Deputy PM sucked into tree-felling row

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MAFETENG –– Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla has been drawn into a tree felling dispute pitting a businessman in Mafeteng against a principal chief in the same district.

Mosito Ramahloko, who operates an agricultural inputs business in Mafeteng, accuses the principal chief of Likhoele, Lerotholi Seeiso, of seizing his two diesel-powered chainsaws.

Ramahloko says his equipment was allegedly confiscated when a villager who had hired the chainsaws from him was caught “illegally” cutting down trees in an area under Seeiso.

The principal chief, in a separate interview with the Lesotho Times, confirmed he had seized the chainsaws.

Seeiso says he is holding on to the equipment which he wants exhibited in court as evidence that it was being used to “steal trees”.

He said he had written to the local government ministry to take legal action against the alleged tree thieves.

On the other hand, Ramahloko reported the matter to the police alleging the chief had illegally seized his chainsaws.

A police officer in Mafeteng confirmed Ramahloko had made the report but no charges have been laid against the chief.

Ramahloko, suspecting that the police did not want to take action against the chief, has since appealed to the deputy prime minister to intervene.

“I report to you the recent actions of the principal chief of Likhoele against the Ramahloko family,” Ramahloko said in his letter to Lehohla.

The letter, seen by this paper, is in Sesostho.

“With respect I ask you to ensure that the police take seriously their commitment to their service and to protect people’s property,” Ramahloko wrote.

“My captured property should be recovered.

“If I have stolen the trees I should be brought before court and if taking a person’s property is an offence the offender should be brought before court.”

Efforts to establish whether the deputy prime minister had seen the letter were not successful yesterday.

Ramahloko’s lawyer, Pitso Nts’ene, said he was preparing to claim damages his client had suffered since Seeiso allegedly seized the chainsaws.

Seeiso denied he had abused his power as chief by allegedly confiscating the equipment.

He said he was acting in accordance with the Chieftainship Act which empowers a chief to take an action against anybody allegedly breaking the law.

“He was unlawfully cutting trees in a public forest and I felt it was my duty to stop that,” Seeiso told the Lesotho Times.

“I was preparing to have him charged for that when I learnt that he had run to the police claiming I was a criminal who took his saws by force.

“At the time I had already written two letters to the local government authorities requesting them to take action but they have not replied yet.”

Seeiso said he was prepared to defend his actions should Ramahloko press ahead with court action against him.

“Let them go to court. I am ready for that,” Seeiso said.

“I am determined to protect public property and ensure that nobody breaks the law.

“I am not above law and if anybody feels that I am wronging him he is free to go to court to seek redress.”

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