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Amnesty for criminals; a necessary evil

Once again, kudos to Ntate Sam for keeping his word and appointing a lean cabinet of 15 ministers and for merging all those other superfluous portfolios. Once again, this is what I call leadership.  We are now being led by a real businessman who knows the value of money.

Imagine if the usual suspects had retained power, we would be lumbered with a cabinet of nearly 40 sleeping loafers, each with a huge ego and inflated sense of self-importance. The ubiquitous blue lights would be wreaking havoc in our narrow streets and wantonly disrupting our constitutional rights to freedom of movement.

If Ntate Sam remains on this trajectory, he is on course to MAKE LESOTHO GREAT AGAIN (MALGA).

His next big challenge is to professionalize the civil service and appoint competent non-political principal secretaries. All the incompetents and malcontents in Lesotho’s civil service must be uprooted. And there are many of them. Ntate Sam’s choice of government secretary is going to be key. The new government secretary must be a man of high administrative pedigree. So should be all the new PSs. Below the PSs must be competent directors who must all be bound to serious performance contracts. Just like deputy ministers, we don’t need deputy principal secretaries. They are mere hangers on.  All the long term pilferers in the civil service must be weeded out. Without a competent civil service, Ntate Sam’s MALGA project will be stillborn.

Alongside reforming the current embarrassingly incompetent civil service must be the firing of other useless malcontents like Holomo Molibeli. The latter’s firing letter is hopefully already in Ntate Sam’s inbox.

Many Basotho are aghast at  Ntate Sam’s proposal to grant criminals and thieves an amnesty in exchange of their surrendering their looted wealth back to the state. Their irritation at seeing criminals walk free are understandable. The reason why thieving is entrenched in the public sector is because of lack of accountability.

Just imagine how gratifying it would be to see Moeketsi Majoro and his finance minister Thabo Sophonea becoming Kamoli’s cellmates  over their role in the disappearance of  M6,2 billion reported by the auditor-general.

It’s only in Banana republics that a prime minister and a finance minister can oversee the theft of such a humungous amount and be let off the hook. In China for instance, bontate Majoro and Sophonea would be waiting their turn at the gallows.

But there is also another point to consider. Imagine the benefit to society if these two gentlemen were asked to return the M6,2 billion in less than seven days in exchange of amnesty?  That would immediately enable Ntate Sam the kitty to pay all government suppliers bankrupted by this embarrassingly incompetent and inept Majoro, Sophonea duo. Ntate Sam will also immediately have the means for his mission to improve the lives of Basotho.

It’s a small price to pay than engaging in protracted legal processes to recover this money from Majoro and Sophonea. Moreso in light of our incompetent criminal justice system.

Then there are all the crooks who have stolen over the years. If they can be made to surrender all their corruptly acquired assets in exchange of amnesty, more billions will flow into treasury. In fact Lesotho might be able to lend the IMF money instead of vice versa. There are many advantages for a criminal amnesty based on full disclosure. To qualify for amnesty, every tsotsi must be required to reveal the whole truth about how they stole, the investments they made with their loot and the profits they accrued. They must return at least 90 percent of the total value of their cumulative gains to qualify for amnesty.

There are those tsotsis who would have nonetheless spent most of their stolen cash on booze and women. Those cannot be helped. They must go to jail straight away.

The effort by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to recover the billions stolen by Sani Abacha is a good example.

Abacha was a half human monster who seized power in 1993 after the military in Nigeria annulled the election of businessman Moshood Abiola. Abacha was not only half-human, he was a complete skunk. As soon as he seized power, he set on emptying the Nigerian treasury. Every dollar that landed at the treasury vaults in Abuja would be delivered to Abacha. As an archetypal unconscionable African leader, Abacha spent most of his loot on expensive liquor, caviar, and  all manner of prostitutes, flown to his mansions all over Nigeria, from all over the world. By God’s special grace, one of the prostitutes poisoned him and he died during the act after five disastrous years in power.  Estimates of the money looted by Abacha range from between US$5 billion to US$10 billion. When Abacha’s successor, Abdulsalami Abubakar, restored democratic rule and Olusegun Obasanjo took over power in Nigeria’s first ever free democratic vote in 1999, the latter set on recovering all the billions stolen by Abacha. Realizing that it would take long to recover the billions stolen and stashed abroad, Obasanjo made a deal with the late Abacha’s family members who at least knew where some of the loot had been stashed.  Instead of pursuing futile legal processes in foreign jurisdictions, Obasanjo gave the Abacha heirs an option of being hanged or cooperate with the new government in tracing and returning some of the moolar stolen by Abacha. Obasanjo even offered them to keep US$100 million  of the stolen funds if they cooperated fully. All this has resulted in the recovery of nearly US$4 billion (the equivalent of Lesotho’s budget for four years). While the Obasanjo/Abacha family deal did not go down well with many in Nigeria, I think it was a good deal. The problem with sending looters straight to jail is that you are unlikely to recover what they have stolen.

