Leaders see red over Mokhochane’s suspension

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…Independent Electoral Commission says Acting Director’s suspension only meant to ensure smooth and transparent election

Billy Ntaote

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s decision to suspend Acting Director of Elections, Mphasa Mokhochane, over vandalised and missing electoral equipment has angered some party leaders who have questioned the timing of the disciplinary measure.

IEC Chairperson Mahapela Lehohla sent Mr Mokhochane home on 20 November pending investigations into his conduct regarding 21 Mobile Registration Units (MRU) which were vandalised and components such as laptops stolen, last month.

Before the indefinite suspension, Mr Mokhochane was first served with a letter dated 18 November and signed by Justice Lehloha.

The letter, titled, ‘Failure to inform the Commission about the missing computers’, reads: “On 23 and 28 October 2014 respectively, you were informed by the IT Manager about the missing computers at the IEC Warehouse. Despite your knowledge of the loss of such important equipment, you concealed this information from the Commission until 11 November 2014. Please show cause by end of business tomorrow, 19 November 2014, why you cannot be suspended from your work pending a disciplinary hearing against you and further investigations”.

Mr Mokhochane on Monday this week told the Lesotho Times that after receiving the letter, he responded as requested and was surprised to still be slapped with the suspension.

“When I received the information that the computers were missing, there were no details as to how many could not be accounted for or how this could have happened. So I had to investigate the issue first as there were no signs of a break-in, before I informed the Commission about,” Mr Mokhochane said.

“I could not rush to the Commission without any answers like a small boy. I had to find out what had transpired and give the Commission answers hence my decision to probe the case first.”

Yet despite the response, Mr Mokhochane was still served with a suspension letter on 20 November.

“While we appreciate the lengthy explanation you have given, we are sorry it did not address our concern that you failed to inform the Commission about the missing computers as soon as you knew about it, thus making it impossible for the Commission to take immediate action on the matter. This could have given the thieves time to conceal or dispose of these computers, thus frustrating the ends of justice,” wrote Justice Lehloha.

The former Chief Justice indicated in the letter the Commission had decided to suspend Mr Mokhochane with immediate effect.

“You will continue getting your full salary but will handover the keys of the office and the car to the chairperson; you will handover all IEC property in your possession to the chairperson, and these will include, among others, the cell-phone, laptop, etc,” Justice Lehloha’s letter further instructed.

However, the three-member Commission led by Justice Lehloha, and also comprises  Advocate Masebe Pholo and Dr Makase Nyapisi, came under fire from political party leaders who called them for an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon at IEC headquarters. According to Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) leader, Molahlehi Letlotlo, who is also chairperson of the Political Party Leaders’ Forum, the meeting was so heated it had to be postponed indefinitely “because we could not agree on anything”.

“Our meeting has not been concluded; we had to postpone it indefinitely as we had a lot to discuss with the Commissioners and chairperson, but could not agree on anything.

“We wanted to know why the Commissioners went ahead and suspended Mokhochane even after we had agreed with them not to suspend or dismiss any IEC officials without our knowledge during the investigation,” Mr Letlotlo said.

“We also informed the Commission that we, as political party leaders, want to have a Committee to monitor the IEC on a day-to-day basis, to ensure we don’t have such surprises.

“We want the Monitoring Committee to be in place and also be part of the investigation into Mokhochane’s case to ensure we have a healthy relationship with the IEC.”

Basotho Batho Democratic Party leader, Jeremane Ramathebane, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, condemned the suspension, which he said could derail next February’s snap election which had to be brought forward by two years after the collapse of the coalition government.  

The government—comprising Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP) led by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and Sports Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane respectively—could not last its five-year term after the premier was accused by his deputy of not consulting his fellow principals when making key decisions.     

However, the feuding coalition government partners and opposition only agreed to the early election following mediation by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Mr Ramaphosa had been appointed Facilitator in the Lesotho crisis by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and according to Mr Ramathebane, he might also be asked to mediate in Mr Mokhochane’s case.

“It’s outrageous for the IEC to suspend the Acting Director of Elections at this point in time, and to make it worse, the commissioners could not convincingly respond to any of the questions asked by the political party leaders during Tuesday’s meeting.

“We didn’t agree on anything in that meeting; it was very heated hence it had to be postponed.”

According to Mr Ramathebane, should the stalemate between the Commissioners and party leaders continue, an independent arbitrator might be called in.

“We might request the Christian Council of Lesotho to intervene or even Mr Ramaphosa.

“We don’t seem to be having very good meetings with the IEC, which is why I am saying we might eventually resort to a mediator.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Nyapisi on Monday told the Lesotho Times Mr Mokhochane’s suspension only sought to ensure good governance ahead of the February 2015 election.

“The Acting Director of Elections has been put under suspension pending investigations into the missing equipment. We had no choice. We had to do it; we found it important to do so. It’s a decision made to show that we are committed to good governance and accountability as the IEC.

“We suspended him because he failed to provide certain information that he needed to give us timeously,” said Mr Nyapisi.

“I would want to emphasise that the suspension was not done to victimise anybody but ensure compliance with good governance principles and ensure a free and fair election come February 2015.

“We are doing our work without any bias. He has not been fired; he has been put aside temporarily while investigations continue. He is still enjoying his remuneration and other benefits.”

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