Justice PS denies ombudsman access to files



MASERU- The standoff between the Ombudsman and the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) escalated this week when a top justice official at the heart of the tiff blocked the government watchdog from accessing documents crucial to ending the impasse over the promotion of 60 officers.

Justice ministry principal secretary Lebohang Mochaba this week refused the Ombudsman accesses to personal files of the officers promoted controversially, including her husband.

Mochaba, whose name has become synonymous with the ongoing investigation, justified her actions by saying the law regulating the LCS barred from sharing the institution’s confidential information with anyone outside the service.

Her argument flies in the face of section 135 of the constitution of Lesotho, which empowers the Ombudsman to investigate actions taken by any officer or authority in cases where it is alleged that a person has suffered injustice in consequence of that action.

The section further states that the Ombudsman 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 and any statutory corporation and the members and persons in the service of a statutory corporation.

On May 30, the Ombudsman summoned LCS’ human resource manager ’Marelebohile Ramaisa to appear before a panel of officials from the Ombudsman’s office to shed light on the questionable promotions.

The summons read: “You are hereby summoned and required to appear in person before the Ombudsman or his lawful deputy at the Ombudsman’s office to explain, testify or answer such questions as may be put to you to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman or his lawful deputy, in regard to all facts within your knowledge relating to the inquiry being undertaken by the Ombudsman regarding promotions within Lesotho Correctional Services.

“You are specifically requested to bring along documents relating to the recent promotions of Lesotho Correctional Services officers.

“Failure to comply with these summons constitutes an offence, punishable by imprisonment for twelve months or a fine of M1000.00 or both,” summon noted.

Upon receipt of the summons, Ramaisa informed her superiors, including Mochaba, who in turn responded that it was against the law to issue summons to a member of LCS ordering such an officer to disclose information concerning the institution without authority, especially from the commissioner of LCS.

This was not the first time that Mochaba had persuaded an LCS official to defy the Ombudsman.

The first time was when the then acting commissioner Thabang Mothepu was sent a restraining order to stop processing the promotions that had caused a ruckus within the LCS with some officers accusing management of nepotism and bias, adding the promotions were politically influenced.

Mochaba ordered Mothepu, who has since been confirmed as commissioner, to go ahead with the promotions, citing inmates’ safety.

During a commission hearing last month to probe the questionable promotions, it emerged Mochaba only insisted on the promotions because her husband, Lebohang Senekane, a correctional services officer benefitted from the elevations.

The commission heard how Senekane, who at the time held the rank of a Sergeant, was promoted to a senior position of Assistant Superintendent, skipping the rank of a Chief Officer.

However, Mochaba rubbished the accusations saying she only learnt about her husband’s promotion when she endorsed the rest of the officers’ promotions.

One of the outstanding concerns was that the promotions skipped long serving officers some who had been in the service for as long as 20 years and focused on their younger colleagues some of whom had only served a few months.

One of the LCS officers who testified before the commission Sergeant Bokang Ramotena was later suspended from active duty for speaking to the media without permission.

Ramotena presented the letter signed by her supervisor officer, Senior Superintendent Francis Khama to the Ombudsman Advocate Leshele Thoahlane on May 28.

Thoahlane in turn contacted Khama and ordered him to withdraw the suspension saying it interfered with on-going investigations.

“Kindly be advised that Sergeant Ramotena was authorised by the Ombudsman to give a brief summary of correctional officers’ complaint before the Ombudsman as media houses wanted to hear all sides of the complaint.

“Your letter of restriction amounts to frustration of the Ombudsman’s investigations as it threatens the witnesses in to 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 which notes that the Ombudsman is at liberty to conduct as per the law, his investigations the way he sees fit.

“The Ombudsman has seen it fit to invite different media houses in Lesotho to attend the inquiry and as such allowed interviews by such media houses personnel. Your office is therefore advised to withdraw the interdiction letter with immediate effect,” the letter read.

But Khama responded that he only acted on orders issued by his superior officers, adding he had no authority to revoke the suspension.

He therefore requested the Ombudsman to forward the concern to the acting commissioner of LCS.

Ramotena later told Public Eye in an interview that she snubbed the suspension and returned to duty because her interdiction letter had not been signed.

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.

The attack launched against her, she added, was sparked by a cabinet minister who she suspects is pushing his own agenda although that minister does not belong to the AD.

When the office of the Ombudsman learnt about this latest development, it issued a press statement condemning the intimidation saying this constituted criminal conduct as it was tantamount to tampering with ongoing investigations into the officers’ complaint.

“The public is warned that the issue of intimidation against witnesses has already been reported to the police and it will be dealt with legally,” the statement reads.

Human rights lawyer Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi has attributed the bickering between the ministry of justice and Ombudsman on the lack of clarity on the separation of powers between government departments.

“The constitution establishes the Ombudsman and the very law gives the executive executional powers which they feel are exclusive,’’ he said, adding that “there was need to clearly separate these powers and clear the administrative confusion with constitutional functionality,” Moeketsi said.







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