Inquest faces delays as timeline expires

MATHATO SEBOKA

MASERU – The Commission of Inquiry was unable to resume its proceedings on Monday, June 10, 2024, at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution (MCCI) due to the expiration of its initial two-month mandate. The commission is currently awaiting an amendment to the gazette that established it in order to continue its work.

The original gazette allocated the commission a two-month period from April 5, 2024, until June 5, 2024. The Commission led by Justice Realeboha Mathaba, is sitting at the MCCI premises to investigate the incidents that led to six inmates escaping from the prison facility on December 21, 2023.

Subsequently, all of the prisoners were apprehended at different locations and times, leading to the death of one inmate, with another sustaining a fractured leg. Other members of the Commission include lawyer and diplomat, King’s Counsel (KC) Kelebone  Maope, and retired Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Commissioner Mojalefa Thulo.

Justice Mathaba announced the halt in proceedings despite the logistical arrangements made for the session. “Despite the arrangements, time, and resources invested in logistics aimed at ensuring that we are gathered at this session today, I have to tell you that we will not proceed. The reason is that the time allocated for the commission has come to an end,” he said.

He noted that the commission only managed to work for 15 days, spanning three consecutive weeks, starting on May 13, 2024.

“We talked while looking at the time left before the commission ended and looking at the day that we started the commission on May 13, and the commission will not finish its work within two months,” Mathaba explained.

The delay in starting the commission’s work was attributed to the late issuance of the terms of reference, which were only provided on April 16. Additionally, some officers needed for the commission’s work were not yet present.

“When the officers that helped the commission arrived, there had to be work done to prepare for the sitting of the commission. There has to be work done before testimonies are made, like when people who are implicated by the testimony are called, and there has to be preparatory work done beforehand,” said Justice Mathaba.

He expressed hope that the issue would be addressed during the commission’s week-long break, as discussions had been held with relevant authorities.

“There is no argument for the amendment to the gazette. It has come to our realisation that people who are involved—relevant authorities that we talked to—have a commitment for the gazette to be fixed. We have been made aware of that, but that has not been done,” he said.

He noted that while the government is committed to enabling the commission to complete its work, they had initially realised the need for an extension and had communicated this from the outset.

“There is a commitment on the part of the government that the investigation should not proceed until it finishes its work. Those who are involved in the process have delayed ensuring that the gazette is published,” the chairman also said.

The commission remains on hold, awaiting the necessary amendment to the gazette to resume its activities.