One of the would-be new members to the Lesotho judgesâ€™ bench Relabohile Mathaba says he can never be dissuaded by death threats and offers of bribery from carrying out his duties as expected as he has in the past had to overcome such advances from some very senior and prominent personnel.
Mathaba, a legal practitioner and Secretary to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) Board is part of some six practitioners trying to make enough impression to join the bench and bolster the number of judges in order to upgrade the judicial service delivery and counter the impending backlog of cases in the courts.
He told a four-member Judicial Service Commission headed by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane that he has seen it all, from receiving death threats by coteries of white collar thugs to offers of bribes of up to M350 000 during his tenure as an official of the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA), proving to the panel that he has what it takes to be a credible and dependable member of the bench.
Apart from Sakoane, the Commission comprises of Justice Polo Banyane, Attorney General Thapelo Motsieloa as well as the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC), Moshoeshoe Sehloho while the entrants include Fumane Malebana Khabo, Moneouoa Stephen Kopo, Kuena Mabotsa Thabane as well as MamotÅ¡elisi Khiba with Makhele Julius Sekati pulling-out of the contest last-minute.
â€œI have been in difficult circumstances where I demonstrated integrity. At some stage I had offers of bribery which I declined, I was pursuing a quite prominent person in this country who never thought they would be pursued for compliance with tax laws,â€ he said citing that was when he was working at the LRA in 2004 as a Legal Officer, where he even progressed into being Senior Manager Litigation where inter alia, his roles included appearing before the courts of law, in particular striving to promote compliance with tax laws.
â€œAt some stage I was offered around 350 000 which I declined, I reported to my supervisors and the person resorted to other measures such as sending people who were coming after me hence I had to beef-up my security.
â€œI have been involved in high profile cases where there was bribery and intimidation, but that didnâ€™t stop me from discharging my duties without fear or favour,â€ he said.
He said some judges yield to pressure mounted on them by politicians who have influence and power to remove them from their positions.
â€œMany people tend to succumb because they are afraid of being impeached because the process is not that robust, itâ€™s just a matter of the Prime Minister in the case of Chief Justice saying to the King that there is a reason for the Chief Justice to be impeached.
â€œAnd in a case of judges, itâ€™s a matter of the Chief Justice telling the King that there is a reason to establish tribunal to impeach a certain judge so the judge may in the process develop fear that if he upholds his oath he may lose his job,â€ he said, adding that he is not afraid to lose his job for doing the right thing.
He continued that some of the threats facing the judiciary and judges are financial sustainability which exposes adjudicators to odds of bribery as the jury is allocated peanuts of their annual budget.
â€œFinancial independence of the judiciary leaves much to be desired as a result of which politicians may have their way in exerting pressure on the judiciary as a result of little financial assistance.
â€œThere are high profile cases and may course an undue pressure on the judge which may come from the public or it can also come as a pressure from an executive arm of the government, it can also come from litigants who can put a judge under pressure in a sense of threats or offering bribes to the judge,â€ he said.
When quizzed about the critical components of the position of a judge that makes the job challenging, the Mokhotlong bred lawyer who also attended Sacred Heart High School in Leribe said expectations from plaintiffs also put the presiding judge under pressure.
Mathaba went to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where he did BA Law, Masterâ€™s Degree in Law of Business Associations in University of Free State (UOFS) which comprised Company Law, Law of Partnership, as well as Corporate Governance and became Lawyer by profession and also have held leadership positions.
Mathaba started practicing law with Phafane Chambers in 2002, before he was attached at Ntlhoki Attorneys. He was appointed Commissioner Enforcement in 2013 at LRA before Appointed as Acting Commissioner-General of LRA for a year. He moved to Wasco as Company Secretary.