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Troubled Lesotho buckles under regional pressure

Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has revealed that the Prime Minister of Lesotho Pakalitha Mosisili has averted possible sanctions by the regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the tiny mountain kingdom by finally accepting the SADC commissioned report.

Venson-Moitoi said that the possibility of imposing sanctions on Lesotho had crossed the table of discussion as Lesotho had been reluctant to receive the report citing a court case currently underway at home.

She said that Lesotho would still not budge even though SADC advanced reasoning that the regional bloc was immune and protected against the courts of law of member states and that the treaties signed by member states would protect decisions of SADC as well as the decisions of the Commission against any ruling from the Lesotho courts.

The meeting according to Venson-Moitoi still ended without an agreement between Lesotho and the SADC troika.

Venson-Moitoi however said that, the “conclusion was neither the best conclusion nor a conclusion that members states favoured because everybody wishes to see SADC succeeding.”

She continued that member states had for quite a time pleaded with Lesotho to see rational reason before arriving at a dreaded end where they discussed the imposition of biting sanctions, restrictions, limitations and the exclusion of Lesotho from the regional bloc as a proposal for the next SADC summit.

She continued that she believes, President Ian Khama who is also the SADC chairperson, sensing the palpable mood of the member states tailed the issue further beyond the stalemate.  She also believes that Pakalitha Mosisili also sensing the sulk atmosphere among the regional headship did not immediately depart for home and joined the chairman for a private meeting the next morning.

Venson-Moitoi says that the meeting between SADC chairman Ian Khama and Mosisili fundamentally changed the complexion of the previous day’s hard line trajectory that had mulled over imposition of sanctions as well as the expulsion of Lesotho from the regional community, removing the likelihood of a suspension that would have been concluded.

She also says that Mosisili accepted the report on condition that as a head of state leading a coalition government, he would not unilaterally accept the report as he had to go back home to consult his coalition partners before reaching an agreement with the chairman to issue a response to the chairman of the organ and President of Mozambique Felipe Nyusi within 14 days. Nyusi is head of the SADC organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

Venson-Moitoi also said that had Lesotho not accepted the commission’s report SADC was to publicise the report but since it had accepted it the onus falls on Lesotho to publicise it after 14 days. The 14 days agreement also stipulates that Lesotho has to show how it intends to execute constitutional public sector and security sector reforms that came as recommendations from findings of a report by SADC facilitator and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, for Lesotho to come back into proper democratic governance.

Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana had led a 10 member strong commission to investigate among other things; the rupture of political stability in the mountain kingdom and the assassination of Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao who was killed on the 25th of June 2015. General Mahao was killed on his way from his farm in an operation to arrest soldiers suspected of being involved in a plot to topple Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) military command. Ironically, General Mahao was in 2010 posted at the SADC headquarters in Gaborone as Chief of Staff-SADC Standby Forces (SSF) where he worked for a couple of years. He was also the scion of an accomplished Lesotho family as a brother to National University of Lesotho Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao.

The Lesotho government had stalled accepting the Phumaphi Commission of Enquiry report citing a court case in which LDF’s Special Forces Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi accuses the commission of being biased against him to the point that Justice Phumaphi had bordered on accusing him of participating in Mahao’s assassination. Mahao had survived at least one assassination attempt where his family dog was gunned down as the political situation in that country spiralled out of control.

The Lesotho political and state security sector had been severely fractured with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and Gen. Mahao said to be allied to former Prime Minister Tom Thabane.

Thabane promoted Mahao to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the LDF after a failed military coup d’état resulted in the sacking of Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli who is said to be allied to incumbent Prime Minister Mosisili. Gen. Kamoli is also said to be a distant cousin to Prime Minister Mosisili. After winning power in a snap general election Mosisili reinstated Kamoli to the top military post defying SADC facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa who warned that his entry had the potential to spark further political instability in the country.

The Phumaphi commission report was completed on the 23rd of October 25 2015 and handed to SADC on the 6th of December of the same year. Unconfirmed reports indicate that that the Phumaphi commission urges SADC to call for strictly monitored elections in Lesotho, and further calls for the dismissal of some military chiefs in that country.  

This publication learns that Lesotho has been given fourteen days to study the report and comply. The Lesotho cabinet is said to have held an emergency meeting on Wednesday and they now realise the seriousness of SADC leaders.

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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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