Senate president slapped with M1.5m suit

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU – Suspended Senate Chief Research Officer ’Mota Nkuatsana is demanding M1,5 million in damages from Senate president ’Mamonaheng Mokitimi and clerk Selete Molete for defamation.

Nkuatsana’s lawsuit is mounted on a January 24 Senate statement suspending him for allegedly leaking confidential documents and cobbling together a document for five Principal Chiefs exposing malfeasance in the Upper House.

The press release was issued after Public Eye had reported on the turf war in the Senate exposing how Mokitimi, Molete and the financial controller had irregularly boosted the kitty for foreign trips.

In January, Mokitimi sued Nkuatsana and principal chiefs Tumane Matela of Makhoakhoeng, Mojela C. Makhaola of Qacha’s Nek, Bereng M. Bereng of Rothe, Rets’elisitsoe Mopeli of Ha-Mopeli in Butha-Buthe and Qeto Sekonyela of Malingoaneng for M25 000.

She argued the allegations made in the petition against her by the six were “made and intended to tarnish and defame plaintiff”.

Mokitimi’s lawsuit followed a showdown between the duo in January 2019 during which the former accused Nkuatsana of being “on my case” while the latter alleged she had committed serious financial misconduct.

Nkuatsana argued Mokitimi had allegedly “instructed Clerk to the Senate Selete Molete and Financial controller Nts’epase Makara to revise the 2018/19 Senate budget against the same year’s Appropriate Act”.

She however withdrew the lawsuit after a disciplinary hearing cleared Nkuatsana of any wrongdoing.

Nkuatsana is demanding M200 000 for “wrongful, reckless and utterly malicious publication of defamatory remarks by the defendants and as a result has suffered immense damage to his person”.

He also wants M1 000 000 “as a result of injurious falsehoods that have been staged against him by the agents of the 1st and 2nd respondents” and for “damages for impairment of plaintiff’s dignity under the actio injuriarum”.

Additionally, Nkuatsana has demanded another M200 000 “as compensatory damages for defamation of character to the plaintiff”.

Nkuatsana says the Senate published a press release saying he had maliciously attacked Mokitimi by preparing the Chiefs’ petition humiliating and undermining top Senate officials.

The affidavit further states that legal action against Mokitimi was also premised on a televised interview of the “agents of the 1st and 2nd respondents” who accused Nkuatsana of leaking stolen documents.

“There was also yet another radio broadcast of the press release which effectively endeavoured to depict the plaintiff as having actually staged a malicious attack on Mokitimi by assisting or abetting five members of the Senate to prepare a petition aimed at humiliating and undermining the authority of Mokitimi and the financial controller, in that they engaged in malfeasance of public funds,” reads the affidavit.

Nkuatsana further submits the press release depicted him as a liar, incompetent and “very much malicious to the institution of the Senate”.

“To be more specific, plaintiff specifically pleads that the document depicts him as a person who unlawfully and without authorization leaks confidential documents of the institution of Senate, absent of credible finding by an impartial tribunal or hearing for that matter,” reads the affidavit.

“The wrongful and or unlawful publication of the defamatory remarks attracted grave prejudice to the long standing professional reputation of the plaintiff.”

By virtue of being called an officer of parliament, the affidavit further notes, Nkuatsana pleads that he is eligible for selection to work for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Pan African Parliament (P.A.P.) and Africa-Caribbean Parliamentary Forum (A.C.P.) hence “the taint brought to the mould by the dissemination and publication of the press release clearly render him ineligible”.

“This is on account that it portrays an image that he is a man of no integrity or professional aptitude. The implications also lowered the plaintiff’s self-esteem amongst his professional peers, his friends and family alike,” the affidavit notes.

“The said wrongful, unlawful or utterly malicious publication of defamatory remarks and interviews occasioned substantial damages to the plaintiff and that adversely affected his professional reputation and esteem.”

It adds: “It is specifically pleaded that the 1st and 2nd defendants acting within the scope of their official employment as agents of Senate and for that reason the Senate is vicariously liable for the said defamatory remarks staged against the plaintiff.

“It is specifically pleaded that plaintiff is entitled to damages to the tune of M500 000 and is thereby aggrieved as a result.”

Nkuatsana’s lawyers wrote a letter of demand to Mokitimi but “there was no response tendered by defendant in that regard”.

“The 1st defendant has, despite demand refused and or neglected to pay the amount reflected in the preceding paragraphs, alternatively refused and neglected to pay the amount sought by the plaintiff,” reads the affidavit.

The petition that led to Nkuatsana’s suspension, was calling for Mokitimi to be removed from her position as President of the Senate to deter future presidents from indulging in similar behaviour.

