- But the amount was seen as exorbitant
- Demand scuttled talks for her exit from the chief justice post.
CHIEF justice Nthomeng Majara demanded a M17 million golden package to quit her post. But the government saw the amount as to exorbitant and unaffordable and the demand scuttled talks to achieve her amicable exit from office, according to court papers filed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and other government officials this week.
The papers allege that the negotiations for Judge Majara to leave her post had been initiated by the top judge herself after seeking audience with Dr Thabane. Justice Majara had intimated that M17 million was a reasonable demand for her premature exit because she enjoyed would have enjoyed security of tenure up to the age of 75, the Prime Minister claimed.
Justice Majara is further said to have demanded that, as part of her exit, the government aggressively support her bid to secure a post at the International Criminal Court (ICC). This because she did not want to be idle at home after retirement. Justice Majara subsequently failed in her bid for the ICC post last year.
Dr Thabane and other government officials who include former Minister of Justice Mahali Phamotse, filed their answering affidavits this week in a case in which Justice Majara is seeking an order to interdict Dr Thabane from recommending the appointment of a tribunal to consider her impeachment over a plethora of misconduct allegations.
Dr Thabane wrote to Justice Majara on 27 April 2018, requesting that she ‘show cause’ why she should not be suspended and why a tribunal should not be appointed to consider impeaching her on various charges of misconduct including her alleged failure to preside over cases for two years.
However Justice Majara, who is represented by Advocate Qhalehang Letsika KC of Mei & Mei Attorneys, fought back by filing a court challenge against Dr Thabane last month.
Dr Thabane, the Minister of Law, Lebohang Hlaele and the Attorney General, Haae Phoofolo are cited as first to third respondents respectively in Justice Majara’s lawsuit.
Justice Majara petitioned the court to order that “the government under the supervision of the first respondent (Dr Thabane) has contravened the constitution by requiring and/or demanding the resignation of the applicant as Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Lesotho”.
In her supporting affidavit, Justice Majara said she had been left with no choice but to seek legal relief “after all my efforts to resolve this matter amicably proved futile”.
She suggested that Dr Thabane only penned the ‘show cause’ letter and decided on the legal route of advising His Majesty to suspend her and appoint a tribunal after his unlawful attempts to remove her from office through “coercion” had failed.
However, Dr Thabane and nine senior government officials including Dr Phamotse and Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele refuted, in the court papers filed this week, all allegations that the four-party coalition government had unlawfully attempted to remove Justice Majara from office.
Dr Thabane said the chief justice had a case to answer before the envisaged tribunal and that his 27 April 2018 ‘show cause’ letter was written long after the Chief Justice had voluntarily initiated negotiations concerning her exit from the top job.
“I had an audience with applicant (Justice Majara) in October 2017 or thereabout after she requested a meeting with me,” Dr Thabane states, adding that, this was after “she indicated that she had made a decision to resign as Chief Justice and from the High Court of Lesotho on her own violation.”
Dr Thabane said he then tasked Messrs Mphaka and Ntsekele to assist in negotiating the chief justice’s exit package and she was supposed to provide them with the necessary information from her employment file to facilitate her resignation.
Dr Phamotse concurred with Dr Thabane’s submission that Justice Majara voluntarily initiated talks about her exit and she was not coerced into doing so as she alleged in her court application.
Dr Phamotse said she only met Justice Majara after the latter had held a meeting met with the Justice Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Lebohang Mochaba.
“We discussed at the level of public functionaries and also as women exchanging notes. That is why I am stunned and perturbed by her suggestion that I intimidated and or threatened her to vacate her office.
“We then ventured into the process of exploring the facilitation of her exit and the attendant possibility of a reasonable exit package. She (Justice Majara) intimated that the proper amount that would be due to her ran to the tune of M17 million because she enjoys security of tenure up to the age of 75.
