I am not looking for revenge: Molibeli
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane last month appointed former Lesotho Police Staff Association ( LEPOSA) president, Holomo Molibeli, as acting police commissioner.
The premier made the appointment after sending Police Commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa on an involuntary 90-day leave in June this year.
Commissioner Letsoepa is currently negotiating exit terms with the government, with Acting Commissioner Molibeli expected to replace the top cop on a permanent basis.
Acting Commissioner Molibeli — whose substantive position is that of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) heading the Crime Investigation Department (CID) — is not new to the law enforcement agency’s hot seat. He temporarily held the reins when then police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana and other security bosses were sent on a special leave in 2014 and 2015. The special leave was meant to allow the restoration of peace between the army and police in line with the Maseru Security Accord brokered by South African Vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa. In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) Reporter Pascalinah Kabi, Acting Commissioner Molibeli ( pictured) talks about his new role and the challenges he faces among other issues.
LT: Briefly tell us about yourself?
Molibeli: Born on 23 February 1969, I grew up in Mabuthile village, Butha-buthe. I attended both my primary and high education in Butha-buthe. My parents had four male children and I am the last born, all of them have since died.
I joined the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) on 10 May 1988. I now have 29 years serving as a police officer. Growing up, I wanted nothing else but to become a hotshot lawyer, but fate had other ideas because I had to quickly earn a living.
I had passed my Cambridge O Level School Certificate (COSC) well, but my father, who worked as a miner in South Africa, was already struggling financially and only stayed in the country to ensure that I completed my high school studies. He retired when I was doing Form D and things got very tough, hence I sought employment in the police service.
I was happy to be part of the service but I must point out that I was brought to this place by my family circumstances. What made it easier for me to join the force was that I was a very good footballer. Within a short time, I was selected for the senior LMPS team, and I must confess that football made me forget that I needed to go back to school at some stage.
I first started as a midfielder and scored so many goals that I was converted into a striker. Shortly before I hung my boots, I became a right fullback who would overlap and score goals. The number of goals I scored when I was a right back are more than the ones I scored as a striker. I hung my boots in 1996 and established my own football team.
LT: You briefly left the police service in 2016, what prompted the decision to leave a service you sound so fond of?
Molibeli: The environment within the police service was no longer conducive for me to executive my duties as ACP heading CID. Orders came from the top, skipped me and reporting would come from my juniors to the top, skipping me as ACP.
It was unbearable. The working conditions at that time were beyond explanation and the writing was on the wall for me. I was not serving any purpose. My presence and absence were not felt at all. I had no option but to leave.
To be honest, I was not ready to leave the service, so it was heart-breaking for me. I had started to lose weight due to circumstances within the service and I did not have any inner peace knowing how much I loved the service yet I could not serve it well.
It was also heart-breaking to see that even the people I had known in all my professional life and trusted had turned against me. It seemed as if we never knew each for reasons unbeknownst to me.
I occupied the position of acting commissioner of police in 2015 when this country was preparing for elections. We worked really well and even received commendations from the international community. So in May 2015, I returned to my substantive position and a year down the line these people acted like they did not know me at all.
I was not new to them. I was their colleague and trusted them. Suddenly things changed and people were not free around me. So I decided that staying at the police service was not beneficial to me and I left.
The situation had deteriorated to the extent that my wife would call me every single day asking “how are things today?” and I would pretend like things were okay. Knowing me, she would see right through me when I got home and it would be difficult for me to open up.
LT: You endured this treatment for almost a year, when and why did you decide that it was time to say goodbye?
Molibeli: Honestly speaking, I took that decision after discovering that there was a plot to oust me. I had stomached all this bad treatment like a real man but after I discovered that there was a plan to oust me, so that I would go home empty handed, I handed in my resignation letter that very same day.
I started my leave on 18th April pending early retirement. As we speak, today (August 8) was going to be my first day officially as a retired police officer because my leave pertaining retirement would have ended yesterday (August 7).
The plan to oust me was basically centred on the issue which took place when I was LEPOSA president. It did not sit well with some people that I spoke against Ntate Mothetjoa Metsing (former deputy prime minister and Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader) and they were pursuing this matter, a matter they did not pursue when I was still serving as LEPOSA president.
(DCP Molibeli had said he did not consider Mr Metsing the deputy premier due to his lack of support for the police in their struggle for better salaries and working conditions.)
We are talking about the statement which I uttered in November 2014 and I was always in the country but they never pursued that matter. Even after the 2015 elections, I was always there but the issue only took a momentum after the elections. I was even aware that there was a docket opened against me for that matter but it could not materialise because I did not commit any criminal act. This matter had hit a brick wall even at the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office because there was no crime committed.
I mean, I was just airing my views and it was a fair comment. I can maintain that it was a fair comment and that is how I felt and I even made it clear that those were my personal views. I was not representing anybody, I was representing myself and no one can claim that I brought any organisation into disrepute. The only organisation which would have complained was LEPOSA because I was there as its president but LEPOSA felt nothing wrong about it, yet I was lambasted by non-entities.
LT: You are now back in the service close to your heart. Knowing that you have been a victim of circumstances and you would probably be representing many other victims, what are you hoping to achieve in this office as a top boss and how are you going to achieve that?
