Judge refuses to disband Command Centre

RELEHOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU- High Court judge, Justice Moroke Mokhesi, has refused to order the disbandment of the COVID-19 National Emergency Command Centre (NECC). This is despite the Centre being established outside the boundaries of the Disaster Management Act of 1997 as required by law, leading to a legal challenge by a local chief, David Mochochoko, who sued government over the matter. Justice Mokhesi declared Mochochoko has no locus standi (legal right) to sue government. Mochochoko in April petitioned the High Court of Lesotho to order the closure of the NECC and also sought that the government be ordered to address issues relating to COVID-19 in terms of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act.

According to the Act, it is the Disaster Management Authority Board, established in terms of Section 13 and 14, that should deal with a crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic headed by a Chief Executive Officer. The board should comprise the Government Secretary, government Principal Secretaries, members of Non-Governmental Organisations and representatives of the private sector. Mochochoko had also prayed that former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane’s decision to establish the Command Centre be declared unlawful since it was not done on the basis of an Act of parliament or the constitution.

However, Justice Mokhesi last Friday dismissed Mochochoko’s application for lack of locus standi, noting that the government had acted outside the boundaries of the Disaster Management Act, but reasoned that “it did not entitle Mochochoko to sue government”. Mochochoko, who is the Ha Mochochoko Area Chief in Maseru, he had sued government to compel the authority to act within the law on issues relating to the Coronavirus pandemic as opposed to establishing the NECC unlawfully though a response to the global pandemic.

In his judgment, Justice Mokhesi said while Mochochoko was suing government as a concerned citizen about taxpayers’ monies being wasted, he has failed to indicate a direct and substantial interest as required by the law. “That the applicant is suing the Executive government as a citizen of this country to compel it to act in accordance with the Act is not enough to satisfy the requirement that he must have a direct and substantial interest in the outcome of the case,” Judge Mokhesi states. He added: “It is true that government acted outside the boundaries of the Act but that does not entitle him to sue to compel government to act within it.”

According to the judge, it is parliament that should have exercised its oversight on the executive, “not chief Mochochoko.” “It would appear that the applicant is suing based on the interest of general populace in wanting to see government act legally, but it is not enough for the purpose of locus standi. “Even if monies are being spent wastefully or illegally at the NECC, that does not entitle the taxpayer to sue, parliament should carry the torch as part of its oversight role on the Executive,” the judge observed. However, it appears the government has complied with the requirements of the Disaster Management Act in the revised COVID-19 response centre.

Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro on Tuesday this week introduced Thabo Khasiphe as the chief executive to head the new structure now referred to as the National COVID Secretariat (NACOSEC). Dr Majoro said his government has learnt from the experiences of the previous structure of the centre and the challenges it was facing and will use those for the betterment of the new centre. He noted in the previous centre, public opinion was left behind in setting up the structure and also that the centre is very far from Covid-19 frontliners such as area chiefs, nurses, teachers, councillors and businessmen in the villages. Also, Majara said youth had expressed interest to assist with the skills but that the centre’s formation did not permit such. He said the new structure has resolved to have a consultative authority where the public/society will be able to tender their advice. “We learn as we go,” Majoro said.

For his part, Khasipe said he had accepted the task of leading the centre well aware that COVID-19 is a matter of life and death. He said it is necessary that in our efforts in fighting the pandemic, citizens should establish and get rid of habits that could see the country losing the battle against COVID-19. According to Khasipe, political squabbles and ‘tenderpreneurship’, could result in the country losing the battle if avoided. He pointed out also that misinformation and disinformation can be very dangerous if issues around the virus are not communicated and further advised Basotho to avoid bashing either news relating to COVID-19 or those entrusted with working on corona virus issues.

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