Govt risks default judgment in ‘booze envoy’ duel



MASERU – Government has risked granting of a default judgment in its legal contest with a disgruntled ex-envoy Lekoro Ralebese who was recently sent packing from neighboring South Africa. The government had not responded to Ralebese’s court application until Monday this week when former Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, retired Lieutenant Colonel Tanki Mothae, filed an answering affidavit a few hours after Ralebese requested a default judgment.

High Court judge, Justice Moroke Mokhesi, was on the roll call when the application was moved on July 20 when he ordered respondents in the case to file their opposing papers by August 2, but this was in vain which prompted the complainant to request a default judgment.

Ralebese says his lawyer’s attempts to get government to respond all failed until they were left with no other option but to request the default judgment. “In terms of the court order on directions and filing periods, the respondents were ordered to file opposing papers on August 2. They have failed to do so despite telephone calls from my lawyers asking them to file. They are now out of time to time. In any event, they do not have a defense,” Ralebese said.

He furthers states that “they came to the conclusion to terminate my appointment in advance of and outside the disciplinary enquiry in a way that was intended to make them escape investigations.

“They are effectively the beneficiaries of this illegal trading in alcoholic beverages but are using their offices to run a convert campaign designed to vilify and discredit me.” Efforts to have the matter enrolled to determine the crux of his cases, he says, were turned down by the Deputy Registrar who said pleadings need to be closed so that a case can be allocated to a judge.

“I caused this matter to be allocated to a specific judge as a channel or procedure for effectively dealing with the decision challenged on merits, this was in line with paragraph three of the interim order but the Deputy Registrar Phafoli did not comply with the order.

“She advised that pleadings are supposed to be closed first before the matter is allocated to a judge according to the current value system. It was explained to my lawyers that in the event that pleadings are unable to be closed by defaulting respondents, the matter must be enrolled for default judgment before the duty judge,” he continued.

Ralebese last month dragged the foreign ministry to court after he was dismissed from work.

The dismissal came due to his alleged involvement in the illicit sale of duty-free alcohol by some Lesotho diplomats working in South Africa. He was attached as a Consular Attaché in Durban before being transferred to Johannesburg.

Government said in terminating Ralebese’s contract, they were acting on South Africa’s department of International Relations and Cooperation’s decision of June 10 that 11 Lesotho diplomats, including him, were persona non grata in that country. As the chief accounting officer in the foreign ministry Mothae wrote to Ralebese on July 12 informing him of the decision to terminate his contract. According to the letter, the resolution to fire Ralebese is sorely on the basis of South Africa’s declaration of his persona non grata status.

However, the former diplomat argues the decision is not only irrational but unreasonable. He laid numerous arguments in his court application, including that he was not afforded a hearing in violation of the natural justice principle when a decision was made to recall him “Had I been given an opportunity before you made the decision to recall me, I could have invited and drawn your attention to the fact that my name does not appear in the list of persons declared persona non grata by the Republic of South Africa,” he argues.

In fact, Ralebese said Mothae and the foreign minister, Matšepo Ramakoae, terminated his contract in haste so as to prevent the disciplinary enquiry they contemplated after realising that their names featured prominently in the scandal. He also told the court that he was not called to a disciplinary hearing as per provisions of the Public Service Act and Regulations. Ralebese further argues that Ramakoae and Mothae are conflicted in the handling of his dismissal or disciplinary process and claims that they are implicated in the scandal. He is calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the said illegal sale of alcohol so as to find other role players.

Notwithstanding, Ralebese says his salary has been terminated pending the case and without the involvement of the Public Service Commission (PSC). “As I file this affidavit, the Public Service Commission which hired me has not discharged me from duty. It has power to appoint and remove. I cannot be removed by respondents who did not appoint me.” He, however, states in his affidavit that the court agreed with his opponents that PSC has no role to play in the termination of his employment.

In its answering affidavit, government says SA’s declaration on Ralebese adversely affects his work contract with Lesotho because he can no longer discharge his duties in SA “which is the basis of his contract agreement with the government of Lesotho.” According to Mothae, Ralebese was not a civil servant but a public officer engaged on a contract for 36 months. Mothae also says the ‘show cause’ letter served to the ex-diplomat was a hearing he alleges he was not afforded.

“…the hearing does not only entail holding a full-fledged disciplinary hearing, even a ‘show cause’ letter suffices as a form of hearing,” he continues, maintaining that there was no need for a full-fledged disciplinary enquiry and argues that the PSC does not feature in the circumstances.

Mothae said: “Any disciplinary enquiry would not change the situation because he could not continue with his contract of employment in the circumstances due to the status of persona non grata declared by South Africa. “The Public Service Commission does not feature in the circumstances in view of the fact that the head of department can terminate one’s contract after a fair hearing. Section 6 of the Public Service Act is instructive.”

Reacting to claims that he and minister Ramakoae also participated in the alcohol saga, Mothae says the allegations have no basis “the fact of the matter is that the applicant and wife are declared persona non-grata. “The minister and I had no contractual duty at the mission in South Africa and why the applicant implicates us in this saga is unsubstantiated.

“The status of persona non-grata went to the root of his contract. In the circumstances, he is no longer able to perform his duties embedded in his contract, it was imperative for me following the due process of the law to issue a show cause letter why his contract cannot be terminated. It is not within the powers of the applicant or his attorney to declare us conflicted.”

Mothae contends that Section 6 of the Public Service Act empowers him as the head of the department to terminate a contract having held a disciplinary hearing, not the PSC as Ralebese alleges.

He says the contract was negatively affected by the persona non-grata status and ought to be terminated for he was a diplomat of the Lesotho government on mission in the Republic of South Africa.

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