo Molibeli's appointment to head the police's Crime Investigation Department (CID), vowing to scuttle the envisioned security sector reforms as long as the two men retained their new positions.

For its part, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led government insists it is depoliticising the security sector with the appointments, adding that sabotaging the security sector reforms would not be in the best interests of the country.

The LCD and six other parties were part of a governing coalition that was ousted after the 3 June 2017 elections by a four-party alliance led by Dr Thabane's All Basotho Convention, the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

Since being inaugurated last month, the Dr Thabane-led government has been consolidating power by purging and replacing senior officials considered vestiges of the Pakalitha Mosisili-led regime. Apart from the LCD, the former government also consisted of Dr Mosisili's Democratic Congress, Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People's Congress and Popular Front for Democracy.

Already, Dr Thabane has fired Government Secretary Lebohang Ramohlanka and also sent Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa on an involuntary 90-day leave, which is usually a precursor for dismissal.

The shakeup in the LMPS also saw DCP Molibeli being appointed DCP in the CID, amid mounting speculation he was earmarked to replace Commissioner Letsoepa once the top cop was dismissed.

Last week, Dr Thabane ended the tenure of Colonel Tumo Lekhooa as National Security Service director-general, barely a year after his appointment for a three-year term.

Colonel Lekhooa was dispatched to his old job as Director of Military Intelligence at the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

The premier also appointed Mr Tšooana as Police and Public Safety ministry PS last week after the former top cop had been sent on early retirement in 2015 by the Mosisili government which deemed him unfit to hold office. Mr Tšooana had been appointed as LMPS commissioner in January 2014 by Dr Thabane, during the latter's first tenure as prime minister.

Among the many charges levelled against him were incompetence as well as polarising and politicising the LMPS.

Mr Tšooana had challenged his dismissal in the courts of law, arguing that it was politically-motivated. He was also not paid his severance benefits by the previous government despite taking the latter to court over the matter.

LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata, this week told the Lesotho Times Mr Tšooana's appointment compromised "the previous government's efforts" to depoliticise the security sector.

He said such efforts included brokering peaceful relations between the LMPS and LDF who were at loggerheads during Dr Thabane's first tenure as premier from 2012 to 2015.

The sour relations between the two agencies culminated in the 30 August 2014 LDF raid on three key Maseru police stations which Dr Thabane described as a coup attempt.

Police Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was killed during the army raid which the military said was a special operation to foil a LMPS plan to give civilians firearms for use during a LCD street protest scheduled for 1 September 2014.

Dr Thabane and Mr Tšooana fled the country ahead of the raid, saying they had been alerted of a plot to assassinate them orchestrated by the LDF. The LDF has denied the allegation.

However, after Dr Mosisili's government took power on 17 March 2015, the LDF and LMPS collaborated on a number of operations after seemingly ironing out their differences.

Mr Sekata attributed the thawing in the two agencies' frosty relations to Mr Tšooana's dismissal as LMPS commissioner.

"Ntate Tšooana played a huge role in politicising the LMPS and sowing divisions between the police and the army," he said.

"Bringing him back as the Ministry of Police and Public Safety's chief accounting officer is undoing the good work we did. The ministry he was appointed to administer is the same sector that he politicised."

Mr Sekata said it was also "bizarre" that DCP Molibeli had bounced back after having applied for early retirement in April 2016.

DCP Molibeli had resigned in light of pressure from LCD members, including Mr Sekata, who accused him of disrespecting their leader and then deputy premier Mothetjoa Metsing.

The LCD officials went on radio stations and challenged DCP Molibeli on the utterances he allegedly made in 2014 regarding Mr Metsing when he was president of the Lesotho Police Staff Association and a senior superintendent.

DCP Molibeli allegedly said he did not consider Mr Metsing the deputy premier due to his lack of support for the police in their struggle for a better salary and rank structure and new uniforms during the farewell party for Mr Tšooana.

The LCD also accused Mr Molibeli of campaigning for the ABC and urging the police to vote for the party in the 28 February 2015 snap elections.

This was at a time when Mr Metsing and Dr Thabane were involved in a bitter power-struggle which eventually led to the collapse of the ABC, LCD and BNP government and early elections on 28 February 2015.

"Ntate Molibeli resigned from the police force and has miraculously returned as head of the CID. Clearly, the current government is working hard to politicise the service again," Mr Sekata said.

"This is the same man who publicly refused to respect the then deputy prime minister during a party for then police commissioner Tšooana and went on to tell the police that the ABC was going to win the 28 February 2015 elections.

"He is now back in the police service, and the position to which he has been appointed is meant to prepare him for the earmarked position of commissioner of police."

Mr Sekata said the LCD would scuttle the envisioned security sector reforms as long as the two men retained their new positions.

The government has committed to implement a host of reforms encompassing the security, legislative, judiciary, constitutional and media sectors among others to bring about political and social stability.

"We are not going to allow the government to politicise this agency, and as long as Tšooana and Molibeli are holding those positions, we will not vote in support of the security reforms. The reforms will not see the light of the day in parliament with those two men in the police," Mr Sekata asserted.

"As the loyal opposition of His Majesty, we will use our parliamentary voting powers to punish this government over this decision and ensure that this government is overthrown as soon as possible."

The LCD has 11 seats in parliament, and the party has agreed to partner with the DC - which has 29 seats - in the National Assembly.

Responding to Mr Sekata's remarks, Dr Thabane's spokesperson, Thabo Thakalekoala, said the LCD was misdirecting itself since the premier was within his rights to make the appointments.

"Ntate Tšooana is no longer an active member of the LMPS and but a principal secretary in the Ministry of Police and Public Safety," he said.

"The prime minister used his discretionary powers to appoint him in that position based on merit and nothing more."

Mr Thakalekoala rubbished allegations the government was reversing the gains made by the previous administration to depoliticise the agency.

"What the present government and the prime minister are actually doing is to professionalise the LMPS. On the issue of Ntate Molibeli, the prime minister also used his discretionary powers to appoint him on a contract basis. This is not the first time this has happened in the history of this country.

"The prime minister saw it fit to appoint him (DCP Molibeli) so that he can use his skills to help professionalise the police and it does not make sense for the LCD to behave as if this is the first time this has happened.

"They have been in government and know very well how it is run. Threatening the government will not get the LCD anywhere. The LCD should work together with the government to professionalise the police."

Efforts to contact Mr Tšooana and DCP Molibeli were fruitless yesterday.

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