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Judiciary in the firing line

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Staff Reporter

The judges of the high court have become political targets as the battle for four Proportional Representation (PR) allegedly erroneously allocated to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Democratic Congress (DC) intensifies.

Following the national assembly elections which were on October 7, last year, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) allocated three PR seats to AD and 11 to DC.

IEC later found that it had done a mistake, it was supposed to have allocated two PR seats to AD and eight to DC.

On October 22, it filed an urgent application in the high court in its constitutional jurisdiction for an order to review, correct, and set aside as irregular the allocation of PR seats in so far as that allocation gave AD three PR seats and DC 11 seats.

It wanted the high court to grant it leave to amend the allocation of PR seats allocated to DC from 11 to eight seats and those allocated to AD from three to two.

It wanted the four seats expropriated from DC and AD to be allocated to four political parties namely the Basotho National Party (BNP), Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), and the United for Change (UFC).

The high court ruled that in its constitutional capacity, it did not have the authority to decide the case and struck it off the roll.

The four parties held a press conference in Maseru on Wednesday and launched a broadside at the judiciary.

In its application, the IEC had also sought an order to interdict the summoning of the special meeting of the national assembly to swear in new legislators but the high court declined to interdict parliament’s sitting.

This decision by the high court, according to the four parties, made matters worse.

The organisations that claim to be human rights defenders, citizens’ voice, and civil societies kept quiet and watched while our democracy was being undermined by an incompetent court,” read their joint statement.

“It is our strong view and belief that, except for any other institution in this country, our judiciary is critically paralysed and needs immediate review,” it added.

“We are in this mess caused by some judge of the court and this is the opportune time for us all to agree unanimously that there should be a tribunal to investigate some of the judges’ fitness to hold office.”

Last month three activists, Kananelo Boloetse, Motsamai Mokotjo, and Resetselemang Jane petitioned the council of state to advise His Majesty King Letsie III to establish a tribunal to investigate the three IEC commissioners’ fitness to hold office.

The three IEC commissioners are Mphasa Mokhochane, who is the chairperson, TÅ¡oeu Petlane, and Dr Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoana.

“In October last year, IEC admitted that it had announced incorrectly calculated results for four Proportional Representation (PR) seats,” Boloetse, Mokotjo, and Jane said in their letter.

They emphasised that the biggest casualties of announcing incorrectly calculated results for four PR seats were the taxpayers who are robbed of thousands of Maloti every month.

They said a Member of the National Assembly earns about M474,348.00 per annum or about M39,529 per month.

MPs, according to the three activists, are also entitled to a tax-free housing allowance of M3,000 per month, a tax-free petrol allowance of M5,000 per month, a tax-free utilities allowance of M2,000 per month, and a tax-free expense allowance of M1,000 per month, among others.

“These add up to about M50,529,” they said.

“The taxpayers are forking out over M200,000 each month to pay the salaries and benefits of four people who were not supposed to be in the National Assembly in the first place. In five months, the taxpayers would have coughed up over M1 million for the four MPs’ salaries and benefits

“It is against this background that we humbly request that the Council of State should represent to His Majesty King III that the question of removing the three Commissioners of IEC has to be investigated,” they added.

The King’s acting senior private secretary, Nyolosi Mphale, responded to Boloetse, Mokotjo, and Jane’s letter on January 17, this year.

“We wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 3rd January 2023 addressed to the Senior Private Secretary to His Majesty. In your letter you request that the Council of State should advise His Majesty to authorize the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the fitness of the current Commissioners of the IEC to hold office,” Mphale said.

“Please be advised that your letter has been communicated to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration. That is the Office you could have addressed your concern to as it is the office mandated to deal with such matters,” she added.

Tefo Mapesela, the leader of BPP, on Wednesday said his party, BNP, LPC, and UFC agree with Boloetse, Mokotjo, and Jane that there should be a tribunal.

“We fully support those three young Basotho’s call that there should be a tribunal. We believe the tribunal will investigate factors that led to the announcement of the wrong results. We say the announcement was done intentionally,” Mapesela said.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP), led by Professor Nqosa Mahao, also wrote to the council of state last month asking it to advise the King to set up a tribunal to investigate the commissioners’ fitness to hold office.

 â€œWe have observed over time the commissioners’ inability to handle their responsibilities with due diligence and sensitivity required from incumbents of such a high office,” read the BAP letter signed by the party’s secretary general, Lebohang Thotanyane.

Thotanyane explained that the inability of the IEC to organise by-elections as is required by the constitution in five constituencies and numerous local councils whereby people from five constituencies and several local councils were denied the constitutional right to participate in the running of the affairs of the country because the IEC neglected to hold the by-elections proved incompetence of the commissioners.

“Whilst the IEC made the excuse that the government of Lesotho failed to provide the required funding, this is neither here nor there as IEC is an independent body that ought to have taken all necessary measures including but not limited to seeking legal redress against the government to protect its mandate and democratic right of citizens.

“IEC seems to have outsourced its independence and has effectively become a government department under the full direction of the executive. This, we find to be a serious dereliction of their constitutional duty and responsibility,” read the letter.

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