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As we speak today, I know people who were pursuing the case against me but I do not really care about them. They were doing their job, even though I strongly feel that it was not in a professional way. I am not here to hunt them down. I am here to work with them, to show them brotherly love for the sake of this country
Molibeli: I hope to bring about a united police service. A police service with integrity, trusted by the nation and a service where police officers will be happy to be part of. I also hope to ensure that LMPS becomes a police service where whistle-blowers will feel confident enough to tip-off officers without fears that they will become victims.
There is something beautiful about being a victim because all you want is to ensure that others do not become victims like you. I want to ensure that my fellow victims do not victimise others because it will be a vicious circle if we allow ourselves to target each other and revenge.
As we speak today, I know people who were pursuing the case against me but I do not really care about them. They were doing their job, even though I strongly feel that it was not in a professional way. I am not here to hunt them down. I am here to work with them, to show them brotherly love for the sake of this country. I always tell police officers that this nation does not owe us anything but we owe them service delivery because we get paid each and every month.
If we can have a united police service hungry to deliver services, I would retire happy.
I strongly feel that we can only achieve all of these if I do not revenge against one. Secondly, I know deep within me that police officers dream of a day when the LMPS top management will stop the infighting and work harmoniously together and I hope to help this service achieve that.
Thirdly, there is nothing as gratifying for a police officer as being given an assignment and that is what all police officers want. So it is important that they are assigned to duties and where possible, help them with resources to execute their duties.
I am also going to introduce a strong sporting culture in the service. The LMPS has so many good public relations officers and I am going to recruit one who will be assigned to the sports desk. I am interested in seeing police officers recruiting and coaching children at the grassroots level, training coaches on the national level and establishing a recreational sport for the police to ensure that they know each other and remain united.
LT: Why did you choose to shoulder the blame for Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng’s disappearance and murder instead of letting those who came before you to take responsibility?
Molibeli: The sole reason is that the COMPOL office does not operate in a vacuum. The person who was the COMPOL before me inherited the consequences of the decisions taken by those before him and I also inherited the consequences of the bad and good choices the persons who came before took.
It is, therefore, important for me to understand that and I don’t have any right to point fingers and I say I was not part of those decisions.
I may be in an acting capacity, but I inherited decisions of this office and therefore must apologise for those bad decisions taken by this office. Oftentimes we want to take credit for the good things and have someone else shoulder the blame for the bad ones.
Accepting and taking responsibility for both the good and the bad is simply being a true leader.
LT: Will we see the police giving PC Khetheng an official send-off and assist financially given that he stopped paying for insurance after his salary was cutoff?
Molibeli: With full-force. I may not say how at this time but we must do that. I met with his father on Sunday and I am going to meet with the family later today (Tuesday) because they would want to have a tentative date for burial.
I suspect we are going to contribute im- mensely in that funeral because even his dismissal should be withdrawn because proper procedures were not followed when firing him. Although I still need authorisation from my bosses, I strongly suspect that we are going to give him an official police send-off.
LT: You are working with former colleagues in Police and public Safety Principal Secretary Khothatso Tšooana and Minister ‘Mampho Mokhele at a time the country has embarked on security sector reforms. Have you started any discussions on this matter?
Molibeli: You will have to appreciate that the honourable minister was appointed at a time the National Budget was being tabled and she had to concentrate on that. Right after that, she had to tour police stations countrywide. As a result, we have not discussed this matter.
However, we are lucky to have Ntate Tšooana as our PS and ‘M’e Mamokhele as the minister because when the two talk about the police service, they do not have to read papers. They know this service in and out.
While the three of us have not yet sat down and discussed this, I strongly feel that the reforms must incorporate the Police Psychological Service. Our police officers desperately need counselling services after experiencing trauma and other work-related challenges.
Drinking at work and assaulting people are top of the list for police dismissal yet we never target the root cause. The nature of their work changes them yet we never, as a proactive measure, sit down and talk to our police officers.
Reforms must also look into police training. Lesotho police officers go through militaristic training, that militarist approach of policing is applied to civilians. The public see police officers, armed, instructing suspected civilians to roll down until they confess to a crime. I am ashamed because it is not their fault, we should blame the kind of training they went through at Police Training College.
When they see suspects, they see their own recruits and want to apply the militarist approach they learnt during training.
The world is now talking about human rights issues yet the LMPS is only talking about it theoretically. We need to change the training approach. On top of that, police officers only attend the six-month compulsory training, so we also need to have accredited courses for police officers.
On technical training, reforms must address the fact that we need to have highly recommended trainers but we are always losing them because of poor remuneration.
Allowances must also be taken into serious consideration. These reforms may also want to compare us with fellow police services in the region. You know a police officer assigned as an official driver, only gets M10 allowance per month yet if they are involved in an accident, they are surcharged.
LT: Lastly, how are you hoping to win the fight against crime?
Molibeli: I have identified that expanding community policing will help us win this fight. At the moment, community policing clamps communities together just because they are from the same area, forgetting other critical factors.
For instance, we have neglected the university community which has its own challenges that are not similar to that of the “community” they are situated in. We need to have a police in touch with the university community and this will help us deal with challenges like strikes proactively.
This problem is similar in other areas like Maseru West and Thetsane. We are not in touch with these communities. Their opinions are not even incorporated in our annual plans, so is the business community. There are so many neglected communities like the media – we only meet them during briefings.
The other neglected community is the police service itself. You will not believe that the police service community never sits down to discuss issues of crime, their opinions are never incorporated in the LMPS’S annual plans. I have already appointed an officer to deal with community segregation and I think identification is the right step towards winning this fight.