Majara suspended to ease probe: Phoofolo

BONGIWE ZIHLANGU

MASERU - Attorney-general King’s Counsel Haae Phoofolo last night said Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara’s suspension was intended to prepare for investigations into her suitability to remain in office. “The tribunal will investigate the allegations against her, such as her alleged poor performance, behavior as well as the truthfulness or seriousness of the allegations, with a view to making recommendations to the King,” Phoofolo said.

“The recommendations would be in such a way that they specify that she be fired because she is not fit for office, or that nothing has been found against her, that she be reinstated.” Phoofolo further drew an example from allegations made against Chief Justice Majara, of conflict of interest when she rented a house owned by a fellow judge and paying as rent more than her benefits covered.

Chief Justice Majara was suspended Wednesday by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and was immediately replaced an acting Chief Justice, Justice ’Maseforo Mahase. “For instance, one of the oldest allegations against her is that of conflict of interest, wherein she rented a fellow colleague’s expensive house, which was not covered by her housing allowance,” the AG said.

Adding: “If the tribunal finds that indeed that amounts to misconduct, then obviously it will be dealt with accordingly. If the tribunal finds that there was no misconduct, then it will recommend that she be reinstated.” The government move has provoked mixed reactions from the legal fraternity. President of the Law Society of Lesotho, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane declined to comment because his organization had been facilitating talks between opposing stakeholders in Chief Justice Majara’s tiff with government.

Also, the Law Society was yet to be “informed officially of the said suspension of the CJ”. “As the Law Society, we have not yet been informed officially of the suspension, hence we cannot comment because we don’t even know what the suspension is all about. We were facilitating in respect of issues that were already in court,” Maqakachane said.

“In the circumstances that we hear of the suspension from sources that are not authentic, we are not sure if the suspension is related to the issues that we were facilitating on or something totally different. Only when we have been informed of the grounds for the said suspension will we comment.” Sources said last night Majara’s suspension was a symptom of a protracted battle between the executive and judiciary, exacerbated by the executive’s “inability to be magnanimous”.

According to pundits who spoke to Public Eye, failure by institutions to align themselves with their core mandates due to political influence, resulted in a tug-of-war and labelling, emanating from allegiances or perceptions of allegiances of judges to particular politicians and vise-versa.

Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) executive director Seabata Motsamai, described Chief Justice Majara’s suspension as indicators of long-drawn-out tensions between the judiciary and executive. Motsamai believes relations between the two organs of state mandated with upholding and protecting principles of democracy, have been marred by challenges over a prolonged period, worsened by political tensions “which always affect the judiciary one way or the other”.“There have always been problems between the executive and judiciary.

Relations between the two state organs have been strained for a while and they are aggravated when government itself experiences internal problems, as they always spill into the judiciary,” Motsamai asserted. He added that as if that was not enough, the judiciary also reciprocated by creating unnecessary perceptions, such as demonstrating blatant inclination “to whoever is in government that it feels comfortable with”.

“Government also creates perceptions that certain judges are aligned to it, thus creating a vicious cycle when governments change, because those who were alienated when in opposition, come in with a different attitude to the judiciary when they assume power.” Motsamai further made an example of the relationship between the former Court of Appeal President Michael Ramodibedi, who was affiliated to former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and was impeached in 2013 when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane assumed power during his first 2012-2015 coalition administration, leading to an opposition outcry.

Then when Mosisili re-gained power between 2015 and 2017, he targeted Doctor Kananelo Mosito and blocked his appointment to the apex court on the basis that he was not fit to hold the office over his alleged failure to comply with his tax obligations. When Thabane unseated Mosisili for the second time in 2017, his bid to appoint Mosito met fierce opposition from four prominent local lawyers, leaving the Court of Appeal in limbo.

“The suspension like I’ve said, is a symptom of a long protracted situation. A good example is what happened with Dr Mosito and Justice Ramodibeli under different administrations. On the other hand, when the judiciary does not warm up to a particular government, they go all out to disconcert them,” Motsamai said. “This calls for urgent reforms. I mean laws that will put everybody in their rightful place. If this situation doesn’t change and institutions continue to fail to stick to their core mandates because of political influences, then we will cry continuously.”

Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) director Tsikoane Peshoane, said they would neither question nor support the suspension “as long as it means the redemption of judicial services in Lesotho”. “How is it going to resuscitate the judiciary? If it’s going to bring a solution to pre-trial detentions, backlog of court cases and resumption of the Court of Appeal, we will be fine and good.

“If that move is going to do that, then we have no problem. What’s important to us is not who occupies the office of CJ, but if that person is going to deliver. At minimum, we want the efficiency of the judiciary and a reversal of the paralysis of the Magistrates Courts.” Peshoane further noted that Chief Justice Majara’s suspension was by Lesotho’s standards normal because “we have seen it happen in this country under different administrations”.

What is crucial, Peshoane maintained, is how Chief Justice Majara’s suspension and subsequent appointment of Acting Chief Justice Mahase, would affect service delivery, justice and the protection of human rights. Peshone said it was also imperative for the Acting Chief Justice to reflect the ability to be magnanimous “in the execution of her duties”. “I urge the one acting in the capacity of CJ, to rise to the occasion, to be magnanimous.

We warn the Acting Chief Justice to be magnanimous. Chief Justice Majara failed to be magnanimous, irrespective of whether she has been perceived to have a particular political inclination. The same applied with her predecessors in that office,” he also said. A Maseru lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati who is involved in the yet to be heard impeachment case of the Chief Justice’s told this paper yesterday that he could not immediately comment lest he preempted the outcome of the litigation. “I don’t want to comment because there are a lot of issues surrounding the suspension of the CJ, of which I will be involved in during litigation. Only after litigation will I be in a position to comment,” Molati said.

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