MASERU — Serious discord has again flared up in the government with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and Correctional Services Minister Mophato Monyake sharply disagreeing on the fate of a mutinous soldier who is now facing sedition charges.
The soldier, Thabang Phaila, was arrested on October 5 2013 after 15 years on the run over his alleged involvement in the 1998 post-election riots which left Lesotho on the brink.
Monyake, who claimed to have brokered Phaila’s return, this week said that his understanding was that Phaila should never have been arrested and charged since he came back to Lesotho under an amnesty extended by the coalition government to political fugitives.
Monyake claimed to have held consultations with Phaila’s family prior to the fugitive’s return.
Monyake said Phaila’s family had first approached him and explained Phaila’s wish to return to Lesotho after 15 years on the run. The family had nonetheless expressed the fugitive soldier’s uneasiness to return because the August 2012 amnesty lacked details and did not properly articulate how fugitive members of the security forces implicated in political crimes would be treated.
Monyake this week told the Lesotho Times that after Phaila’s family visited him, he wrote letters to the Commander of the LDF, Commissioner of Police and Director of the National Security Services (NSS) “seeking protection for Phaila”.
“I wrote letters to heads of all security forces (LDF, NSS and LMP) informing them of Phaila’s intention to return home and stated that I was seeking protection for him,” Monyake said.
“You will remember that when the coalition government came into power, we extended general amnesty to political fugitives as we wanted to detach ourselves from conflicts of the past.”
But, Monyake said, about six weeks after Phaila’s return to Lesotho, LDF Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli visited him and told him that Phaila was one of his men “whom the military had been looking for since he disappeared”.
“I told the LDF Commander that since I had assured the Phaila family of his protection, the issue was now above me and needed the attention of the Prime Minister,” Monyake said.
After the meeting with Kamoli, Monyake said he had reported the matter to Thabane who in turn “told me to leave it to him”.
“He said I should leave it all in his hands and that he would deal with the issue himself.
“I was as surprised as everybody else when I heard that Phaila had been arrested,” Monyake said.
Monyake had anticipated that Thabane, whom he had appraised of all the facts surrounding Phaila’s return, would ensure that Phaila would be accorded the benefits of the amnesty and the fugitive soldier would be left alone.
Thabane, who is also the Minister of Defence and Kamoli’s immediate boss, nevertheless proceeded to sign an order on November 12 2013 convening a court martial against Phaila.
The court martial opened on Monday and was dominated by arguments about whether or not Phaila should be shackled while in a prison cell.
The Lesotho Defence Force Act of 1996 empowers the Minister of Defence to convene a court martial against any member of the military deemed to have transgressed his oath of service.
The defence minister is also empowered to select and appoint officers of a court martial.
A court martial means trial by the military instead of trial by a civilian court.
For Phaila’s trial, Thabane appointed Colonel Matela Matobakele as the President of the Court Martial and, Lieutenants Colonel Montoeli Ramoqopo, Tankiso Lelosa, Major Tlelima Matia and Captains Halifele Mosehle, Ntumo Kekana as panel members.
Monyake is irked that all this happened despite the assurances he had given to Phaila’s family that the fugitive would be covered by the August 2012 amnesty and would not be arrested and charged upon his return.
Phaila is now facing charges a plethora of desertion and mutiny charges and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
The disagreement between Monyake and Thabane comes hard on the heels of a similar feud involving the alleged arrest of fugitive ritual murderer Lehlohonolo Scott.
Monyake announced through various media channels that Scott had been arrested and was in custody in South Africa but Thabane admonished the Correctional Service and Law Minister saying no such arrest had taken place. The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) also rejected Monyake’s claims saying it was not aware of any arrest. An isolated Monyake stood by his story though the two weeks the minister had promised that Scott would be in custody in Lesotho have since lapsed with the fugitive killer nowhere to be seen.
Sources say Monyake has since fallen out of favour with the Prime Minister and the feuding is indicative of internal party tensions ahead of the All Basotho Convention’s elective conference early next year.
Dr Motlamelle Kapa, from the Department of Social Sciences at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), says the strife between Thabane and Monyake is indicative of a cabinet that does not adhere to the principle of collective responsibility.
“Collective responsibility binds cabinet members on whatever decision that needs to be taken together and adjoins them to stand by it,” Kapa says.
“But once you see them speaking and acting differently on a similar issue publicly, then they are not respecting the collective responsibility principle.”
Kapa said the public showdown over the Scott saga also exemplified lack of cohesiveness in the government.
“It’s even worse when it is members of the same party being so deeply divided on governance issues . . . This is not like coalition leaders expressing differences based on their ‘agree to disagree’ clause contained in the coalition government agreement,” Kapa added.