LABOUR and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo and her Defence and National Security counterpart, Prince Maliehe, have been fired by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.
A few other ministers swapped places as the premier implemented his first cabinet reshuffle since taking over from former incumbent, Thomas Thabane, on 20 May 2020.
Those who were reshuffled include Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Thesele Maseribane, who has been moved to the Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing portfolio. The former incumbent, Keketso Sello, was moved in the opposite direction.
Former Public Service Minister Semano Sekatle is the new Health minister, taking over from Motlatsi Maqelepo who has been moved to the Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation portfolio.
Mr Maqelepo replaces Mr Motlohi Maliehe who has been moved to the Public Service portfolio. The cabinet reshuffle had not been officially communicated by the prime minister's office by the time we went to print last night. However, the Lesotho Times established Dr Majoro's first bold act in re-organizing his cabinet.
Mr Sello confirmed his new appointment as communications minister. The rest of the reshuffled ministers and those who were dismissed were not reachable on their mobile phones for comment.
"I can confirm that I have been appointed as the new communications minister," Mr Sello said in a brief interview with this publication last night.
He would not be drawn into saying why he had been reshuffled or why his two counterparts had been axed from cabinet.
Dr Majoro's dismissal letters to Mr Prince Maliehe and Ms Rantšo, seen last night by this publication, do not give any reasons for their axing.
"I write to inform you that pursuant to section 87 (7) (d) of the constitution of Lesotho, His Majesty King Letsie III has accepted my advice to release you from the office of Minister on the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho," Dr Majoro states in his letter to Ms Rantšo.
"I take this opportunity to thank you for the service you rendered as a minister of the government," Dr Majoro further states in the letter titled: "Removal as Minister of the Government of Lesotho".
Mr Maliehe received a similar letter from Dr Majoro.
Dr Majoro's press attaché, Buda Moseme and Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko would neither confirm nor deny the dismissals and reshuffles.
"I am not aware of any of these changes or such letters to the ministers," Mr Pheko said, adding, "Mr Moseme is better placed to comment on the issue".
On his part, Mr Moseme said, "I am yet to confirm all these issues and I will do so in the morning."
However, authoritative sources confirmed the sackings and reshuffles.
According to one of the sources, Ms Rantšo, who leads the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL), was sacrificed to pacify members of Dr Majoro's All Basotho Convention (ABC) who had long resented her appointment along with that of Chief Maseribane who leads the Basotho National Party (BNP).
The ABC members had argued that they saw no need for rewarding Ms Rantšo and Chief 'Maseribane with cabinet posts when their parties only contributed one and five seats respectively to the current governing coalition which was formed last May. It was formed after national executive committee (NEC) members and legislators in the Thabane-led ABC resolved to withdraw the party from its old coalition agreement with Ms Rantšo's RCL, Chief 'Maseribane's BNP and former Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD).
The ABC went on to forge a new coalition with current Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu's Democratic Congress (DC). The coalition was supported by other smaller parties including the RCL and the BNP.
However, several ABC members vented their anger when they were left out of cabinet in favour of Ms Rantšo and Chief 'Maseribane. They argued that the two were not even needed in the coalition because with their combined 78 seats, the ABC and DC had enough numbers to form a stable government on their own. They said the two ministries given to Ms Rantšo and Chief 'Maseribane should have been given to loyal ABC members who had helped in Dr Majoro's rise to power.
"Ntate Majoro has given in to ABC hawks who wanted 'M'e Rantšo ousted from government... . She (Rantso) is an easy sacrificial lamb as the coalition will survive without her party," a source said.
"Chief Maseribane survived the sack but he has been moved from the communications ministry and his post has been taken up by an ABC member (Sello). This is part of a grand plan for Dr Majoro to have a handle on the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA). The premier is miffed with how Maseribane and the LCA handled their fight with Vodacom Lesotho," the source said.
This was in reference to the LCA's acrimonious battle with Vodacom which is now before the High Court.
Vodacom is currently locked in a legal battle with the LCA over the authority's 8 October 2020 decision to revoke the latter's operating licence.
The LCA issued a notice to revoke Vodacom's licence after the company refused to pay a M40, 2 million fines imposed on it for allegedly violating its licensing regulations by among other things "submitting audited financial statements that were unaccompanied by a certification issued by an independent external auditor".
Vodacom instead opted to file an urgent High Court application for an interim order nullifying the revocation. This was duly granted by Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo paving the way for the company to continue providing services until its application for a final order against the decision to revoke its licence is heard and finalised by Justice Keketso Moahloli. The matter is still in the courts.
The LCA board chairperson, LCA Chief executive officer, 'Mamarame Matela, and the LCA are first to third respondents respectively in the application.
Dr Majoro has previously expressed his dissatisfaction with the LCA's move to revoke Vodacom's licence, saying it could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs and tarnish the country's image as an investor friendly destination.
The LCA falls under the communications ministry which, until yesterday, was headed by Chief Maseribane of the BNP. Dr Majoro had also complained that the move to revoke Vodacom's licence had not been sanctioned by the cabinet.
There has been an understanding in successive governing coalitions that the different parties forming the coalitions control the ministries they are allocated as well as all the departments or parastatals under those ministries. It would therefore have been difficult for Dr Majoro and his ABC party to get hold of the LCA had the ministry remained under Mr 'Maseribane's leadership. Mr Maseribane is the only coalition party leader - whose party controls more than one seat in the National Assembly, to be shuffled, a clear indication that Dr Majoro wants to get a handle of issues at that important ministry.
"The seizure of the communications ministry by Dr Majoro is the beginning of a process to ring changes at the top of the LCA," an authority source told the Lesotho Times last night.
Meanwhile, the ABC's NEC has professed ignorance over the cabinet reshuffle.
"This reshuffle is news to us as the ABC NEC and we want to believe that it is Majoro's own decision because even the party secretary general (Lebohang Hlaele) is equally perplexed," ABC spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa, told this publication last night.
Mr Hlaele was not reachable for comment on his mobile phone.
Although cabinet appointments and reshuffles are the prerogative of the prime minister, the powerful ABC's NEC has always demanded a stake in the prime minister's key decisions. It has always maintained that it should be consulted in crucial decisions including appointments to key political and state jobs.
And if Mr Masoetsa's use of the term "perplexed" to describe the cabinet reshuffle is anything to go by, it can only mean the perennial ructions within the ABC are still far from being resolved.
Dr Majoro was also expected to shuffle PSs and ambassadors after yesterday's reshuffle. Mr Sekatle's wife, Pontso Sekatle, is poised to get an ambassadorship.