Permanent Secretary in the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Kebonye Moepeng has evaded possible jail time after intercepting a court case being mounted by lawyers acting for a BTV producer.
Moepeng risked contempt of court after stalling the execution of a Court of Appeal ruling favouring a Botswana Television producer, Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang. Moepeng is perhaps one of the most significant Permanent Secretaries in government as she operates from the heart of central government controlling the public service and state media among others.
The Court of Appeal issued a decision on the 9th of February ruling that Ntopolelang’s transfer to the former Ministry of Minerals Energy and Water Resources (MMEWER) be reversed as it was deemed unlawful. Legal sources told this publication this week that lawyers representing the BTV producer are again marshalling his case to seek the High Court to compel the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Kebonye Moepeng to formally reverse Ntopolelang’s nullified transfer.
However, Moepeng this week formally nullified the transfer in the nick of time through a short letter seen by this publication intercepting a fresh application by Collins Chilisa Consultants to sue for contempt of court. It is understood that Moepeng had been notified of Ntopolelang’s notice to apply for contempt of order. Ntopolelang’s lawyer, Mboki Chilisa had argued at the Court of Appeal in January that Ntopolelang was transferred without proper consultation.
He had been shipped off to MMEWER’s post of Principal Public Relations Officer II on the 22nd of August after Department of Broadcasting Services(DBES) Director, Lesole Obonye told him in a meeting that he was not trusted enough to head BTV’s News and Current Affairs section especially in election year.
As he was locked in the process of fending off his transfer to MMEWER at the Industrial Court, he was hastily redeployed from the News and Current Affairs Section (NCAS) to the less strategic Programs Section still in BTV. Ntopolelang’s court papers seen by WeekendPost stated that Obonye remarked to Ntopolelang: “Gase gore gare bone bokgoni jwa gago jaaka o bona DPS (Deputy Permanent Secretary) a kgona go go assigner high profile assignments. Re ntse re diilwe ke go bua le bagolo and we were waiting for instructions…kana ke ngwaga wa ditlhopho. Ga se gore gare bone bokgoni jwa gago…ba batla yo ba mo tshephang.” the document reads in part.
Literally translated, Obonye told Ntopolelang that, “It is not that we cannot see your competence, as you can see, the DPS sometimes gives you high profile assignments. The delay was due to discussions with elders and we were waiting for instructions…mind you this is election year. It is not that we don’t acknowledge your competence, but they want somebody they can trust.” The NCAS is reportedly a bastion under heavy political control and scrutiny where leaders come and go at the slightest whiff of suspicion.
It is the most critical of BTV’s sections as it deals with the news and current affairs. In a four year period from 2013 to 2016 it has had 4 of directors among them Sakaeyo Jane, Edson Malebane, and Ntopolelang himself shipped out. The former and the latter have had to duel with the employer in court and won.
Last month a panel of three CoA Justices comprising Isaac Lesetedi, C Howie and Lord Alistair Abernathy found that Ntopolelang’s employer, being the Secretary in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Kebonye Moepeng had not properly consulted him regarding his transfer. They highlighted that in consultation, “what follows is not exhaustive and that such consultation is not to be treated perfunctorily or as mere formality. It entails a genuine invitation to the person concerned to say what he wishes to say and a genuine consideration of what he said.”
They further continued: “Sufficient time must be given to enable the person concerned to say what he wishes to say and how to say it.” The judges also determined that sufficient time must then be available to allow the decision maker to consider what has been said and that all this must be done before a decision maker reaches his decision. If his mind is already made up before the consultation process is complete, that is not compatible with a proper consultation.”
They further continued to say that even though his redeployment to the Programs Section was not illegal, “in my opinion it would be stretching credulity too far to say that it was altogether unconnected with what the Industrial Court might do on 12 September(possibly halt transfer to MMEWER).”
The precedent of top government management who seem to stall implementing court orders is not a new phenomenon. Recently the Commander of Botswana Defense Force (BDF) also escaped serving time by a whisker after he stalled reinstating an expelled BDF couple back into service.
Justice Zein Kebonang of the Gaborone High Court issued a ruling on the 18th of November 2016 for BDF to reinstate Pvt Kazondou Uariua and his partner Thabang Tlhapisang after they were expelled for a love relationship. Segokgo escaped jail time for contempt of court 29 days after the court ruling. Moepeng also intercepted the raising of contempt of court on the 29th day after the ruling was issued.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.