‘I was not deployed because I married Thabane’s daughter’
He is Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s son-in-law, married to ‘Mabats’oeneng Hlaele, nee Thabane, but Law, Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs Minister Lebohang Hlaele, is adamant his association with the first family doesn’t mean he should be idle and hide behind the PM.
If anything, Hlaele tells Public Eye this week, he earned his senatorial seat through dedication to the party and hard work, adding: “Anybody who views things from a nepotism perspective is entitled to their opinion”.
Hlaele also talks about his ministry, its functions, the contentious Amnesty Bill 2016 and the reforms programme pending implementation by the Lesotho government.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
PUBLIC EYE: You have been here for close to three months. What state did you find the ministry in and what changes have you effected so far?
LEBOHANG HLAELE: The main challenge was that there was low morale in the ministry because of several reasons. But we met with all the departments under one roof to develop rapport and devise a strategy to boost the morale owing to lack of resources.
Without resources, people cannot execute their duties. Even if they want to work, they are compelled to remain holed up in their offices. Now, that meant my office had to find solutions.
For instance, we had to provide support to the civil and criminal departments because they play a key role in ensuring that people’s cases are processed speedily and efficiently.
But without proper resources there’s not much they can do. I’m currently touring the different sections of the ministry. Just this morning we were in the drafting section where they informed us that they lack working space and do not have a website. Theirs also form part of the reasons for the low morale.
But, we do have hope that things will turn around. These people are prepared to work provided they have the resources needed. They are eager to promote their ministry and the services it offers.
P.E: Can you say what the specific functions of your office are?
L.H: Our primary functions are prosecution, drafting of laws, legal research, protection of intellectual property, provision of legal opinion in the civil section and the protection of human rights department. All these departments combined make up the core business of the Ministry of Law, Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs. Then we have the office of the Attorney General and that of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
P.E: What legislation is your ministry currently working on?
L.H: Lesotho is currently in the process of undergoing parliamentary, constitutional, security and public sectors reforms. The understanding we have is that reforms are supposed to be under this ministry. But there are views that since the reforms programme is wide-ranging, the process shouldn’t be left to just one ministry to manage. I’ve already received reports on the progress made so far on the preparation for the reforms.
I’m currently trying to go through this brief, after which I’ll the approach Cabinet to tell them that since we are the ministry responsible for drafting of laws, the reforms process should also be executed by us and how we think the process should be handled, without necessarily implying that everything should be left exclusively to us. The cabinet will then pronounce itself on the matter.
P.E: How far are you with the establishment of the Human Rights Commission structure?
L.H: You will remember that a law was passed on the same, and the structure on the make-up of the commission was approved. But the structure is currently before the Public Service Commission (PSC), for the department to put the missing flesh to the bones, such as grading the ranks there in line with public service regulations. We currently await feedback from the PSC.
P.E: What is happening about the contentious Amnesty Bill, 2016? You are a new government with different views from the government that drafted the bill. Are you going to carry on with it in its current state, amend it or cancel it altogether and come up with an alternative?
L.H: To be specific on this matter, as the incoming government we haven’t discussed the law in cabinet. I’m currently not at liberty to give my opinion yet. We first need to discuss it at length as cabinet, form opinions, share our views and then come to a decision. Once we are done we will ensure that the public understands the government’s stance on it.
P.E: What is your vision for this ministry and what legacy would you like to leave behind?
L.H: My understanding is that there’s not much we can achieve if we don’t work together and show a united front. All the ministry’s sections must understand that they are one. The legacy I’d love to leave is of a ministry that’s sensitive to Basotho’s rights. Cases get lost in the courts of law. That should come to an end.
We need to strive for a prosecution that’s apolitical and which will come across as such before the public. We need to restore public confidence in the prosecution as much as possible. We need to restore the dignity and integrity of this ministry. That’s my greatest wish.
We must also establish an integrated system which preserves records, so that when people are prosecuted and sentenced, the whole process is documented: who was convicted, on what grounds and the jail term served. This will assist in that if the same person commits a crime, he would already be in the system and can therefore be easily identified.
Again, we have the printing department, which has not been performing its functions, such as protecting confidential information, which leads to government being exposed. It’s my intention to clear the mess in there. I can assure you that by this time next year, all these would have been sorted.
P.E: There was a lot of discontent regarding your appointment as Senator and, subsequently, minister. It was a move viewed particularly by the current government’s political rivals as nothing but blatant nepotism, due to the fact that you’re Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s son-in-law. What did you make of the whole brouhaha and have you gotten past it?
L.H: For you to understand this issue I’ll have to give you my political background. My politics date back to the days of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) in whose structures I grew up. I never joined the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) when the party broke away from the BCP but, instead, I stayed. However, when the ABC was formed in 2006, I was the first person to raise the party’s flag in my native Qaqatu constituency. It was because my own BCP had collapsed due to internal fights and all.
So, I joined the ABC for the one good reason, that when I read the party’s manifesto and its motto “Sera Sa Motho Ke Tlala” (a person’s worst enemy is hunger when loosely translated) and compared it to the BCP’s which encouraged oneness among Basotho, to fight poverty, I saw similarities in the manifestos, whose main objective was to eradicate poverty.
I had no choice but to heed Thabane’s call and immediately joined the ABC. I immediately joined the Qaqatu constituency committee and was responsible for establishing the party’s structures there. Then I was elected into the executive committee as the deputy secretary-general in January 2014.
P.E: When and how did you meet your wife, the PM’s daughter?
L.H: In 2007 I met this lady at the AME Hall. I saw this beautiful lady and told myself ‘I love this woman’. I had been a divorcee for 10 years when I met her. Then in 2013 I married her.
I’m an ABC member in my own right, who was not influenced by marriage. However, I don’t blame people who have raised this issue (marrying into Thabane’s family). If anything, I’ve drawn some valuable lessons from this whole experience. If a similar issue arises in future, my case will be referenced, as that minister who married the PM’s daughter and all that, compared to Ntate Mosisili’s son-in-law and his children.
Only Lebohang grew up in the BCP structures and gradually rose through the structures of the ABC. I was already in the ABC structures when I met my wife. I fell in love with her. I married her. Whether it’s nepotism, is a story for another time. But I didn’t go to her because of her status. And with my background, I don’t think nepotism carries water.
P.E: Are you saying here today, that we will not see you dragging your feet and underperforming, hiding behind the fact that the PM is your father by extension?
L.H: I’m here by deployment. If I don’t perform, I have to be treated like any other underperforming minister. That’s my take. I didn’t come here under the illusion that my wife’s father is the PM. No! People should do away with such notions. I’m sure even he didn’t appoint me based on our relations.
Ntate Thabane knew me long before he formed the ABC and became PM. We were together in the BCP, only I didn’t leave with him when he and others defected to the LCD. And, I only came to join him in the ABC because I knew his tenacity and passion for his people. He boosted all the ministries he worked for, boosting their profiles because of his dedication and work ethic.
I followed his party because of his impressive profile and the ABC manifesto. This is Lesotho, a democratic country where people have freedom of speech and are entitled to their opinions.