By Bongiwe Zihlangu
MASERU — Molobeli Soulo and Mophato Monyake, the two ministers fired this week in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s latest reshuffle, are unhappy about the manner of their dismissals. The two say they were served with dismissal letters without prior consultation by their “employer” contrary to what they perceive as good practise.
Thabane on Tuesday sacked Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Soulo and Justice and Correctional Services minister, Monyake.
Both are members of Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), which formed government alongside the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and Basotho National Party (BNP), after the May 26, 2012 general election.
The Lesotho Times, which broke the story about the two ministers’ firing in our 9 January 2013 edition, is reliably informed that Soulo will be replaced by new ABC chairman Motlohi Maliehe, who is also the party’s Member of Parliament for Butha-Buthe while Monyake will be succeeded by Mamothibe Chaole, the ABC’s MP for Thetsane.
Soulo, widely considered a close confidante of Thabane, said in an interview that he was neither surprised nor bitter about his dismissal. But Soulo was clearly unhappy about the way in which he had been fired.
“He (Thabane) did not call to inform me that I would be fired and my expectation was that he would consult with me based on the good relations we have cultivated over the years,” Soulo said.
“I hope that the Prime Minister’s decision to relieve me of my duties is based solely on my supposed poor performance and nothing else.”
Soulo and Monyake are the latest to be expelled from government after Temeki Tšolo and Timothy Thahane were sent packing in September and November 2013, respectively.
Tšolo, who was trade minister at the time of his sacking, is an ABC member, while former energy and water affairs minister Thahane, belongs to the LCD.
Soulo and Thabane had become “inseparable” since October 2006 when they defected from the LCD together with 16 other MPs, to form the ABC.
However, according to impeccable sources, it became apparent the two men had drifted apart in November last year.
After former commissioner of police Kizito Mhlakaza was sent on terminal leave in September, Thabane and Soulo could not agree on a candidate to fill the vacancy, which was reportedly the beginning of their spectacular fallout, the sources said.
While Thabane was in favour of the incumbent Khothatso Tšooana, Soulo, the source said, preferred Keketso Monaheng.
Both Tšooana and Monaheng were then Deputy Police Commissioners.
Late last year, Soulo also caused a furore when he opposed the transfer of his acting Principal Secretary, ‘Mathoriso Monaheng, to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
So angry was Soulo that he reportedly declared he would rather resign than work without Monaheng.
On Tuesday, Soulo said when he was served with the letter, he immediately realised that “what had brought us together had ceased to exist”.
“Maybe I was no longer important and maybe he has found those who serve a more important purpose than I did,” Soulo said.
“Even a husband and his wife can fallout and seek divorce as an exit out of the marriage; it is the norm and I wish him luck.”
Soulo, a former ABC chairman who lost the coveted executive committee post to the Butha-Buthe constituency MP, Motlohi Maliehe, at the party’s recent elective conference after eight years at the helm, said he wholeheartedly accepted Thabane’s decision “as long as it was purely based on merit”.
“I would like to believe that the Prime Minister did as he saw fit; it is his decision which I don’t oppose and mine now is to watch as my successor takes over,” Soulo said.
“Like I said, I hope that I was sacked solely because I did not execute my ministerial duties in line with his (PM’s) expectations.”
Meanwhile, some quarters in the ABC, aggrieved by Soulo’s defeat, have claimed that his exclusion from the National Executive Committee was carefully engineered because Thabane was no longer keen to work with him.
However, Soulo said although he cannot gloat about it, he believed he had done his best and it was now up to the public to decide.
“I believe I was working hard and in the best interest of Basotho and this country,” Soulo said.
“But it’s always wise to step back and let the people speak for you.”
Asked if he was aggrieved by the expulsion, Soulo said he was not because it had been “a long time coming”, adding he began hearing rumours that he would be fired from cabinet when he returned from an official trip to Ethiopia last month.
“I’m neither surprised nor angry because I’ve been hearing rumours to that effect for a while and that’s when I began to prepare myself for this moment,” said Soulo.
However, Soulo was quick to add that he would “gladly” remain in parliament where he is a proportional representation member under the ABC banner.
He said: “I will return to parliament and execute my duties as an ordinary MP because that is where I started.”
Asked what the expulsion and exclusion from the ABC national executive meant, Soulo was clear that he and the premier, whom he described as his senior, were brought closer by issues pertaining to the party.
“If he now feels I no longer add value to the ABC, I am fine with it as I’m already returning to parliament,” Soulo said.
Contacted for comment, Monyake was less-engaging.
He curtly told the Lesotho Times that it was Thabane’s prerogative to hire and fire ministers and that “it is a right enshrined in the constitution”.
Like Soulo, Monyake said he was served with the letter “without prior consultation”.
Asked to reflect on his journey as a minister and what he made of his performance, Monyake said he could also “not say much on that”.
“Unfortunately, it is difficult to comment on my performance because my employer did not put any milestones for me to achieve,” Monyake said.
“That is why I cannot commit to answering your question.”
However, highly-placed sources yesterday told this paper Monyake’s boat began to sink in November last year after announcing that Koalabata ritual murder suspect, Lehlohonolo Scott, who had been on the run for over a year at the time, had been arrested in South Africa and would “be extradited within two weeks”.
But the police department denied knowledge of Scott’s arrest while Thabane, who is the Police Minister, also issued a statement disowning Monyake’s announcement.
Sources who spoke to this paper at the time said that Monyake had angered Thabane by making the announcement without prior cabinet approval.
The sources added Thabane was reportedly further enraged by Monyake when the latter contested for the deputy leadership post at the ABC elective conference against the PM’s wishes, which had allegedly been clearly communicated to the former minister.
Contacted for comment, Thabane’s Press Secretary, Thabo Thakalekoala, said plans were already in motion to fill in the ministerial vacancies, adding “an announcement will be made soon”. He however could not confirm our information that Maliehe and Mamothibe would take the places of the fired two.
“I’ve absolutely no idea who the new ministers will be,” said Thakalekoala. He however promised speedier appointments.
“The affected ministries cannot go for long without filling the vacant positions and plans to (appoint) are being made already,” Thakalekoala said.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times understands that four government officials of the ranks of principal secretary and district administrator will also be served with dismissal letters,for going against the Public Service Act, 2005 by taking part in an election of a political party.
Although Thakalekoala confirmed that four senior government officials face disciplinary measures for violating the Act without mentioning their names, the Lesotho Times understands that he could have been referring to Development Planning PS Pheko Lerotholi, cabinet’s Economic Affairs PS Sam Rapapa, Maseru DA Major-General Samuel Makoro and Mohale’s Hoek DA ‘Mants’iuoa Mosothoane.
Pheko contested for the deputy leadership post of the ABC but lost to Minister of Mining, Tlali Khasu, who clinched 448 votes to Pheko’s 293 votes.
Mosothoane contested for the post of secretary-general but garnered 257 votes thus losing to incumbent secretary-general Samonyane Ntsekele’s 372 votes.
Rapapa also competed for a similar post but garnered a measly six votes.
However, Makoro made the committee by beating two contenders by 277 votes to become the ABC deputy spokesperson.