PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has been given until the end of this week to sack 'Maseforo Mahase as the acting chief justice.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC)'s NEC wants Justice Mahase to revert to her substantive post as an ordinary judge of the High Court. It also wants the premier to demonstrate a "marked change" from his previous stance of allegedly ignoring its recommendations and begin working closely with it on all governance issues.
Authoritative party sources said the ultimatum was delivered to the premier in a no-holds barred meeting with him last Wednesday evening.
The meeting was chaired by the ABC's Peka constituency legislator, Tello Kibane. Mr Kibane this week confirmed he had chaired the meeting. He said Dr Majoro had pledged to cooperate with the NEC.
"It is true that I chaired the meeting," Mr Kibane said.
"I cannot remember all the decisions of that meeting because I was not taking minutes. However, the bone of contention was Dr Majoro's refusal to work with the committee (NEC). The meeting was to find out from him the reason behind his refusal to work with the committee.
"He (Majoro) indicated that he was a human being like any of us and that he was bound to humanly err. He said if alerted of his mistakes, he will correct them. He promised to work closely with the NEC to implement party policies," Mr Kibane said.
The meeting, which went on till late into the night at the premier's Government Complex offices, was attended by the ABC's deputy leader Professor Nqosa Mahao and the deputy party spokesperson, 'Matebatso Doti.
Prof Mahao is also the Law and Justice minister while Ms Doti is the Social Development minister. According to the sources, the duo attended as representatives of the NEC. Others who attended are ministers Thabo Sophonea (Finance), Motlatsi Maqelepo (Health), 'Mamoipone Senauoane (Police and Public Safety) and Nto Moakhi (Deputy Minister of Health). Several ABC MPs were also in attendance.
ABC chairperson and Local Government and Chieftaincy Minister Samuel Rapapa is said to have apologised for missing out. ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa secretary general Lebohang Hlaele did not attend the meeting.
Some of those in attendance told the Lesotho Times the premier had "acknowledged the error of his ways" and promised to work with the NEC before making major governance decisions including the hiring of key government personnel like principal secretaries.
Dr Majoro had promised he would now only make government appointments and other decisions after consulting the NEC.
The MPs said it was also agreed that Dr Majoro would be given until the end this week to demonstrate he had "changed behaviour" by removing Justice Mahase from her current post of acting chief justice and restore her to her substantive post as an ordinary High Court judge.
"He (Majoro) came alone to the Wednesday meeting. None of his allies attended because they were not invited. We raised concerns over his reluctance to fire 'Maseforo. This is despite numerous calls for him to fire her.
"We also raised concerns that he appointed principal secretaries (PSs) without consulting the NEC and that he was more concerned about his individual and political wellbeing, not that of the party," said an MP who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said the NEC and the MPs strongly feel that Dr Majoro appointed his allies, Nkaku Kabi, Tefo Mapesela and Mohapi Mohapinyane to the "strategic money ministries" of Water; Agriculture and Food Security and Energy and Meteorology respectively while anointing his opponents to ministries without strong tender projects.
"On top of that, he created that NACOSEC (National Covid-19 Secretariat) animal that is now usurping the health minister."
Another MP who also spoke on condition of anonymity said they used the meeting to warn Dr Majoro against sidelining the NEC as that would have "catastrophic results" for his future as premier.
"... We told him to stop using government resources to empower himself ahead of the ABC leadership elections whenever they are eventually held. We also advised Majoro to focus more on service delivery and avoid sowing seeds of division in the party through his actions as premier.
"He (Majoro) asked us to give him a chance and he pledged to work more closely with the NEC from now onwards. We told him that he had one week to demonstrate his willingness to cooperate with the NEC and implement its recommendations including the sacking of 'Maseforo.
"He had already chosen his own people to be diplomats and we asked him to relook the issue and consider appointing people from the constituencies which did not have any of their members appointed into cabinet. He must do this in consultation with the MPs and constituency committees. He must appoint competent people in those constituencies not people from his faction.
