A fortnight ago on 20 May 2021, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro appointed former Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) Mating Nkakala as the substantive boss of the correctional service institution.
He takes over from former Acting Commissioner Chabana Majara who had held fort since the 24 July 2020 dismissal of former Commissioner Thabang Mothepu. Mr Mothepu was dismissed on various charges including his alleged irregular appointment by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, alleged incompetence and the alleged failure to implement clear promotional guidelines to be followed at all times by the LCS.
This week, the Lesotho Times (LT) Senior Reporter 'Marafaele Mohloboli sat down with Commissioner Nkakala to discuss his vision for the correctional service institution.
In the interview below, Commissioner Nkakala also discusses the controversies which have plagued the institution and concedes that the LCS had become a toxic environment due to infighting among the officers and their unprofessional dabbling in politics.
LT: You have assumed the hotseat in an institution whose reputation has been tarnished by various issues including allegations of favouritism and political patronage when it comes to appointments and promotions. What is your vision of for the LCS and how do you plan to repair its image?
Commissioner Nkakala: There are so many things that need to be changed and others restored but the main thing is to ensure there is stability in this institution.
I want to achieve unity because there is a lot of negative energy and bad blood among officers which has made the work environment very toxic.
I envision an LCS where everyone feels welcome and people work without any fear. I want to ensure a work environment where there is no favouritism but everyone complements each other's efforts.
LT: What has caused the instability and toxicity you have referred to?
Commissioner Nkakala: To be honest, politics have put us in this awkward position. We let our staff get involved in politics without countering it.
The junior officers' involvement in party politics affected the entire institution including the senior officers. People then diverted the mandate of the institution as there was a lot of hatred, infighting as officers sought to fix one another.
Before we knew it, the damage had been done as our officers were hurting and dissatisfied with their meagre wages when compared to other security agencies.
The gap between the salaries of officers within the LCS also contributed to the divisions. These are some of the issues that will have to be addressed.
LT: Are the funds available to address the wage grievances you allude to?
Commissioner Nkakala: The money is not readily available to bridge the wage gap.
For now, we can only engage the aggrieved officers in dialogue and even counselling sessions because they are very angry. I accept that this might not be enough and at some point, the harmonisation of salaries will have to be done.
For the longest time the management has been fixing one another instead of working for the betterment of staffers. This has to stop now under my watch. One can say that officers ended up dabbling in politics because they thought one's political inclination would help them in their fight for a better life.
LT: How do you intend to depoliticise the LCS?
Commissioner Nkakala: I believe that the ongoing national reforms will help us in this regard. We will also work on other remedial programmes to ensure we do things by the book and shy away from politics.
I will also work to stop the culture of officers badmouthing each other to the Commissioner.
In the past whoever reported others to the Commissioner was sure to be considered when promotions were made but that is not how I am going to work. Promotions will be based on merit regardless one's political affiliation. From now on everyone should start working hard and proving themselves instead of gossiping and snitching to be promoted.
LT: Top posts in the security agencies and other government institutions are often given to members of the governing parties. Would you say yours is a merit-based and not a political appointment?
Commissioner Nkakala: I firmly believe that I was appointed on merit because I am not at all politically active.
LT: The whole world is reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been reports of overcrowding at correctional institutions which could fuel the spread of the virus. What plans, if any, are you considering to deal with this matter?
Commissioner Nkakala: The issue of overcrowding has been reported out of context. I don't believe we have an overcrowding problem at our facilities.
However, it is only fair to admit that our (prison) numbers do not permit for physical distancing of more than a metre apart in line with the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 protocols.
Sadly, there is nothing much that can be done about this because we don't have more facilities to house inmates. We have to work with what we have and pray that we are spared because we would be doomed in the event of outbreaks of the disease.
We can only reduce the number of inmates when those with relatively minor crimes are pardoned. This is usually done four times a year.
This occurs on Moshoeshoe's Day which is commemorated every March; on His Majesty's birthday in July; on Independence Day in October and during the Christmas holiday in December. We always look forward to those occasions to reduce the numbers of inmates.