15 December 2017

Lesotho: Something Needs to Give

editorial

THE cases of Chief Justice, Nthomeng Majara and Justice Kananelo Mosito perfectly illustrate some of the issues that are wrong with our country and they make compelling reasons why reforms are urgently required.

As we report elsewhere, Justice Majara has been told by government to either resign or face an impeachment tribunal for alleged over a controversial M27 000 per month rental deal. She is also accused of political bias.

As we have reported on several occasions, Justice Mosito was re-appointed as Court of Appeal president by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on 1 August 2017, eight months after he was forced to resign to avoid impeachment over tax evasion charges by the Pakalitha Mosisili-led former government.

We do not hold any brief for any of the parties in these disputes but we are certainly concerned by what appears to be a deeply ingrained practice by any government to find fault with and subsequently initiate what are often costly processes to remove certain public officials.

We are not in any way, suggesting that government is wrong in taking action against the Chief Justice if there are indeed reasonable grounds to suspect that she has been found wanting in her conduct.

She must indeed be held accountable because after all she and other public officials swear to uphold the highest standards of professionalism and integrity so that their offices do not fall into disrepute.

We say all this with a big caveat because nothing has been proved.

But as we said before the two cases serve to illustrate just why reforms are necessary.

Ours is an unenviable situation where sitting senior public officials are always sitting ducks for incoming governments.

It always goes without saying that whenever a new government comes into office it immediately embarks on a crusade to remove senior judicial and even security sector figures.

The reason is not difficult to fathom as it is commonly accepted that these officials are political appointees who would readily do the bidding of the politicians who appointed them.

One way of avoiding such perceptions and perhaps stopping the witch-hunts would be for public officials to steer clear of partisan politics.

Another more effective way would be the implementation of reforms that limit what appears to be the excessive power politicians have with respect to appointments to key public offices.

This is something the current government acknowledges as evidenced by its draft roadmap for multi-sector reforms.

As we report elsewhere in this edition, the roadmap suggests curtailing or reviewing the powers of the prime minister which are seen as an obstacle to the independence of critical institutions such as the judiciary and ombudsman.

"It is accepted that a judiciary that is independent and that is also perceived to be independent is a key institution to secure the rule of law, promote fair and effective government and ensure stable and respected institutions," part of the draft roadmap on reforms states.

"In this context, the appointment process for the judiciary requires urgent attention because currently the government, and particularly the Prime Minister, has a powerful role in appointments to the Judicial Service Commission and the bench. Changes to these appointment arrangements will require a constitutional amendment approved by a referendum."

We certainly agree with government that something must be done to limit the role and influence of politicians because we believe that senior public officials should be apolitical and thus able to outlive the rise and fall of governments.

We have every reason to be confident that the government mean well. After all, it is they at their own volition who are proposing to create institutions that will engender public confidence.

We therefore humbly appeal to all stakeholders that when the time comes for the reforms process, they should fully cooperate and exercise their minds to give us reformed institutions that we can all be proud of.

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