“I then countered by asserting that I felt that the said amount was too exorbitant and the two parties must meet each other half way particularly because government was clearly treading on dire straits following the many challenges that the country faced in the past two years. I cordially countered her proposal with an amount to the tune of M10 million which I undertook to negotiate on her behalf. I must be candid with this court and assert that she was very emotional and even literally cried complaining that the real reason behind her plight was a cabinet minister – Hon Thesele Maseribane who was bent on having her removed from office,” Dr Phamotse said.
Dr Phamotse, who was the Minister of Justice and Correctional Service during that time, said Justice Majara’s bid for a post at the ICC was fully sponsored by her ministry following the latter’s special request that she wanted an alternative engagement overseas after her exit.
She said the cabinet accepted Justice Majara’s request. The government would not have sponsored the campaign if it was eager to do away with her as she claimed.
“I was personally present to support applicant in New York and I was in the company of yet another cabinet minister, Lesego Makgothi. This is clearly indicative of the government’s good faith towards her in spite of the baseless allegation that the government is bent on removing her from office.
“I want to state categorically that the allegations that I intimidated the applicant are a non-starter and nothing but a desperate attempt to divert the attention of this court from the issues raised in the (Prime Minister’s) show-cause letter about the applicant’s fitness to hold and/ or occupy office,” Dr Phamotse said.
Dr Thabane concurred with Dr Phamotse, saying that the truth was that it had been agreed that Justice Majara was leaving for the ICC.
He said the government supported her campaign for a position at the ICC because “the aim was to save her from public embarrassment she would otherwise be exposed to if forced to leave on account of some alleged unfitness or misbehaviour”.
He said Justice Majara’s controversial lease agreement with her colleague – Justice Teboho Moiloa- appeared to be a matter of concern to the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led regime and it was fair to suppose that the issue informed her decision to resign, “particularly in the face of the views expressed in the findings of the Auditor General”.
The Auditor General found that Justice Majara unprocedurally entered into a deal to rent a house for M27 000 per month from a colleague Justice Teboho Moiloa. The amount is way above the M4000 monthly statutory allocation for her housing allowance.
Dr Thabane said the Auditor General’s report constituted an indictable crime and impeachable misconduct and that he only refrained from responding to the petition by the concerned members of the public because he wanted to avoid scandalising the judges either collectively or individually. Last December, some protestors petitioned Dr Thabane to impeach Justice Majara for alleged corruption in connection with the rent deal.
On his part, Mr Ntsekele said Justice Majara agreed as a “matter of principle” that she wanted to leave office and that she could do so if given a fair amount of money as an exit package.
“She (Justice Majara) then stated that government should work around the calculations (for her exit package) and then revert back to her. I realised that the matter was taking time and when I went to her chambers, she was very emotional. She complained that the government was not acting in good faith and she would be given a paltry amount of money.
“I said to her that her proposed amount which was no less than M15 million was exorbitant and that a counter-offer that I would run with was at M5 million. I distinctly recall that the applicant was very emotional and literally crying,” Mr Ntsekele said.
PS Mochaba expressed similar sentiments, adding that Justice Majara accused the government of approaching the issue in a very confrontational and demeaning manner when all she wanted was a “decent exit” so that her career would not be compromised.
“She (Justice Majara) said she was aware that the government was not happy with her administration of the courts and that she had no problem with exiting provided the issue was approached decently. It was then that she requested that the government support her by providing financial resources so that she would succeed in her endeavours of vying for a post at the ICC.
“The engagements for the applicant’s exit were done in good faith and it was clearly at her initiative and not that of the government as she seeks to portray.
“Such negotiations were not and never with the spirit of engaging coercive measures against either the applicant or the institution of the judiciary as the applicant enthusiastically seeks to portray in her affidavit,” Ms Mochaba said.
The government’s bid to remove Justice Majara from office and her decision to resist the move have thrown the judiciary into crisis, threatening to completely derail the administration of justice in the Kingdom.