COSC forgers train as nurses, work for a decade

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. . Judge evokes spirit of ubuntu against their deregistration

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – The Court of Appeal will on November 17 decide whether Lesotho Nursing Council (LNC)’s decision to revoke two of its members’ licenses and remove them from practicing nurses’ roll was legal.  LNC removed one Relebohile Poqa and Ponts’o Matsepe from the list of practicing nurses on January 19 2022 in letters served on them and later to their lawyers. They were asked to surrender their certificates and informed of a decision to remove their names from the roll of practicing nurses.

However, High Court Judge Molefi Makara on March 20, 2023 confirmed an order nullifying LNC’s decision as the duo sought the court’s intervention. The Judge interdicted the nurses’ body from proceeding with its decision to cancel the Poqa and Matsepe’s practicing certificates and declared removal of their names from the roll of practicing nurses as invalid and of no legal effect.

Their removal followed LNC’s discovery that they forged their Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COCS) results to gain admission at Maluti Adventist School of Nursing in Mapoteng. The Maseru Magistrate Court convicted the duo on June 20 2013 for the same forgery but Judge Makara granted their application to have LNC’s decision to deregister them a nullity.

The application was reportedly not opposed and only the intention to oppose was filed. In granting the default judgment, Justice Makara ordered that LNC’s decision or move to forfeit Poqa and Matsepe’s certificate was null and void in the eyes of the law.

At the time of their application, Poqa and Matsepe were due to renew their practicing licenses and asked the court to interdict and prohibit the council from refusing to renew their licenses.

LNC said their conviction by the Magistrate Court rendered their registration as nurses fraudulent and therefore resolved to deregister their names “in terms of section 38 (1) of the Nurses and Midwives Act, No 12 of 1988 which prescribes that if the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) is satisfied upon due inquiry that entry made in the register roll or list has been made fraudulently or incorrectly made, the PCC will direct that entry be deleted there from.”

Poqa and Matsepe contested the matter saying they were not heard when a decision to deregister them was taken. They argued that it is mandatory for LNC to inform them in writing that it intends to hold a disciplinary hearing against them and that they should be afforded a chance to explain their side of the story.

In a letter informing them of their deregistration, LNC made reference to a meeting it had with Poqa and Matsepe wherein they told the Council that they were found guilty of forgery and paid a fine but the pair denied attending such a meeting through their lawyers.

“We put it on record that your letter did not address the issues we raised in our letter of 5th August 2021 but raised a litany of issues of the alleged meeting of the 15th 2021, a meeting which is not known to our clients.” In their 5th August letter, Poqa and Matsepe had asked to be furnished with reasons for an order to surrender their certificates saying LNC does not have power to self-review. 

Subsequently, LNC petitioned the High Court to rescind (cancel) its earlier judgment on the matter but the request was denied.

Registrar of the Lesotho Nursing Council (LNC), Flavia Moetsana Poqa (we could not establish whether or not Flavia is related to Relebohile since they share the same surname) argued that Justice Makara’s order was not sustainable in law since the complainants are not qualified to be in the nursing profession or to use the title of registered nurse.

Flavia told the court that Poqa and Matsepe misled the court “by conveniently failing to disclose a material fact to the effect that they have been convicted of a crime.”

Justice Makara dismissed the rescission application saying it could contradict the spirit of Ubuntu to punish Poqa and Matsepe for the wrongs they might have committed during the days of their youth which “could have catastrophic effect upon them as persons and their siblings.”

The Judge referenced the fact that the duo has practiced in the nursing fraternity for almost a decade and without a flaw to their work saying their criminal behavior predates their nursing employment within the health sector.

He said LNC would have to demonstrate how Poqa and Matsepe forged their COSC qualification if it was to succeed in its application or resolution to deregister them and also explain the misinterpretation it alleges the two nurses made to gain admission at Maluti Adventist.

Justice Makara added that LNC would have to justify deregistration of the duo from the nursing council despite the fact that they have successfully gone through the nursing academic and practical curriculum which culminated in them being awarded the Diploma in Nursing. On top of that LNC would have to demonstrate the correlation between COSC and the nursing qualifications.   

In his judgment, Justice Makara said the court takes judicial notice of the fact that there are high ranking officials who in despite of having been convicted and sentenced for criminal acts continue to serve as loyal and productive servants in the public.

LNC has escalated the matter to the Apex Court and has appealed on three grounds: that “the learned judge erred and misdirected himself by not rescinding his order dated 20th day of March 2023 which was erroneously sought in that the Respondents were both convicted on 14th day of April 2013 of having forged their Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in order to defraud Maluti Adventist College such that they could be admitted into the nursing programme.”

LNC maintain that Justice Makara erred by not applying his mind to the fact that the pair ultimately produced void qualifications to their organization such that they could purportedly be registered nurses who are fit to practice as such.

The nurses council also says “the learned judge erred and misdirected himself by not rescinding his order dated 20th March 2023 confirming a rule nisi which lapsed in November 2021 and was revived on the 20th day of February 2023, a year later, before Her Ladyship Justice Makhetha J despite the Respondents having not given the Appellants notice of the proceedings. The Respondents were not procedurally entitled to the order reviving the rule nisi in the absence of the Appellants since they were not given notice of such proceedings”.

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