LESOTHO Revenue Authority (LRA) Commissioner-General, Thabo Khasipe, was this week handed a massive boost in his quest to clear his name of tax evasion charges after the Constitutional Court ruled that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) did not have the powers to charge him for violating tax laws.
Mr Khasipe was appointed to the top LRA job in December 2016 but he was suspended shortly thereafter on 6 February 2017, over misconduct charges in connection with his tax affairs.
He subsequently appeared before the Magistrates’ Court in Maseru on 10 February 2017 to face eight counts of failing to file tax returns to the LRA from the fiscal year 2006/2007 to 2012/13.
It was during that court appearance that his lawyer, King’s Counsel (KC) Motiea Teele, objected to his case being placed on remand, saying he intended to file a constitutional case before the High Court challenging the charges levelled against him.
KC Teele duly filed the application before the Constitutional Court to determine whether or not the DPP had powers to charge him, arguing that the LRA was the only body vested with powers to institute criminal charges on charges arising from the violation of income tax laws.
And on Tuesday, the Constitutional Court, which was composed of Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, and Justices Sakoane Peter Sakoane and Keketso Moahloli, ruled in Mr Khasipe’s favour.
The three judges ruled that the DPP could only institute criminal proceedings on charges initiated by the police.
“The DPP’s power to institute criminal proceedings…cannot be invoked in respect of proceedings under the enforcement powers of the Lesotho Revenue Authority.
“The answer on the issues which are the subject matter of this referral is that the DPP cannot prefer the charges in the counts on the charge sheet.”
The judgement comes as a relief to Mr Khasipe as the case led to his suspension only two months after his appointment in December 2016.
THE new board of the LRA which was appointed in November 2017, moved to reinstate him to his position in December last year pending the outcome of his constitutional application.
LRA board chairperson, Robert Likhang, said at the time they had arrived at the decision to reinstate Mr Khasipe on the basis that he remained innocent until proven guilty in the court case that was brought against him.
Mr Khasipe- a chartered financial analyst- previously worked for the LRA as deputy commissioner-general from 2004 to 2007 before being appointed Lesotho’s ambassador to Kuwait.
His reinstatement was made at a time when there was internal turmoil in the LRA characterised by low staff morale and internal squabbles, partly blamed on the revenue collection authority’s failure to meet its revenue collection target for the April 2016 to March 2017 fiscal year.
The authority missed its M6.4 billion target by M430.8 million and since his reinstatement, Mr Khasipe has overseen the implementation of various strategies aimed at improving revenue collection.
Last week, the LRA launched the Voluntary Disclosure Programme (VDP) that opened a window of opportunity for all errant businesses and individuals to visit the authority’s offices and amicably address their tax obligations. Those who comply voluntarily will be spared the 200 percent penalty charges.
The LRA will also introduce other initiatives aimed at improving clients’ compliance such as the E-Taxation system, which is funded to the tune of M85 million by the African Development Bank (AfDB), to ensure quicker, convenient and faster processes.
It will also implement the Small Business Taxation regime, which will come with a number of flexible payment models, among other benefits.