Thabane fires NSS boss

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. . . as Tšooana bounces back

Pascalinah Kabi

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has ended the tenure of Colonel Tumo Lekhooa as National Security Service director-general barely a year after his appointment and sent the officer back to his old job as Director of Military Intelligence at the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

The premier has also appointed former Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana, as Police and Public Safety principal secretary (PS) as part of an ongoing purge and replacement of officials appointed by the Pakalitha Mosisili-led former government.

The four-party governing coalition has sought to consolidate its hold on the levers of power after unseating the Dr Mosisili-led regime in the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections.

Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, the Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho cobbled together the 63 seats they won in the elections to form government.

They replaced the Dr Mosisili-led seven-party governing coalition which was inaugurated on 17 March 2015 but failed to serve its five-year term after losing a 1 March 2017 parliamentary no-confidence vote that precipitated the elections.

Already, Dr Thabane has fired Government Secretary Lebohang Ramohlanka with effect from last Friday and also sent LMPS Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa on an involuntary 90-day leave, which is usually a precursor for dismissal.

The latest developments were confirmed yesterday by Dr Thabane’s spokesperson, Thabo Thakalekoala, who also revealed that Mr Tšooana took on his new role on Tuesday, while Colonel Lekhooa was dispatched to the LDF barracks on Monday.

“I can confirm that Ntate Tšooana has been appointed as the Ministry of Police and Public Safety’s principal secretary and he assumed his new post yesterday (Tuesday),” he said.

Ntate Lekhooa was seconded to the NSS as a director and his secondment has since been terminated with immediate effect starting Monday. He is now back in the barracks resuming his duties in his substantive position.”

Asked if the termination of Colonel Lekhooa’s tenure and Mr Tšooana’s appointment were part of an ongoing process of ridding the government of vestiges of the Mosisili era, Mr Thakalekoala said: “No, I wouldn’t say that because the decisions were purely made on the performances of each individual.”

Colonel Lekhooa was appointed as NSS director-general last September by Dr Mosisili, leaving his substantive role as Director of Military Intelligence. The senior officer had been appointed on a three-year “secondment” contract, which meant that he would return to the LDF after the lapsing of the period.

Colonel Lekhooa had replaced Lerotholi Seeiso as NSS director-general, after the latter left his job on 31 March 2016 — six months before the expiry of his contract. His contract was due to expire in October 2016.

The NSS had cited ill-health for Mr Seeiso’s decision to leave the powerful post early.

For his part, Mr Tšooana was appointed as LMPS commissioner in January 2014 by Dr Thabane, during the latter’s first tenure as prime minister.

However, Mr Tšooana was sent on early retirement by the Dr Mosisili-led government after deeming him unfit to hold office. Among the many charges levelled against him were incompetence as well as polarising and politicising the LMPS.

Mr Tšooana had challenged his dismissal in the courts of law, arguing that it was politically-motivated.

The former top cop had been tipped to replace the embattled Commissioner Letsoepa along with Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Holomo Molibeli. Mr Tšooana is regarded as Dr Thabane’s “blue-eyed boy” among political insiders.

The government’s intention to remove Commissioner Letsoepa and Colonel Lekhooa was made apparent by Deputy Home Affairs Minister Machesetsa Mofomobe a fortnight ago during the unveiling ceremony of a monument in honour of the late former LDF commander Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao in Mokema.

“This country will not go forward if those that are heading national security agencies are still in power. I would like to applaud my prime minister for removing Police Commissioner (Molahlehi) Letsoepa and the same needs to be done with (Tumo) Lekhooa of the National Security Services,” Mr Mofomobe had said.

Commissioner Letsoepa’s involuntary leave came in the wake of a firestorm over the timing of his promotions for 44 officers which were announced a day after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections.

Parties in the governing coalition had accused Commissioner Letsoepa of doing Dr Mosisili’s bidding by deploying the former premier’s allies to strategic areas so that he could “rule from the grave”, referring to the retaining power even after leaving office.

However, Commissioner Letsoepa vehemently denied the allegations, saying the promotions were not politically-motivated but based on merit.

He asserted that the 44 promoted officers satisfied the Board of Promotions’ criteria, adding that the LMPS had the financial wherewithal to pay their increased remuneration.

The Lesotho Police Staff Association has since dragged Commissioner Letsoepa to court challenging the legality of the promotions.

 

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