Lesotho: PM, AG Clash Over Justice Mahase

THE state will pay all legal fees for Acting Chief Justice 'Maseforo Mahase's in a case in which All Basotho Convention (ABC) secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, is seeking to have her removed from her post.

The acting chief justice is defending herself in the case in which her impeachment is being sought over her alleged gross incompetence and bias but she would not have to worry about the humongous legal fees that might ensue.

Well-placed sources say Attorney General, Advocate Haae Phoofolo, who was initially against paying Justice Mahase's fees, only made an undertaking that government would foot her legal fees after clashing with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who allegedly threatened to dismiss him if he did not ensure Justice Mahase's bills were paid by the state.

The sources said Adv Phoofolo argued that Justice Mahase should foot her own legal fees just like suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara who is said to have paid her own bills in her ongoing legal battle with Dr Thabane who wants her impeached for alleged gross misconduct.

Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, directed all questions to Adv Phoofolo, saying the issue was in "connection with his work".

While the sources maintained that he had been pressured by the premier, Adv Phoofolo denied that he had agreed to the state assuming Justice Mahase's bills after being threatened with dismissal by Dr Thabane.

"I have not been instructed to do that (undertaking to pay bills) but we are going to pay her (Justice Mahase's) legal costs," Adv Phoofolo told the Lesotho Times.

"It is not true that there was an argument regarding this matter." Asked why the government was paying Justice Mahase's legal costs when Justice Majara paid for herself, Adv Phoofolo said the cases were not similar and "I don't want to talk about that lady (Justice Majara)".

Government spokesperson, Nthakeng Selinyane, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that Adv Phoofolo told him that he (Adv Phoofolo) had been "instructed" to make an undertaking that government would foot Justice Mahase's legal fees. Mr Selinyane however, did not say who had instructed Adv Phoofolo. Mr Selinyane also said that Adv Phoofolo did not mention anything about being coerced into doing so by threats of dismissal from his position.

"The attorney general says he has received an instruction to that effect (that government will pay Justice Mahase's legal fees.

"The attorney general did not tell me that (he had been forced into making the undertaking to pay Justice Mahase's bills by the premier) and I had no reason to ask him that. What the attorney general told me was that he has since issued that instruction (to pay Justice Mahase's legal fees)," Mr Selinyane said.

However, sources close to the matter said Adv Phoofolo wanted Justice Mahase to foot her own legal bills just like the suspended Justice Majara who is said to have paid her own bills in her legal battle with Dr Thabane who wants her impeached for alleged gross misconduct. Justice Majara was suspended on 11 September 2018 over a litany of misconduct allegations including her alleged failure to timeously deliver justice and reduce the backlog of cases.

According to one of the sources, "Ntate Phoofolo argued that it didn't make sense for Justice Mahase to demand an undertaking from the government that it would pay her legal fees when Justice Majara had paid her own fees".

"He (Adv Phoofolo) wanted Justice Mahase to pay her own bills but she went to the Prime Minister (Thomas Thabane) to complain," the source said, adding that Adv Phoofolo was then instructed by Dr Thabane to promptly to engage a law firm to represent Justice Mahase or be fired.

"He (Adv Phoofolo) was instructed to start the processes (of engaging a law firm to represent Justice Mahase) or risk being fired. He (Adv Phoofolo) did as he was told. This is somewhat peculiar that the government has made an undertaking to pay her (Justice Mahase's) bills when she is being sued in her personal capacity.

"It is sad that the AG had to be threatened (to pay Justice Mahase's bills) or risk being fired," another source said.

The costs are in relation to ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele's July 2019 High Court application for an order compelling the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to urgently set up a tribunal to impeach Justice Mahase over her alleged impropriety in the handling of cases relating to the power struggle in the fractious ruling party.

Adv Phoofolo, the JSC and His Majesty, King Letsie III are also cited as respondents in Mr Hlaele's application.

Adv Phoofolo this week confirmed that the government was in negotiations with a law firm to represent Justice Mahase in the case that will decide whether or not she remains as acting chief justice.

He however, denied that he was threatened with dismissal by Dr Thabane. He said section 98 (4) of the constitution clearly stipulated that the attorney general shall not be subjected to the direction or control of anyone in the execution of his duties.

"You should remember that the attorney general does not take any instructions from anyone."

Adv Phoofolo He also said that Justice Mahase was not sued alone but along himself and many others.

"The case (Mr Hlaele's application) is also against me. The High Court is being asked to order the JSC to advise the King to impeach the acting chief justice," Adv Phoofolo said.

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