"He promised that he will consult more with the NEC and make decisions in line with ABC's governance policies. The NEC was tasked to monitor him and report any positive or negative changes to us by the end of next week. If there are no positive changes by then, we will reconvene and map the way forward," the MP said.
Last week the NEC and several MPs met at Prof Mahao's residence. They are said to have agreed to give Dr Majoro an ultimatum to either cooperate with them or face a no confidence vote when parliament reconvenes next Monday.
Another MP said their Wednesday meeting with Dr Majoro was "highly charged and lasted until after 10pm".
"We laid the facts before him and he said he was sorry. He initially said he had not thought he was doing anything wrong as he felt he was free to apply his mind whenever the NEC made any recommendations to him. He said that he preferred to interrogate issues raised by the NEC before implementing them.
"We told him that he was allowed to apply his mind... But consultations with the NEC before making decisions would save him from making mistakes.
"We advised him to share his views with the NEC whenever he felt differently on any issue instead of keeping quiet as this would be interpreted to mean that he was essentially telling the NEC to go hang," the MP said.
ABC secretary general, Mr Hlaele, and party spokesperson, Mr Masoetsa, both said they could not comment on the outcome of the meeting as they had not attended it.
Mr Hlaele said he did not want to rely on what he had been briefed (told) about the Wednesday meeting before commenting.
"I don't rely on briefings. I like to be part of the meeting for me to fully understand the background that influenced a meeting to make a particular decision," Mr Hlaele said this week.
He, however, confirmed the ABC NEC wanted Justice Mahase removed from her current position and restored to her substantive post as an ordinary judge.
Asked if the NEC was not reducing Dr Majoro to a lame duck prime minister with its incessant demands, Mr Hlaele said Dr Majoro was a party deployee and he was therefore expected to implement party decisions in government.
"We don't force the prime minister to do things. But we are a powerful party which is expected by its members and the electorate to provide direction to the leadership in government because the prime minister is a deployee of the party.
"Therefore, as a deployee of the party, he takes the mandate from the party. He must take the mandate and direction from the party... ...
"We are dealing with him on the basis of consultation. We are expected to consult with him and he is expected to consult with us and reach consensus on matters of interest in government. But he is the face of a government led by the ABC so there is no way that he can work in isolation without the backing of the NEC.
"Of course, in any situation there will be disagreements but that does not mean that we are fighting with him. It simply means that we are disagreeing ... .," said Mr Hlaele. The ABC secretary general has a pending Constitutional Court application for the setting up of a tribunal to impeach Justice Mahase on the grounds of her alleged incompetence.
There is a history of bad blood between the predominantly pro-Mahao ABC's NEC and Justice Mahase. This after she made several controversial judgements in favour of Mr Thabane against the NEC. All her decisions were overturned on appeal by the Court of Appeal.
The latest bone of contention between the NEC and Justice Mahase pertains to the latter's 20 August 2020 decision to recommend the appointment of five new judges by King Letsie III.
Justice Mahase made the recommendations together with Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo. The NEC is livid with them for making the recommendations without Prof Mahao's knowledge as the responsible minister and despite an understanding to halt such appointments until the conclusion of multi sector reforms.
The King has not acted on the recommendations. In fact, according to authoritative government sources, His Majesty turned down Justice Mahase and Advocate Phoofolo's recommendations on the grounds that the two could not sit on their own and make recommendations on such a weighty matter without the input of other JSC members.
The ABC's NEC has since demanded the ouster of Justice Mahase and Adv Phoofolo for making the recommendations. So far, only Adv Phoofolo has been shown the exit door.
He was sent on forced leave two weeks ago by Dr Majoro and efforts are underway to replace him ahead of the expiry of his contract in February 2021. The former AG is nonetheless fighting his removal, arguing Dr Majoro had no authority to sack him.
Dr Majoro's press attaché, Mosito Moqhekoana, had not responded to the Lesotho Times' by the time of going to print.