. . . radical police association paints grim picture of cops’ working conditions
MASERU – Police stations in Maseru, including the head office, have not had money for electricity for about three months, according to the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA), in a dramatic escalation of the simmering tensions between police management and the association. Over the years, the association has been known as a radical rouble rousers and this has easily won it mainstream acceptance.
In a statement on Tuesday, the opposition political party, Truth Reconciliation Unity (TRU), urged journalists to boycott Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) media events and only give coverage to LEPOSA activities. On Monday, LEPOSA’s secretary for the Maseru Urban, Mokhoaneng Mokh’oamphe, claimed police stations in Maseru were hamstrung by lack of funds for electricity bills – a claim which could be very humiliating to the LMPS management. Mokh’oamphe said police in Maseru sometimes had to spend money from their own pockets to perform their duties.
“Police stations in Maseru, including the traffic inspectorate offices have been running out of electricity since March when the lockdown started. The situation is very embarrassing,” he said. “Our members are sometimes forced to leave their workstations because their offices are too cold, and they go outside to bask in the sun like lizards,” he added. Mokh’oamphe further indicated police who work at night were forced to spend money from their own pockets to buy keresone and candles for heating and lighting.
“We have about six police officers who caught flu and had to be sent home in line with COVID-19 protocols which state that people with flu-like symptoms should stay at home to avoid infecting others,” he said. Both COVID-19 and influenza cause respiratory diseases and spread the same way, via small droplets of fluid from the nose and mouth from an infected person. However, there are differences between COVID-19 and influenza. COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO says while many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity.
“The unavailability of electricity affects our members in different ways. Their working environment has become highly unconducive. I was instructed by the LEPOSA Maseru urban committee to write to the regional committee to inform them about the poor workplace conditions in Maseru. “I wrote to the regional committee which in turn wrote to the national committee. I have been informed by the regional committee that the feedback they got from the national committee is that the Commissioner of Police (Holomo Molibeli) is always unavailable when they request for a meeting,” Mokh’oamphe said. Efforts to get a comment from police spokesperson, Supritendent Mpiti Mopeli, and Molibeli, were unsuccessful as their mobile phones rang unanswered.
LEPOSA has always given the LMPS management a lot of discomfort. On October, 31, 2018, Molibeli attempted to suspend all activities of the controversial staff association, without giving reasons. The suspension was viewed by some observers as a desperate attempt by the LMPS management to side-line the association’s radicalism. “Kindly note and be informed that the management of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service has suspended all the activities of the Lesotho Police Staff Association with effect from the date of this memo until further notice,” read the statement from Molibeli’s office then.
The association hit back by claiming that its activities were suspended because it had filed application in the High Court seeking to block the promotions of six senior police officers. The promotions were done by Commissioner of Police, Molibeli, in January 2018, following the announcement of six vacant positions in the police service in December 2017. LEPOSA said there was no legal basis for the promotions. It said there was no difference between the manner in which the former police commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa, dealt with promotions within the service and the way the current boss, Molibeli, was doing.
In 2017, LEPOSA successfully challenged the legality of promotions of 36 officers by Letsoepa. Last month Public Eye reported that the LMPS management and LEPOSA differed sharply on the in-camera proceedings in a case in which the association is challenging promotions of six police officers. While LEPOSA’s spokesperson, Motlatsi Mofokeng, maintained that the court had advised Molibeli to reverse the promotions, while police spokesperson Mopeli said there was no such order or advice. Mofokeng was on Monday this week transferred from the Special Operations Unit (SOU) to Berea with effect from August 1.
He told Public Eye on Monday that he was transferred because he is the spokesperson of LEPOSA. In April 2018, LEPOSA publicly clashed with the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) accusing the latter of trying to gain political mileage from a labour dispute between the association and the government. This was after the then LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata (now secretary general), pledged his support to LEPOSA’s proposed march to petition prime minister of that time, Thomas Thabane, to ensure that police officers were paid six percent salary increment back dated to 2015.
The march did, however, not materialise. Following Sekata’s remarks, LEPOSA said in a statement: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the pledge of support as articulated by the LCD. It is important that the party avoids putting its nose where it does not belong.” It added that: “We will not allow our non-partisan noble association to be embroiled into any political controversy whatsoever. We are not a political movement but we are a labour movement. “It should be stated in clear unambiguous terms that the matter of six percent is solely between the association and the government. This matter has never been and will not be a political platform for an ill-gotten political vendetta.”