/ 20 June 2013

Out with Ramodibedi, says Lesotho government

Swaziland's judicial crisis spilled onto the streets of the Mbabane on September 21 2011 as lawyers protested against controversial Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi
Swaziland's judicial crisis spilled onto the streets of the Mbabane on September 21 2011 as lawyers protested against controversial Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi

The impeachment against Ramodibedi comes for his alleged role in a judicial crisis, gross misconduct and fraud.

Ramodibedi, who is also Chief Justice of Swaziland, is involved in a protracted conflict over seniority with retiring Chief Justice Justice Lehohla – a feud that the government says was damaging the functioning of the courts and public confidence in the judiciary.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Maphato Monyake has asked the Lesotho High Court in Maseru to dismiss an earlier application by Ramodibedi to prevent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from forcing him (Ramodibedi) to step down, saying this was against that country's Constitution.

In that application, the court granted an interim order in favour of Ramodibedi that interdicted the government from preventing him to use official cars.

Shunning discussion
Monyake said it was regrettable that Ramodibedi, a very senior judge, in an unprecedented move, instituted proceedings against the most senior officers of state, shunning the route of amicable discussions.

He says this has made it impossible for him to properly perform his judicial functions as he has brought himself into conflict such that the government now has a reasonable apprehension that he will be biased against it in the numerous matters that will serve before the court of appeal.

In an answering affidavit, Monyake said the government would advise King Letsie to set up a tribunal to investigate possible impeachment.

Ramodibedi is expected to file his own affidavit responding to Monyake's affidavit.

The government of Lesotho has also expressed concern about Ramodibedi's, affiliation to King Mswati, the world's absolute monarchy, noting that there is no constitutional separation of powers or judicial independence – contrary to Lesotho's democratic principles.

In a demonstration of homage, Ramodibedi gave three cows to Mswati.

"This caused consternation in the government of Lesotho. Such a public display of affiliation to an absolute monarch plainly undermines the public perception of judicial independence, and would not be countenanced in Lesotho," Monyake wrote in the affidavit.

He added that Ramodibedi walked out of a meeting called by Thabane to discuss the issues.

"The government also wished to discuss the fact that [Ramodibedi] simultaneously holds office as the Chief Justice of Swaziland – a matter upon which he is surprisingly silent in his affidavit. This is a matter that is of vital concern to the government.

Abuse of public funds
The government is firmly of the view that it is incompatible with the judicial office and the requirements of judicial independence prescribed by the Constitution of Lesotho for a person to hold permanent judicial office in two countries in which he swears allegiance to two different Constitutions," he said.

Monyake said the meeting was also intended to discuss with Ramodibedi serious allegations pertaining to abuse of public funds and entitlements.

He said the investigation would also look into allegations of fraud in respect of a false accident report submitted by theapplicant's chauffeur allegedly under the applicant's instructions.

This follows allegations of a R120 000 insurance fraud involving false statements to hide details of an accident on an official car driven by his son whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Monyake also said that the government of Lesotho was concerned about the financial implications of Ramodibedi's absence from the Lesotho bench, posed by his permanent appointment as Swaziland's chief justice.

The matter will continue to be heard by the High Court of Lesotho.