Lesotho: Phoofolo Faces Contempt of Court Charge

Attorney-General Advocate Haae Phoofolo and two principal secretaries risk being in contempt of court for allegedly defying a March 2020 High Court judgement to promote some court interpreters and pay them salary arrears from January 2013 to date.

Adv Phoofolo and the principal secretaries, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae (Ministry of Law and Justice) and Thabo Motoko (Public Service) were on 5 March 2020 ordered by Justice Moroke Mokhesi to promote the nine High Court principal interpreters from Grade G to Grade F.

They were also ordered to pay the interpreters salary arrears backdated to January 2013 when the promotions should have been made.

Justice Mokhesi made the ruling after the nine had petitioned the court arguing that their payment grade was lower than that of their National Assembly counterparts.

Rtd Col Mothae, Mr Motoko and Adv Phoofolo were cited as the first to third defendants respectively.

However, the trio has not implemented the court judgement since it was issued in March.

A fortnight ago, the interpreters' lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati, wrote to them, warning that he would file a contempt of court application against them if they would not have complied with the court ruling by 3 August 2020.

"My clients have a judgement in their favour and we are aware that you are aware of this judgement," Adv Molati states in his letter to Adv Phoofolo, Mr Motoko and Rtd Col Mothae.

"Notwithstanding your awareness, you commit ongoing contempt of court by failing to comply.

"We demand that you comply with the judgement or we shall file contempt proceedings upon the opening of the second session of the High Court (on 3 August 2020)," Adv Molati adds.

Justice Mokhesi heard the application in October and December 2019 and delivered the judgement on 5 March 2020.

In their petition, the nine interpreters argued that their payment grade (Grade G) was discriminatory in that their National Assembly counterparts were earning more than them yet they were doing the same job.

They argued that the failure to pay them the same salaries as their counterparts violated section 18 (2) of the constitution which states that "no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public authority".

Justice Mokhesi ruled in the favour of the plaintiffs.

"I have no doubt that the plaintiffs' underpayments should be calculated from 1 January 2013.

"It is declared that the principal interpreters of the High Court of Lesotho should be paid grade F salaries. The defendants should pay the plaintiffs' underpayments (salary arrears) from 1 January 2013 to date," Justice Mokhesi ordered.

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