The petitioners were unhappy that the 2018/19 annual budget had been reviewed and the bulk of the funds were channeled towards international travel and subsistence.

In the petition, the chiefs said they were unhappy with Mokitimi’s election and hinted public funds had been misappropriated.

The chiefs were also “determined to show that the Senate views professional impropriety with repugnance and do resolve to petition the President of the Senate”.

“This very year of 2018, in a typical recidivist-style, the Honourable President in partnership with the de facto Clerk of the Senate, and with a common purpose of achieving self-aggrandisement by deliberately misappropriating the approved budget of 2018/19, and specifically manipulated a host of other votes to benefit two votes, namely; votes 421011 and 421012, which are; Fares International and Subsistence International respectively,” read the petition.

“Evidence will show that the de facto Clerk to the Senate (Selete Molete), with ‘sanction’ by the Honourable President of the Senate ’Mamonaheng Mokitimi, caused the Financial Controller Nts’epase Makara, to unilaterally revise the Approved Budget (without the Senate Budget Team) to the detriment of many other votes and programmes, and to the benefit of the two votes herein mentioned.”

They further alleged that as a result of revised budgets, within the first six months of the allocation of the main budget by parliament, the Senate was already broke and unable to function.

“Upon analysis it will be clear why the two mentioned votes were the primary beneficiaries of such manipulations of the approved budget, in such a way that during the first half (within six months) of the current financial year (2018/19) the Senate Head 39 was in a state of paralysis,” the petitioners said.

“The available figures show that from manipulating and distorting other programmes, votes 421011 and 421012 (Fares International and Subsistence International) benefitted to the tune of M976 569.”

They added: “The next most logical question pertaining to this manipulation is: what was so pressing in international travel that necessitated practical paralysis of the Senate? Have the programmes budgeted for been fulfilled as a result of the so-called ‘Revised Budget’?”

Without mentioning names, they further alleged it was clear that the revised budget was tailored to “benefit a few individuals within the institution of Senate”.

“It is worth noting that the said votes benefitted just a few individuals within the institution of Senate, most notably those who are perceived to be the Honourable President’s inner circle, especially the suspected paramour-cum-Private Secretary,” the petitioners said.

“Contrary to the directive by the Office of Government Secretary that Private Secretaries of Honourable Ministers and Presiding Officers of the two houses of Parliament should cease to travel with their principals, the Private Secretary to the Honourable President accompanies her to practically every trip abroad.

“It is interesting to find out whether the 2018/19 Senate Budget had provision for such. It is our assertion that all these have sent a particular negative signal to the civil service in general and to the Senate personnel in particular, and have without doubt, put the honourable House into dispute.”

The petitioners also accused Mokitimi of defrauding the Senate between 2004 and 2012 when she was the institution’s HIV and AIDs co-ordinator.

They accused her of extending assistance earmarked for senate staff living with HIV to non-employees.

“Wherefore, your petitioners humbly pray that this honourable house will find it in its wisdom that the act by the then Senate HIV and Aids Co-ordinator (now Madam President), be declared abusive of office, fraudulent in conduct, financially wrong and default on good morals and loyalty,” the petitioners said.

As such, they said they were demanding: “That the Honourable President be relieved of her services as a result of such an act and that the criminal investigation regarding the same be initiated and prosecuted by office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and be effected forthwith”.

Mokitimi had earlier told this paper that she had sought the intervention of the Senate’s Ethics Committee.

An incensed Mokitimi said Nkuatsana had a problem with respecting authority and that he seemed to suffer from the “superiority complex syndrome”.

“And, he has had a problem with presiding officers that came before me. He needs to approve things. If he doesn’t get the last word in, then he tends to question things because they were not approved by him,” Mokitimi said.

“And, it seems that he is interfering in the affairs of the offices of the Financial Controller and Clerk. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with the affairs of his office or any other department except for those two.”

According to Mokitimi, Nkuatsana’s motive to expose the “so-called” corruption in the Senate was suspect, because if he genuinely thought there was something wrong he could have reported his concerns to the police and DCEO, for investigations to be launched.

“If he had a noble motive, he could have called in those departments to investigate the corruption and financial misconduct he is alleging. But he hasn’t done that. Instead, he is running to the media,” Mokitimi said.

“I am sure the Clerk will also tell you how the revision came about because it happens everywhere. That is why the revised budget was approved by the ministry of finance.

“To prove that it was not done illegally and that it was devoid of deceit, it has been included in the 2018/19 Appropriation Act.

“The go-ahead to revise the budget was done because the Ministry of Finance was content with the justification provided by the FC and Clerk.”

 

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