MASERU — Prime Minister Thomas Thabane says he inherited a “dysfunctional police” from the government of former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) has hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons for the past two weeks after three crime suspects died at the hands of the police under controversial circumstances.
The police have admitted the suspects died during “interrogation”.
Critics have however accused the LMPS of committing serious human rights violations in the name of fighting crime.
On December 28, a Butha-Buthe man was beaten to death by the police during an interrogation while his companion was admitted to hospital with serious injuries.
A man also died at the hands of the police at Pitso Ground Police Station sometime between December 29 and early January.
Then late last week a 22-year-old man also died in police custody in Mafeteng district during interrogation.
Thabane on Tuesday blamed poor management for the rising cases of indiscipline and a string of civil claims against the LMPS.
“A deteriorating and dysfunctional police is the legacy I’ve inherited from the previous administration and the onus is on me to straighten out the police once and for all,” Thabane, who is also Minister of Police and Public Safety, said.
“The main reason I chose to preside over the police ministry was so that I could revive it and ensure that it executes its primary mandate of working for the public as a proper and functional law enforcement outfit.”
The premier said the police ministry had been incapacitated after some senior officials were suspended for alleged corruption.
“They have appeared before the DCEO (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences) and their cases are before the courts of law. You cannot just go and fill those posts even though there’s no satisfactory explanation as to why the cases are not being quickly attended to,” Thabane said.
“The management structure is not proper and you cannot run an organisation like that. I believe we can find an administrative cure for some of the issues involved so that management can execute its duties.”
Thabane admitted that there was a plethora of civil claims against the police which had been decided by the courts of law but that the LMPS was still to settle.
“This has been the case since the previous government and this led to the neglect of the ministry’s debts emanating from civil claims settled by the courts,” Thabane said.
Thabane said the plan was for the police to settle moneys related to civil claims and whittle them “down to zero”.
Thabane said the department had been neglected, especially by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s administration.
Lesotho’s premier said the Mosisili administration neglected all aspects of the police and failed to prioritise its needs for it to perform its functions properly.
A meagre annual budget over the years, Thabane maintained, also contributed to the crisis within the police.
“Apart from the fact that people were dragging their feet when police issues had to be dealt with, the budget was also not prioritised but that’s about to change,” Thabane said.
The premier also revealed that he was working on a strategy to revamp the police service.
“I took time over the Christmas holidays to meditate and come up with a plan to rejuvenate the police service. Soon I will share with the media our plans on the way forward,” Thabane said.
On November 28, 2012, Police Commissioner Kizito Mhlakaza also admitted during Thabane’s maiden visit as premier to the Police Training College that the LMPS was facing a plethora of disciplinary cases and civil claims.
The police commissioner said the cases were “not only alarming to members of the public but also distressing to the organisation as a whole”.
“They are all activities that destroy our peace and the good repute of our country,” Mhlakaza said.
Mhlakaza added that the LMPS had taken strides in the last eight months to achieve “dramatic reduction in all disciplinary cases following the establishment of roving courts across the country”.
Justice Minister Haae Phoofolo could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was on voicemail.
This paper could also not solicit a comment from Mhlakaza over the recent spate of deaths as his mobile phone rang unanswered on the several occasions that he was called.
Thuso Ramabolu, a human rights lawyer with the Transformation Resource Center (TRC) and Head of the Human Rights Commission for the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), says the civic society is aware of the spate of human rights violations by the police.
“We strongly condemn the violation of human rights and acts of police brutality. We undertake to go all out to ensure that police undergo training courses on human rights,” Ramabolu said.
“The cure will be for the police to adhere to principles of human rights in the execution of their duties. They should receive extensive training on human rights.”
He added: “As civil society we’re not opposed to the police enforcing the law, but it should be within established and internationally standardised human rights.”
Ramabolu said, the fact that Lesotho has signed conventions and protocols both regionally and internationally to respect human rights “should be reason enough for the police to observe human rights more”.