MASERU — A new crisis has hit the judiciary after revelations that the government is vehemently opposed to Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla’s decision to release two women last week.
Last Friday Justice Lehohla issued an order to the Department of Correctional Services to release 192 prisoners who include a former magistrate ’Mampai Lesupi and Kholu Manyala, a former treasury department employee.
The two were jailed for corruption in 2011.
The government through the Ministry of Law, Attorney General and Commissioner of Correctional Services is said to be virulently opposed to the release arguing the release of the two was irregular.
They argue Chief Justice Lehohla did not have powers to release the duo.
Despite Justice Lehohla’s order the two remained in prison after the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Matingoe Phamotse, refused to comply with the order.
Lesupi was one of two magistrates who were convicted of defeating the ends of justice and sentenced to jail in October 2011.
High Court judge Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane sentenced Lesupi and Itumeleng Letsika to one year in jail or alternatively pay a fine of M10 000 each.
The two magistrates were found guilty of tampering with court records to allow a South African national, Stephen Dlamini, who was facing charges of fraud, to escape from prison in 2005.
Dlamini was slapped with a 62-year jail sentence for defrauding the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority of M2.8 million in 2004.
Lesupi and Letsika were accused of receiving bribes from Dlamini to tamper with the records to make it appear as if his fraud charges had been withdrawn.
Lesupi appealed against the conviction and sentence but the Court of Appeal confirmed the conviction and increased her prison term to three years.
The second prisoner, Kholu Manyala, was sentenced to an effective five years imprisonment, the two counts on which she was convicted being taken as one for the purpose of sentence.
She was convicted of fraud in that in 2002 she created two cheques within the Department of Treasury.
Both cheques were created in the name of Metropolitan Services, the first on November 6, 2002 with an amount of M486 719.50 and the second on January 24, 2003 with an amount of M489 625.21.
She appealed against the conviction and sentence but the Court of Appeal confirmed Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane’s judgment.
On Tuesday the Attorney General Tšokolo Makhethe’s office, Commissioner Phamotse and Justice Minister Haae Phoofolo filed an urgent application seeking to block the women’s release from jail.
The application was heard on Wednesday afternoon by a judge who said he could not hear the case if the three parties had not served the Chief Justice through his registrar.
This case is likely to be heard today.
The Lesotho Times understands there were frantic negotiations yesterday to try to break this impasse between the government and the Chief Justice.
This paper is reliably informed that Phoofolo, Makhethe and Phamotse met in the Chief Justice’s chambers to try to find common ground on the matter.
After that meeting they also met Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
The Chief Justice is said to be adamant that he did the right thing.
This comes at a time when there is a call from several quarters for the Chief Justice to resign.
If the Chief Justice is found to have erred, then more pressure will mount on him to resign.