THE High Court of Lesotho has strongly refuted allegations it contravened procurement regulations by renting a house belonging to Justice Teboho Moiloa for Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, saying the M27 000 per month deal was above board.
The court says it engaged estate agents to identify a “suitable house” for the chief justice, adding that the one they found in the leafy suburb of Hills View in Maseru happened to belong to Justice Moiloa.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, High Court and Court of Appeal Acting Registrar Lesitsi Mokeke said a draft report that outlines the leasing deal had been leaked to “a certain politician” before it had been finalised.
The press conference, which was attended by a conspicuously large number of members of the security agencies, was convened to respond to media reports that the house had been leased for Justice Majara under a corrupt deal.
Justice Majara, who was elevated to the post of chief justice in 2014, moved into the Hills View house in January 2016.
Under the terms of the two-year lease with Justice Moiloa, the High Court High Court pays rent of M27 000 per month.
However, according to a draft internal audit report for the High Court and Court of Appeal for the financial years 2011 and 2016, there were no traceable procurement procedures for the lease deal.
The audit report, which was done by the Ministry of Finance’s internal audit division, recommends a review of the lease deal to better manage financial resources.
Having reasoned that the chief justice was entitled to only M4 000 housing allowance, the report directs the High Court registrar, who is also the chief accounting officer, to get a surcharge from Justice Majara on the extra M23 000 that was being paid on the house monthly.
In addition to the audit report, Justice Majara has also been accused of appointing Justice Moiloa to act in her position when she was away on several occasions, even though there were other more senior judges.
However, Mr Mokeke said the report was still at the drafting stage when it was leaked “to a certain politician” whom he refused to mention by name.
When asked for the report, Mr Mokeke said it was not yet ready for publication since the High Court management were yet to meet with the auditors to clarify some of the issues before a final report could be released.
“It seems the report was leaked to one of the politicians while it was still a draft document,” said Mr Mokeke.
“However, nowhere in the report did the auditors say there was corruption in the High Court and Court of Appeal.”
The registrar said he had requested for the audit to check if the judiciary was using its finances well after his role as chief accounting officer was confirmed by the Administration of the Judiciary Act of 2011.
“For many years, the courts were under the control of the Ministry of Justice until the Administration of the Judiciary Act was enacted,” he said.
“We only became independent in 2012 after that law was enacted. It means the registrar only became the chief accounting officer of the judiciary in 2012 after the enactment of that Act.”
Mr Mokeke said the internal auditors were invited in March last year but only started their work last August.
“We even provided them with the office space in this building.”
He said if there was any impropriety unearthed, the people who leaked the report would have reported the matter to law enforcement authorities.
“Since the report was leaked, one wonders why that person who leaked it did not take it the police or the DCEO (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences) to investigate, instead of leaking it to a politician who also has interest in cases before the High Court.”
Mr Mokeke asserted that the office of chief justice had perks which were higher than that of a High Court judge.
“Since many years ago, the government decided that the chief justice’s house should be different from other judges’ houses in terms of the standards.
“The house which was previously assigned to the chief justice is now meant to be the national museum.
“The incumbent chief justice was appointed in 2004 as a judge of the High Court and was appointed as chief justice in 2014, but she was still staying in a house which she had been staying when she was appointed as a judge of the High Court.”
Mr Mokeke said the government house in which the chief justice stayed did not meet the standards of her status since it was small and needed some maintenance.
He said the High Court management engaged estate agents to look for a house suitable for a chief justice.
“The house belonging to Justice Moiloa was identified as the preferred option after comparing it with many houses that were inspected.”
Mr Mokeke explained that he sought the advice of the Ministry of Public Service on whether they could rent a house for Justice Majara for M27 000.
“The ministry told us that we could do so if our budget allowed,” he said.
The registrar also rubbished allegations the High Court violated procurement regulations by failing to get three quotations, saying it was not required for amounts below M30 000.
“In terms of the procurement regulations, three quotations are required for a service or any payment above the amount of M30 000.”
On the monthly house allowance of M4 000, he said it only applied to a judge staying in their own house.
“If the chief justice is staying in a government issued house, then it is incumbent upon the government to ensure he or she stays in a house befitting their stature.”
The Deputy Registrar, Realeboha Makamane, chipped in on allegations Justice Moiloa mostly appointed Justice Moiloa to act in her position when she was away, saying the chief justice had the discretion to choose whoever she wanted.
“It is solely the discretion of the chief justice to appoint the acting chief justice in his or her absence in terms of the High Court Act,” Advocate Makamane said, adding that the “baseless” allegations were injuring the standing of the judiciary.