Me thinks a similar deal should be extended to Majoro and Sophonea. They must be asked to tell us where they put the M6.2 billion, help in securing its return in exchange of full amnesty or be hanged.  They can even be offered to retain M50 million (M25 apiece) if they ensure a quick return of the M6,2 billion.  Basotho need this stolen loot.

What is wholly unacceptable is to let Majoro and Sophonea off the hook. To simply let M6, 2 billion disappear without consequence to  a prime minister and finance minister entrusted with running the national purse on behalf of the people is simply unacceptable.  It’s the stuff of Banana regimes. It simply cannot be allowed to happen under Moruooooooooooooo.  If Majoro and Sophonea fail to tell us where they put this money in exchange of an amnesty, they surely must be jailed. Jailing corrupt politicians and looters pre-October 7 2022 is going to be one of the tests for the Moruo administration. All those who have let this country down must be held accountable.  The amnesty must only cover thieves who stole cash from the national purse to the exclusion of all other crimes.

Shameless Peshoane must go now

Civic society – just like the media  — exists to be the watchdog of politicians and to fight for democracy . The stronger the civic society in any country, the stronger that country’s democracy.  By the same token, leaders of civic groups, must be exemplary. They cannot demand exemplary leadership from politicians yet they themselves don’t meet the test.

Multitudes of followers of this column will know how I have vigorously defended and stood by Tsikoane Peshoane in light of his critical role as a civic leader.  The awkwardly named Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) which he leads, is a crucial pillar of Lesotho’s civic society and democracy. Or has been.  It needs to maintain an impeccable reputation if it is to be taken seriously. Leaders of civic groups must be beyond reproach. They must be self-conscious and behave in an exemplary way.

I am however chagrined and angered by the behaviour of  Peshoane and the board of the TRC.

The TRC has just lost millions of funding from the European Union because Peshoane is clinging on to power despite having been charged in a court of law for his alleged misbehavior in demanding sexual favours from several female employees.

Civic society leaders are always vulnerable because politicians don’t want anybody who holds them accountable. For this reason, I was willing to give Peshoane the benefit of the doubt as it is not uncommon to have civic society leaders being slapped with trumped up  charges to silence them.

When the case was first brought to court, I thought Peshoane would welcome the opportunity to clear his name in the courts. At least, our judiciary cannot be said to be beholden to politicians. Which is why the government loses so many cases. The seminal loss of  Majoro’s inept regime over his recall of parliament is a case in point.

Instead of taking advantage of that fact to prove his innocence, Peshoane opted  to delay or completely forestall his trial by launching a frivolous constitutional court application. Everyone knows that people facing criminal charges in this country – who resort to constitutional applications – do so to avoid standing trial on the substantive allegations they are facing. Kamoli and his fellow murderous have used this Stalingrad tactic to good effect to avoid answering to their crimes. Fortunately, that has all been to their own disadvantage as they remain where they rightly belong; jail.

The last person I expected to resort to this diabolic strategy was Ntate Peshoane. I thought he would in fact salivate at the chance of clearing his name in the magistrates court. But he has elected to join the league of trial deniers.

More importantly, he should have vacated office – the moment he was arraigned before the courts. That is what any decent human being does.  That is what any decent organization must expect of its office bearers.  When you are charged in court, vacate office until your case is finalized. How on this earth can Peshoane have a case of sexual harassment pending in the courts and at the same time demand good behaviour of our politicians.

The persons who are most disappointing are the ones that he reports to in the board of the TRC. These people should have suspended Peshoane the moment he was formally charged. I do not know who ultimately hold the TRC board accountable. But on account of their misbehaviour, the EU and other donors are right to withhold their support to the TRC.

Ntate Mamolefe Petlane is wrong in not suspending Peshoane pending the finalization of his case. The old adage that everyone is innocent till proven guilty does not hold here. Peshoane could have been suspended on full pay, ensuring he does not suffer any prejudice until the finalization of the case.

As things stand the TRC has no moral authority to speak on anything while its leader is in court facing criminal charges. Imagine if a minister got criminally charged and failed to recuse himself or herself  from work pending the finalization of their case. What moral authority will the TRC have to call out such a minister or to exhort the prime minister to fire him or her?

I almost feel tempted to call Lekheto  Ntsukunyane at MISA to Ulala to apologise for my having criticized him for calling me out over my defence of Peshoane in the past. But the problem is I would have to pay for all the beer and lamb chops. Stingy Ntsukunyane won’t want to pay for even a single pint.

Peshoane must recuse himself from work until his case is finalized. Period. The TRC board must either quit or be fired (I don’t know by who) over its dereliction of duty. It’s also high time other civic groups emerged. We have relied too much on the TRC.