SADC rejects additions to commission’s terms
THE terms of reference of the SADC Commission of Inquiry will remain untouched, contrary to a government gazette published last month seeking to expand the committee’s scope of investigation.
The decision was reached this week by the 35th SADC Heads of State and Government Summit held in Botswana, thereby vindicating the decision by Commission chairperson Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi to reject the government gazette in favour of the regional bloc’s original terms.
The Lesotho Times understands regional leaders informed Lesotho to establish its own probe instead of “diluting” the SADC Commission’s mandate.
Also rejected by the regional bloc were additional terms of reference proposed by SADC Facilitator to Lesotho, Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as those suggested by the opposition.
A statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili this week, states “due to financial and time constraints as well as expertise and competencies” of the present commissioners, the terms of reference of the SADC Commission of Inquiry, would be restricted to those originally agreed to on 3 July 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa.
The statement adds: “This means the additional terms of reference suggested by the government of Lesotho, the SADC Facilitator and opposition are to be abandoned.”
The duration of the commission’s investigation would be expanded by another month, meaning it would now be completed in 90 days and not the initial 60.
“The envisaged completion date is now the 10th of November 2015. This is mainly due to delays by commissioners to arrive in Lesotho and commence their work,” reads the statement.
The Commission, which is headed by Botswana judge Justice Phumaphi, was established to investigate the 25 June 2015 assassination of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Maaparankoe Mahao by his army colleagues, for his alleged role in a foiled mutiny plot against the military top brass.
However, government sought to expand the commission’s mandate, by adding its own terms of reference, which included investigating key decisions made by former pre- mier Thomas Thabane, such as the appointment of Court of Appeal President Justice Kananelo Mosito (KC) and the increase of police salaries in the absence of a budget to cover the cost.
However, Justice Phumaphi rejected the additional terms of reference, expressing his discomfort with the expanded mandate to government. Thereafter, Mr Ramaphosa announced all the proposed additional terms of reference would be tabled before this week’s summit for deliberation.
Meanwhile, the SADC decision must have come as a resounding victory for civic society, after three local non-governmental organizations (NGOS) namely Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), Law Society of Lesotho and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) wrote to the regional bloc ahead of the summit, requesting the commission’s mandate to “remain focused on the purpose for which it was established”.
“We have called for a commission with a mandate to investigate and make recommendations on the political-security nexus that appears to be at the heart of Lesotho’s crisis. The current terms of reference fail to do this,” the NGOS’ letter read.
“We are concerned that the commission’s current mandate seeks instead to deal with matters in which effective criminal investigation, prosecution and trial are both possible and more appropriate, such as investigating the fatal shooting of Maaparankoe Mahao.”
The NGOS, had added that they were concerned about the expanded terms of reference and lack of clarity regarding whether the commission will “work within Sadc-defined terms or those published in the gazette”.
Contacted for comment on the decision, to confine the mandate of the commission to Sadc-defined terms, government spokesperson — Communications, Science and Technology minister Khotso Letsatsi — told the Lesotho Times that they we re “accepting the decision reached by SADC”.
“We have always maintained that government would accept whatever SADC puts on the table. If SADC is saying the mandate of the judicial commission of inquiry be confined to the original terms of reference, then so be it,” Mr Letsatsi said.
Quizzed on whether government would go ahead and establish a commission to pursue its own investigation, Mr Letsatsi said this would “depend on the outcome of the current commission”.
“Let me not be hasty to say we’ll establish our own commission of inquiry to investigate those aspects that we wanted included. We’ll only consider such a move depending on the outcome of the Phumaphi Commission,” Mr Letsatsi said.
Meanwhile, the Commission has commence its inquiry and is inviting members of the public to provide it with the necessary information.
“The Commission of Inquiry will hold its proceedings in public, except for those witnesses who indicate that they prefer to testify in camera.
“Therefore, members of the public who wish to give evidence before the Commission may call the numbers below, from 9am to 4pm on weekdays, to register as witnesses: +266 22327515 and/or +266 50688818,” notes the SADC secretariat in a statement.