Govt sidelines foreign law firms

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Pascalinah Kabi

GOVERNMENT has effectively withdrawn the foreign law firms’ mandate given to handle its legal affairs, the Minister of Law, Lebohang Hlaele, has revealed.

Mr Hlaele revealed this at a press conference in Maseru on Tuesday.

He said the decision was reached after the realisation that government was spending huge sums of money on foreign attorneys, adding, it was time to invest in local firms.

“We realised that there were many cases assigned to foreign lawyers, depriving Basotho nationals of an opportunity to grow professionally and otherwise,” Mr Hlaele said.

“We spent big on foreign lawyers. We have therefore withdrawn our mandate from the foreign lawyers,” Mr Hlaele said, adding they were working on the modalities of allocating cases to Basotho lawyers.

He said they had also terminated their contract with a foreign law firm operating in Lesotho whose identity he did not disclose.

It is believed that Webber & Newdigate could be the law firm in the wake of its role as pro forma complainants in the impeachment proceedings against then Court of Appeal President, Justice Kananelo Mosito in 2016 when the former seven parties’ coalition government accused him of violating tax laws by allegedly failing to submit his income tax returns to the Lesotho Revenue Authority from 1996 to 2014.

Justice Mosito resigned in December 2016 before a verdict was announced on his fate, citing alleged persecution by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and the then Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe King’s Counsel (KC).

He was re-appointed on 1 August 2017 appointment by King Letsie III on the advice of Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane but he is yet to be sworn in on account of court challenges on the legality of his re-appointment.

Asked how many foreign lawyers were engaged by the government, the Law ministry’s Principal Secretary, Advocate, ‘Mole Khumalo, said it was difficult to ascertain the exact number since they were mostly engaged by local law firms contracted by the government.

“It is also difficult to quantify the amount of money that was spent on them, save to say it was quite an amount. The foreign lawyers would charge government for air tickets, food, accommodation and service fees,” Advocate Khumalo said.

He estimated that the money spent on one foreign lawyer could be used to pay three local lawyers.

The move to terminate the services of external law firms is not a new development under Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane’s leadership.

It was first mooted in 2012 during Dr Thabane’s first tenure as premier when Advocate Haae Phoofolo KC was Law Minister but it was not implemented.

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