MASERU – In a move aimed at restoring sanity to the teetering Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Council of State on Wednesday this week confirmed the immediate departure of the organisation’s three commissioners.
Public Eye can report that Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Dr Makase Nyapisi and Advocate ’Mamosebi Pholo’s contracts will not be renewed.
But defiant commissioners last night vowed to stay put, hinting the council shouldn’t have discussed their fate as it was pending before court.
Government Secretary (GS) Moahloli Mphaka told Public Eye yesterday recruitment for new office bearers starts on Monday.
The matter landed before the council after the trio’s contracts expired in January but they boldly remained in office saying their continued stay at the IEC was within the ambit of the law.
Legally, a member of the commission can only hold office “for such term, being not more than five years”, and may be reappointed “for only one further term not exceeding five years”.
Before their contracts expired, the three commissioners wrote to Mphaka indicating their desire to serve for another five-year term.
Mphaka declined their offer.
“As you may be aware there is no right in law to be reappointed to serve a second term as a member of the IEC. Renewal as expressed by Section 66(7) of the Constitution is discretionary,” Mphaka noted in three separate letters to each of the commissioners.
Last night he told this paper that Lehohla, Nyapisi, and Pholo “will now vacate office because the Council of State said an appointment process for new commissioners should start on Monday”.
He further indicated that all three commissioners’ jobs were up for grabs.
“Their contracts were fixed-term contracts. Reasonably, they should have vacated office 36 days after their contracts expired and they did not hear anything from their employer, but they decided to stay put,” he said.
But a seemingly livid Justice Lehohla hit back last night saying they are not going anywhere.
Lehohla indicated that it was false that the council had resolved to initiate a new appointment process as early as next week.
“Mphaka is lying. He just has an appetite to see us gone. He has previously said to you that he does not understand why we are still in office. Council of State cannot discuss this matter because it is sub judice. We filed a case in the High Court,” he said.
In an interview with Public Eye in March, Justice Lehohla said they were still in office because “there cannot be a vacuum. We cannot have an empty commission”.
Their predecessors had stayed in office until their replacements had been recruited, he argued.
In March, the three commissioners abruptly suspended IEC director Dr Letholetseng Ntsike after she allegedly refused to pay the commissioners’ benefits, setting off a chain of events that rendered the organisation almost comatose.
Ntsike reportedly told them she would not pay until they had new contracts or at least produced letters from the appointing authority confirming extension of their tenure.
She was replaced by IEC Information Technology (IT) Manager Lebohang Bulane whose interim appointment has been vigorously resisted by a skeptical workforce arguing he was appointed by illegitimate commissioners.
Bulane’s fate was unclear last night now that his appointing authorities have been removed, and considering that he was appointed after the expiry of the commissioners’ contracts.
His short-lived stint at the helm of the IEC has been characterised by relentless bickering and backstabbing as officials jostle for positions.
Bulane last week threatened to strike back at his enemies, especially those who had vandalised his official car in the IEC car park. The assault on his car seems to have spooked Bulane who vowed to strike back at his enemies with muti.
“On Wednesday evening I found my official car’s three tyres deflated. This was an inside job because that car was parked in the IEC parking. I did not report the matter to the police, I will deal with it my way, just like a Mosotho man. I will go to a traditional doctor.
“There were some two thugs who allegedly stole my private car. One is dead now as we speak while the other one has a mental disorder. The same will happen to the people who deflated my car’s tyres,” he added.
Mysticism aside, the National Assembly Electoral Act of 2011 states the IEC director “shall be the chief executive” of the commission, “shall be the head of the administration” and “shall be the Chief Accounting Officer of the commission in accordance with the laws governing the finances of the commission”.
To safeguard public funds, Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro then appointed Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs Colonel Tanki Mothae as Chief Accounting Officer of the IEC.
“In terms of Section 4(g) of the Public Financial Management and Accountability Act 2011, I appoint you as the Chief Accounting Officer of Law and Constitutional Affairs. I also appoint you as an interim Chief Accounting Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission for the 2019/2020 financial year,” Majoro noted in a letter to Mothae.
“I wish to bring to your attention Section 96 of the Constitution of Lesotho, Section 13 (1) of the Public Service Act 2005, and the Procurement Regulation 51 (1),” Majoro added.
Mothae told Public Eye on Wednesday he was appointed to oversee the finances of the IEC after “the director was suspended in March”.
“The Minister of Finance’s concern is that IEC’s accounting operations and financial reporting functions are not affected when government is working to resolve the commissioners’ issue,” he said.
On the other hand, Bulane on Wednesday also insisted that he was the acting director but indicated that his and Mothae’s roles did not clash.
“Mr Mothae is responsible for the finances while I am responsible for matters pertaining to elections, the core functions of the IEC,” said Bulane.
Earlier this month, Lehohla, Nyaphisi and Pholo filed an application in the High Court to, among others, block Mothae’s appointment.
“The appointment of Mothae as the Chief Accounting officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) contrary to prescriptive and mandatory precepts of National Assembly Electoral Act 2011 means that the finances and funds as well as the affairs of the IEC would be responsible to Mothae who is also the Principal Secretary and Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs, thus undermining the financial management and integrity of the affairs of the IEC as well as the financial and institutional independence of the IEC,” the trio argued in their court papers.
In his letter, Majoro said as a designated chief accounting officer, Mothae’s duties “shall be to comply with the provisions of the financial laws, regulations and instructions of government, as well as instructions issued by the Ministry of Finance pursuant to the Act are complied with in all transactions concerning the budget of your ministry.”
He said Mothae should also “comply with any other financial duties that be assigned to you by the Minister responsible for Finance, establish and chair the budget committee in your ministry which will ensure smooth running of budget formulation, implementation and monitoring and personally lead and take part in the preparation and formulation of your ministerial annual budget for submission to the Office of the Budget Controller and do not delegate this to other officials”.
Other duties outlined in Mothae’s terms of reference are to:
Submit financial reports on a monthly and quarterly basis to the Principal Secretary for Finance;
Submit progress on physical implementation of approved projects on a quarterly basis, or as may be required of you from time to time to Principal Secretaries of Finance and of Development Planning;
Submit procurement and implementation plans at the beginning of the financial year;
Submit cash plans, reconciled payroll and bank reconciliation on a monthly basis;
Submit progress on physical implementation of approved projects on a quarterly basis, or as may be required of you from time to time to principal secretaries of finance and of development planning
Ensure collection, safe-keeping and accounting of all revenues and receipts accruing to the ministry under your supervision;
Make sure that no expenditure is incurred or committed except in accordance with an authority conveyed by warrant and that no expenditure is incurred or committed in excess of the amount warranted or for a purpose other than that for which funds have been warranted; exceptions to this will only be approved by Minister of Finance through the Principal Secretary for Finance;
Carry out an internal audit at least once a year to ensure that your ministry’s systems and financial practices are consistent with national financial laws;
Include all the donor funded projects in the budget.
Majoro noted that: “Failure to comply with any of the above will warrant the minister responsible for finance to withhold our ministerial warrant.”
He also indicated that it was important to note that the responsibility and accountability for public funds “in your office rests with you as the Chief Accounting Officer”.
Any delegation by chief accounting officer of any of these stated responsibilities, he said, “shall not relieve you of your accountability for public funds in your office”.