Amnesty or Impunity?

As new prime minister considers economic offences pardon

 

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – There has been a hostile response to newly installed Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane’s consideration for an economic offences pardon – with analysts labelling the move a betrayal of the incoming government’s promise for recovery of the country’s economy. A chorus of disapproval has emerged following the new prime minister’s pronouncement of a 20-point plan he wants his government to have accomplished in its first 100 days; in item 17 of the plan Matekane instructed the Government Secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, to establish and publicize a corruption, theft and embezzlement programme in 30 days. The plan was outlined during Matekane’s inauguration at the Setsoto on October 28.

Political scientists, analysts, political leaders and a broad section of the public have come out saying this step is not only an obstruction of justice, but will also encourage criminal delinquency on members of the public knowing that they will be pardoned. Speaking to Public Eye, political scientist, Motlamelle Kapa, noted that the establishment of this amnesty programme is not a prudent decision, pointing out instead that government should investigate economic cases, recover the stolen money and ensure that all culprits are brought before the court of law to account.

Kapa argued that government cannot allow impunity by individuals who have committed crimes, especially those that looted coffers. He said pardoning them will encourage other to commit similar crimes with no fear of prosecution. “Amnesty at this moment is not an option, it is not a good step at all…especially when government does not know the full extent of the economic crimes in question and the actual amounts plundered.

Government should be talking about investigating these cases, ensuring that legal action is taken against the criminals and recovering the lost money,” Kapa said. Reacting to Matekane’s controversial plan former law minister and Popular Front for Democracy leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, stated that he does not even understand what the corruption, theft and embezzlement amnesty is and entails. He said he would only understand such a programme when done in a situation where one is charged with tax avoidance, further stating that as far as he knows, amnesty is offered where a culprit is repossessed and the stolen money is returned to the public purse.

Rakuoane said this calls for a sit and wait game, “we will see and learn what this involves when government presents a detailed plan and promulgates a legalizing the said amnesty.” In the beginning of the week opposition Basotho Action Party (BAP) also took a stand against Prime Minister Matekane’s plans, calling on the new government to “come to its senses and refrain from perpetuating and nurturing corruption and become a responsible government subject to the constitution of Lesotho.”

Party leader Professor Nqosa Mahao said there are no pragmatic reasons or special political circumstances to warrant the absolution of culprits from criminal liability for abuse of economic and social rights committed against Basotho by the political class. Mahao stated that the establishment of the economic amnesty program is worrisome and there is an ample reason for BAP to believe that it is a heinous plot engineered with the purpose of obstruction of justice and pardon of criminal suspects from possible and actual prosecutions.

“If government shall proceed stubbornly and unfortunately succeeds with the corruption amnesty policy, that would be a glaring infraction against our constitution and unwarranted deviation from acceptable international norms of a responsible and accountable governments,” Mahao said. He said government cannot have the freedom to operate without sense of democratic compliance, moral probity and fiscal prudence- and as such with impunity. Mahao further pointed out that the BAP will engage the Revolution for Prosperity strongly in parliament over the mulled Amnesty Bill if it will dare propose it further. He articulated that people who shall be unfairly discriminated by such a law have a right to challenge its constitutionality in the courts of law. He continued that it is highly inappropriate for a leadership entrusted by popular vote to pluck the country out of corruption- inflicted poverty to deliberately avoid the law in the manner envisaged by Matekane.

He said the government should uphold the law, and it must steer clear of dodgy methods of selective justice that give impunity to special persons in political power further noting that such flawed compromise of the law shall abort the project of sustainable development and distort the agenda of democracy. “We implore and expect the new government to come to its senses to desist from perpetuating and nurturing corruption and become a responsible government subject to the constitution of Lesotho because there are no pragmatic reasons or special political circumstances to warrant the absolution of culprits from criminal liability for abuse of economic and social rights committed against Basotho by the political class,” Mahao said.

In an interview yesterday, Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, said his party totally repudiates the new government’s plans for an amnesty programme. Mofomobe said they believe “this is merely a conduit planned to be used to allow friends of the new government to escape justice.”   The former small business minister said if the government forages ahead with this programme, the BNP will challenge it in the courts of law, as they are convinced that all perpetrators of criminal acts must accordingly be prosecuted.

“If legal action is not taken against those who committed crime and stole from the state, others will follow suit and commit similar crimes knowing that they will be pardoned,” Mofomobe said. Public Eye has also since learned that the Democratic Congress will soon convene to form an opinion of the issue of pardon for economic crime offenders. In October 2019 Tanzania’s president John Magufuli effected a similar economic crimes amnesty, with prosecutors flooded with 467 requests in the initial seven-day period.

Demand for the amnesty, which allows suspects to negotiate their freedom from jail, has been so great that Magufuli agreed to extend the offer for another week. The amnesty allowed suspects held in jail for non-bailable economic crimes – mostly money laundering – to pay the government and have charges dropped against them. Director of public prosecutions (DPP) Biswalo Mganga said 467 people had applied for the amnesty and were willing to pay a total of 107.84 billion Tanzanian shillings ($46 million) to the government.

“Some of these people are ready to pay up-front and others committed to do that in instalments,” Mganga said as he briefed Magufuli in a televised event. Magufuli agreed to extend the amnesty for another seven days. “I urge you, the DPP and other responsible organs to hasten the process and set these people free once they completed the payment,” said Magufuli. “After that period, make sure you deal with new economic crime cases in accordance with normal legal procedure. I don’t want to reach a point where people would be thinking that there is no more economic crime in Tanzania.”

In a similar initiative earlier that year , the Tanzanian parliament amended criminal laws to allow for plea bargaining in certain crimes in a bid to reduce backlogs in the judicial system. It allowed accused persons to negotiate with prosecutors and plead guilty for a more lenient sentence. The new legislation came after several such special agreements with prosecutors. In April 2019, leading mobile phone service provider Vodacom, agreed to plead guilty and pay 5.28 billion Tanzanian shillings to the government after its managing director, Hisham Hendi, and four other executives were charged with economic crimes.

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