Ombudsman Advocate Leshoele Thoahlane, far right

LCS, Ombudsman on collision course

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) has set itself on a collision course with the office of the Ombudsman following the suspension of an LCS officer for testifying before a commission established by the rights defender to probe alleged favouritism and bias during promotions in the organisation. This, human rights lawyers say, could lead to a constitutional crisis as the office of the Ombudsman is a creature of the Constitution and can thus summon anyone to testify before its privileged commissions.

The Constitution in section 135 empowers the Ombudsman to “investigate action taken by any officer or authority in the exercise of the administrative functions of that officer or authority in cases where it is alleged that a person has suffered injustice in consequence of that action.” The section further states the Obudsman may probe “any department of government or any member of such a department; any local government authority and the members and officers of a local government authority any statutory corporation and the members and persons in the service of a statutory corporation”.

This means witnesses who appear before the Ombudsman are shielded from reprisals although the institution’s potency is blunted by its lack of enforcement powers, a preserve of the same executive over which it plays the oversight role. Human rights lawyer Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi has attributed the stand-off within the justice ministry to lack of clarity on the separation of powers between government departments and constitutional offices such as that of the Ombudsman.

Transformation Resource Centre (TRC)’s Moeketsi said: “The constitution establishes the Ombudsman and the very law gives the executive executional powers which they feel are exclusive.’’ He added there was need to clearly separate these powers and clear the administrative confusion with constitutional functionality. According to constitutional lawyer, Advocate Hoolo ’Nyane, the O mbudsman af ter his investigations, sends his decision to Administration Authorities to enforce it.

Failing this, ’Nyane said, they should give him reasons why they could not enforce his decision, bearing in mind that the Ombudsman cannot be an administrative justice statute structure in the constitution while institutions on the other hand are not obliging with it. “It is also important for institutions to remember that there is a constitutional duty on public authorities and structures, not ignoring the directives of the Ombudsman. “Lesotho’s Ombudsman, compared to other countries is legally very weak because it does not let the Ombudsman enforce his findings like other countries and is one of the institutions that need to be strengthened,” he also said.

The storm surrounding last year’s promotion of 60 Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) officers took a startling twist this week when a witness in ongoing investigations, Sergeant Bokang Ramotena was suspended for speaking to media. According to a suspension letter signed by her supervisor, Senior Superintendent Francis Khama, Ramotena has been sent on indefinite leave for speaking to the media about matters pertaining to the LCS without her superior officer’s permission. Ramotena consequently presented the letter dated May 28, 2018 to the Ombudsman, Advocate Leshoele Thoahlane who contacted Khama and instructed him to revoke the suspension as it interferes with ongoing investigations.

“Kindly be advised that Sergeant Ramotena was authorised by the Ombudsman to give a brief summary of correctional officers’ complainant before the Ombudsman as media houses wanted to hear all sides of the complaint. “Your letter of interdiction amounts to frustration of the Omudsman’s investigations as it threatens correctional officers into refraining from freely giving evidence and that act of yours amounts to an offence as per Section 20 (e) of the Ombudsman Act 9 of 1996. “The Ombudsman is at liberty to conduct as per the law, his investigations the way he sees fi t. The Ombudsman has seen it fit to invite different media houses in Lesotho to attend the inquiry and as such has allowed interviews by such media houses personnel. Your office is therefore advised to withdraw the said letter with immediate effect,” the letter reads. In his brief response to Thoahlane’s letter, Khama said he acted on the orders of the acting commissioner Thabang Mothepu to interdict Ramotena from official LCS duties.

“I wish to state with humility and respect sir that I have no powers to reserve what the commissioner has directed to be done as my superior vested with the general command and superintendence of LCS. “For that reason, I humbly request your good office to direct this matter to the commissioner of LCS,” Khama further showed. In a telephonic interview Ramotena told Public Eye on Wednesday that she ignored her interdiction and was cuurently back on active duty. “When I reported for duty hoping I would be expelled, I was instead given a charge sheet which to my surprise was neither signed nor did it state who authorised it. “The charge sheet accused me of talking to the media without authorisation of the LCS. I returned it and demanded that it be duly signed by whoever issued it,” she said.

Apart from that, she said she has since been terrorised on social media by a group calling itself Alliance of Democrats supporters who accuse her of insulting their leader on media platforms.

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