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LEWA official bays for ministers’ blood

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Suspended Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA) board member, Pashu Mochesane, intends to drag two ministers to court over their alleged refusal to reinstate him despite last month’s High Court order directing his reinstatement.

The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism learned this week about a potential showdown at LEWA following Justice Semapo Peete’s ruling on October 22 that a decision by Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele and his counterpart Energy Minister Mokoto Hloaele to suspend Mochesane without an inquiry by a tribunal, was irregular and unlawful.

The court, therefore, directed the reinstatement of Mochesane and ordered the two ministers to facilitate payment of his benefits “which were unlawfully withheld as a result of the suspension”.

Mochesane, a stalwart of the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), was suspended from the LEWA board on April 4 this year, in what could be an ongoing political purge by the current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led government against the previous administration of Pakalitha Mosisili.

He was alleged to have failed to furnish Ntsekele and Hloaele with the authority’s annual report within six months from the end of the financial year.

Mochesane was one of the founding members of the LCD in 1997. He served the party’s executive committee and became a sports minister. In 2001, he broke away to form the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) together with the then party deputy leader, Kelebone Maope, but Mochesane re-joined the LCD in 2010.

He was appointed to the water and electricity regulatory body as a board member in 2016 for a three-year term by the previous Mosisili administration. But his tenure was met with the April suspension that he challenged in the High Court.

The Centre has established that up to yesterday, Mochesane had not been reinstated despite having sent a copy of the court order to the regulator’s chief executive officer, Professor Lebohang Moleko, on October 29.

“Please find attached a copy of the court order reinstating me on the board. I would like to request you to do what is required to facilitate my participation as a board member,” Mochesane wrote in a letter to Moleko.

Speaking to the Centre on Wednesday, Hloaele said he needed to inquire from “relevant administrative authorities” why Mochesane had not been reinstated.

Contacted again yesterday, the minister said: “The chief executive of LEWA came to my office today and we discussed this issue. I also discussed it with the minister of water. Give us a few days and we will sort it out.”

LEWA is a regulatory body which independently deals with matters such as electricity and water pricing, complaints handling and resolution and the supervision of the implementation of the Quality of Service and Supply Standards by the Lesotho Electricity Company and the Water and Sewage Company.

On Wednesday, Mochesane told the Centre that failure to reinstate him was an obvious contempt of court.

“I am going to court again. I have waited for almost a month now for them to comply with the court order but it seems they are not willing to,” he said.

Mochesane’s suspension letter endorsed by both the ministers and dated April 4 reads: “In line with the Lesotho Electricity Authority Act 2002 as amended, we hereby suspend you from the LEWA Board without payment of allowances and further notify you that a Tribunal will be set up to investigate the maladministration leading to the non-provision of the annual report which is a statutory requirement. The suspension is with immediate effect”.

The official documents in the Centre’s possession show that the two ministers first wrote to Mochesane on Valentine’s Day, asking him to “show cause why, within seven workings days of receipt of this letter, the appointing authority cannot set up a tribunal to investigate this maladministration and suspend you from the LEWA board”.

Ntsekele and Hloaele said Mochesane was appointed to the board to perform and exercise “all powers and duties” vested to the authority by its founding legislation.

Board members are responsible for ensuring that LEWA discharges all its functions and responsibilities. They are responsible for giving policy guidance to the CEO and staff of LEWA and for reviewing actions taken on behalf of the authority.

“The Authority is mandated, by the Lesotho Electricity Act 2002 (as amended) to produce an annual report and submit it to the Ministers responsible for water and electricity sectors in Lesotho within six months of the end of each financial year to the appointing authority in order to report to the parliament.

“By virtue of you being Board Member, for the Authority, you are supposed to have produced and submitted the same report to the appointing authority (Ministers responsible for Water and Electricity sectors) but failed instead to produce it and submit it within the stipulated time,” Ntsekele and Hloaele wrote in their “show cause why” letter.

The Centre has established that the same letters were written to other members of the board but some resigned while some found employment elsewhere.

These included the controversial politician and LPC member Bokang Ramatšella, as well as Thabo Nkhahle who has since been appointed managing director at LEC.

In his response on February 22, Mochesane acknowledged that the board was mandated by law to make a report to the minister who shall in turn, place it before parliament within 14 days of receipt of the report.

He further indicated that according to the Lesotho Electricity Authority Corporate Governance Handbook, the board can only make or prepare a report and adopt a decision to submit it to the minister only when a meeting is convened to allow for the preparation, endorsement by the chairperson and the CEO.

He said as an ordinary member of the board, he did not have powers to convene the meetings of the board. He said only the chairperson on the board has the prerogative to convene board meetings.

“I can confirm that no such meeting was convened by the Chairperson within the six months from the end of the financial year to allow for the finalisation, endorsement and submission of the report the board was mandated to prepare,” he wrote.

He said he could therefore not make a unilateral decision outside the meeting of the board to submit report.

“For the foregoing, I submit that there has not been any maladministration of my duties as a member of the Board of Directors. The intended tribunal would therefore greatly prejudice my legal rights and interests,” he said.

He also “implored” the ministers not to set up a tribunal to investigate the alleged maladministration “as none exists on my part as a member of the board of directors”.

But in their April suspension letter to Mochesane, the two ministers said: “Your letter February 22, 2018, pleading to the Appointing Authority ‘not to set up a Tribunal to investigate’ and further not to suspend you from LEWA Board membership is not acceptable.”

This compelled Mochesane to file an application in the High Court in July asking the court to review the suspension and set it aside as irregular and unlawful.

On August 14, the ministers filed their notice of intention to oppose the matter. Accordingly, the hearing of the matter was postponed to give Ntsekele and Hloaele time to file their answering affidavits.

On September 3, Mochesane’ lawyers received a letter from Attorney General’s Chambers informing him that Ntsekele and Hloaele had resolved not to oppose the matter.

“As a result, the applicant will be reinstated to his substantive position. A letter to that effect will be addressed to him as well. Further, all allowances due to the applicant will be computed and paid to him,” the letter read.

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