The government and suspended Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara have agreed an out-of-court settlement which will see the latter leave office without undergoing a potentially damaging impeachment process, Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Semano Sekatle, has revealed.
Mr Sekatle however refused to disclose how much the government would pay the embattled chief justice as an exit package. Sources within the judiciary have previously said the two parties agreed on a compromise M9 million exit package- a figure way less than the M17 million former Justice Minister, Mahali Phamotse, says Justice Majara initially demanded.
Earlier in February 2019, then Justice Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, told the Lesotho Times that he was negotiating with the suspended chief justice. This after the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, had told this publication that the two parties had concluded negotiations over Justice Majara's exit terms and all that was left was for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his coalition partners to endorse the exit package.
Mr Moletsane however disputed this and said the negotiations were ongoing and the "government would inform the media once they have been concluded".
Eight months down the line, Mr Sekatle, who was moved to the justice ministry in the latest cabinet reshuffle on 3 October 2019, told this publication that a deal has been agreed. He said this in an exclusive interview over the weekend.
"Negotiations to settle out of court ensued because the government had taken her (Justice Majara) to task and she also took the government to court," Mr Sekatle said, adding, "We have now completed that (the negotiations) and there is an agreement".
"We resolved everything amicably. But I cannot disclose what the agreement actually says until such a time when everything is right. All you need to know is that we have finalised the negotiations for an out-of-court settlement that will see her go."
Even after being pressed to say whether or not the two parties had agreed on an M9 million exit package as previously said by judicial sources earlier this year, Mr Sekatle was adamant that it was still premature to disclose the details of the deal.
Previous negotiations for the exit package stalled in 2018 after Justice Majara allegedly demanded M17 million package which the government refused.
According to court papers filed by Dr Thabane and Dr Phamotse in May 2018, Justice Majara not only initiated talks about her resignation but she also demanded M17 million to go.
Dr Thabane and Dr Phamotse made the claims in response to a High Court application by Justice Majara for an order to interdict him (Dr Thabane) from recommending the appointment of a tribunal to impeach her over a host of misconduct allegations including her alleged incompetence and the failure to address the huge backlog of cases in the High Court.
Dr Thabane said that Justice Majara had intimated that M17 million was a reasonable demand for her premature exit because she would have enjoyed security of tenure up to the age of 75.
Justice Majara is further said to have demanded that, as part of her exit, the government should aggressively support her bid to secure a post at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2017. This was because she did not want to be idle at home after retirement. Justice Majara subsequently failed in her bid for the ICC post.
Dr Thabane wrote to Justice Majara on 27 April 2018 demanding that she 'show cause' why she should not be suspended and why a tribunal should not be appointed to consider impeaching her on various charges of misconduct including her alleged failure to preside over cases for two years.
According to his court papers, Dr Thabane tasked Mr Mphaka, then Minister of Justice Dr Phamotse, and other government officials to assist in negotiating the chief justice's exit package.
Dr Phamotse then alleged that Judge Majara had asked for a M17 million package which she felt was too exorbitant. She had countered with a R10 million offer.
The talks broke down and Justice Majara was eventually suspended from office on 11 September 2018 to pave way for a three-member tribunal to try her over a litany of misconduct charges including Justice Majara's controversial deal to rent a house for M27 000 per month from a colleague, Justice Teboho Moiloa, an amount way above the M4000 statutory allocation for her housing allowance.
The three members of the tribunal are Ugandan judge Frederick Egonda-Ntende (who was appointed Seychelles Supreme Court Chief Justice in 2009), Tanzanian judge Augustino Ramadhoni (who was elected to the African Court on Human and People's Rights in 2010) and Zimbabwe's former Minister of Justice and High Court Judge Simbi Mubako.
However, the trio have not been able to begin their assignment due to a court case challenging both Justice Majara's suspension and their appointment.