In its strongest ever rebuke of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government says the regional body cannot dictate nor “impose anything” on Lesotho as it (SADC) is not a court of law.
The rebuke of the regional body comes after it issued a terse statement expressing “great concern” over legal action launched by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi against the SADC’s commission of inquiry into the death of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June this year.
Lt-Col Hashatsi’s court action effectively seeks to nullify the SADC inquiry’s report which is believed to be highly critical of the government.
But a very senior SADC official who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week slammed the court action as a “mere desperate excuse” by the Lesotho government to prevent the expeditious public release of the SADC report compiled by a commission led by Botswana High Court judge Mpaphi Phumaphi.
“It’s a pity that the Lesotho government has resorted to playing an unnecessary game of chess. There is simply no basis of any member of the Lesotho state to challenge in court the work of an international commission of inquiry established by regional consensus to help a stricken member state. We don’t see how these delaying tactics and chess games will help bring stability in Lesotho,” said the official who preferred not to be named citing diplomatic etiquette and the fact that he is not authorised to speak to the Press.
The regional body, which rarely criticises member states publicly, issued a succinct statement on Sunday expressing “great concern” over the legal action against the Phumaphi report. This was after a meeting of the SADC troika on politics, defence and security comprising South African President Jacob Zuma, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and a representative of new Tanzanian President John Magufuli on the sidelines of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) in Johannesburg at the weekend.
SADC said it had mandated its facilitator in Lesotho South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to “expeditiously communicate the concerns of SADC to the Kingdom of Lesotho.”
But the Lesotho government has come out guns blazing with Prime Minister Mosisili’s political advisor, Fako Likoti, saying SADC has no right to dictate to the Lesotho government as the regional body was not a court of law.
Dr Likoti told the Lesotho Times that the regional bloc was “like any other ordinary organisation” and therefore, “cannot impose anything on Lesotho since it is not a court of law”.
Lesotho opposition parties, civic groups and analysts have slammed the court action as a tactic by the government to delay the release of the report (see separate reports on pages 4 and 7).
Even though the court case is championed by the LDF’s Special Forces Commander Hashatsi, the government’s critics say it is the one which engineered the legal action as a ploy to knock down the Phumaphi inquiry.
But Dr Likoti dismissed these concerns saying they were being raised by people seeking to achieve “regime-change” in Lesotho using the Phumaphi inquiry.
Dr Likoti said “too much” was being made of the Phumaphi report when the judge’s findings would be only “recommendations” that Dr Mosisili’s government was at liberty to accept or reject. He accused civic groups and analysts critical of the government’s handling of the whole issue of being “too local” in their reasoning.
“First of all, every person has the right to seek the intervention of the courts if he feels prejudiced, and the same applies to Lt-Col Hashatsi,” Dr Likoti said.
“But again, it is not true that the government is behind this case. In fact, government is a respondent in the matter. How do people then connect government with an individual who, rightly so, exercised his right to seek the court’s intervention?
“These must be the same people advocating and hoping for regime-change in Lesotho. They are feeding the rest of the nation with false hope that the SADC report will bring about issues which will effect regime-change in this country. They must remember this is just a Commission of Inquiry, not a court of law. The commission can only make recommendations not orders, unlike a court of law. SADC, like any other ordinary organisation that is not a court of law, cannot force or impose anything on Lesotho. So there is absolutely no reason for the government to stall the report which cannot impose anything on us.”
Dr Likoti accused the analysts of being “too local” in their thinking.
“The main problem with our analysts is that they are too local. They do not observe how issues are addressed in other countries. Take what happened in Zimbabwe, for example. President Robert Mugabe once put SADC in its place after the regional body tried to interfere in his country’s internal affairs.
“He withdrew from the regional body and told them he was the president of Zimbabwe and no one else. The same with Dr Pakalitha Mosisili; he is the prime minister of Lesotho and no one else and SADC cannot force Dr Mosisili to do anything that he does not want to do,” Dr Likoti said.
“The Lesotho situation is made to look as if it is worse than what is happening in other regional countries. But that is wrong.
“If SADC decides to be harsh on us, what would it do to Zimbabwe, or Angola where President José Eduardo dos Santos has persistently refused to comply with democratic principles? What would SADC do to Swaziland where King Mswati has stuck to traditional rule and refused to adopt Western models that came with democracy?” asked Dr Likoti.
Despite concluding its investigation on 23 October 2015, the Phumaphi Commission’s report has not been made public due to Lt-Col Hashatsi’s court challenge in which the officer wants the inquiry declared unlawful because some of its members were not “legally commissioned”.
Lt-Col Hashes also wants the High Court to rule that the commission acted beyond its powers when it conducted hearings in Thaba ‘Nchu, South Africa, from 1-7 October where exiled opposition leaders and members of the army gave testimonies. He also wants the commission to surrender to the Registrar of the High Court, evidence it gathered about him and have the entire evidence and facts relating to him expunged from the record of its proceedings.
The top soldier also wants the commission “restrained and interdicted” from making any findings relating to him.
Lt-Col Hashatsi’s court case has since been postponed to 18-19 January 2016. The case and SADC’s disappointment over the litigation, have become major talking points with analysts and opposition leaders insisting that the government is complicit in Lt-Col Hashatsi’s court challenge. They cite the Prime Minister’s failure to oppose the lawsuit, despite being cited as one of the respondents, as “proof” of the government’s alleged collusion with Lt-Col Hashatsi.
But Dr Likoti is adamant that this is not the case, and said the security situation in Lesotho was being deliberately exaggerated as there was no crisis in the country.
He said a person was “likely to be hit by lightning than a bullet from a soldier’s rifle” in Lesotho, which he said was a clear indication that there were no serious security issues in the country.
“Unlike in other countries, here in Lesotho, we only see a soldier carrying a rifle when attending his guard duties. We live in absolute peace in this country. We should be celebrating 50 years of independence and recognising developments made by our leaders, not getting confused by some people who sensationalise Lesotho issues.”
Despite his strong language and the concerns raised by SADC against Lesotho, Dr Likoti said the government was not yet at odds with SADC and would still seek cooperation rather than confrontation with the regional body
“So far, we are not aggrieved by SADC to the extent that we can consider doing what those leaders from the three regional countries I have mentioned, have done……,”he said.
He further said the Mosisili government was as eager as anybody else to know the contents of the Phumaphi report and had no reason to sabotage it.
“We also want to know what the report says because it (may) come with recommendations which are going to be very useful to us as far as security and constitutional reforms are concerned. These reforms, as you might be aware, are in the pipeline.”
——-Other staff members contributed to this report.