Ombudsman Leshoele Thoahlane has quashed promotion of ‘Mabakubung Pitso from the position of Financial Controller to Finance Director – Revenue at the Ministry of Finance, reversing decisions on four other positions affected by the promotion.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism learned Pitso was further promoted to the position of Deputy Accountant General–Cash Management, the one she is currently holding and among the five recommended to be re-advertised by the Ombudsman.
On his January 22, 2019 determination made on the complaint by Gaositwe Mapola against Ministry of Finance, Ombudsman nullified Pitso’s promotion on the basis that Public Service Commission (PSC) “made a decision on wrong information about her qualifications”.
Mapola is a disgruntled senior officer in the ministry who had applied for all these positions but was not shortlisted, despite having acted in some. She believes she qualified but her application was unfairly turned down.
The Ombudsman detected information about Pitso’s qualifications was from the Acting Deputy Accountant General, Hlompho Matsoso “who had assessed her Diploma to be equivalent to first degree/CA (Chartered Accountant)”.
Thoahlane ruled that Matsoso “had no authority to accredit qualifications”.
Laying her complaint before the Ombudsman, Mapola said shortlists were not done in a transparent and fair manner but in a discriminatory manner to favour the chosen few.
The Ombudsman solicited explanation from Principal Secretary Motena Tšolo and the latter’s response was Mapola “…did not have relevant qualifications”.
The ministry further submitted, “the secretary to the Public Service Commission had advised the office of Human Resources and the Accountant General to consult the Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) to seek second opinion regarding” her qualifications.
“However, the LIA acknowledged she does not qualify,” noted Thoahlane, highlighting in his findings that LIA does not have authority and knowledge to accredit university qualifications. Mapola is a Master of Business Administration from De Montfort University, United Kingdom.
“It was not by default that it requested it to accredit Mapola’s qualification. One could assume it was with the intention to mislead the PSC.”
Speaking to the Centre, LIA Chief Executive Officer Monyaola Mosoloane corroborated with the Ombudsman that the institute does not accredit qualifications.
“We don’t accredit qualifications at all, that is done by Council on Higher Education (CHE) and if ever we assess one’s qualifications it is solely for the purposes of admission into our membership,” he said.
He however said LIA also functions as adviser to the government through the Ministry of Finance. It is his understanding that LIA was only giving an opinion on Mapola’s qualifications but “accreditation is something different that we cannot do”.
Thoahlane reports that Tšolo then apologised for the way her ministry handled the matter.
“She was surprised that it seemed the DPS, being the head of administration was not involved. She undertook to see to it that the Ministry did an introspection as she felt they were not to have been kept secret,” notes the Ombudsman.
According to Mapola, she had MBA while Pitso had a Diploma. What surprised her was that Pitso’s qualifications were not sent to LIA, SAQA or CHE for accreditation but were assessed by the “purported friend” Matsoso to be equivalent to Chartered Accountant.
From LIA’s website, the Centre has learned that Pitso’s membership is categorised as General Accountant, which when talking generally to the Centre, Mosoloane said the category is for middle managers, also given to Bachelor of Commerce holders from National University of Lesotho.
The Centre has learned apart from being a “purported friend” to Matsoso, Pitso is also the former’s counterpart in the Council of LIA as she is an ex-officio member by virtue of acting the Accountant General position.
Responding to the allegations that Matsoso had assessed and graded her, Pitso told the Ombudsman that she “knew absolutely nothing about that and that if it had come to her attention, she would not have let it happen”.
According to Ombudsman, the ministry was asked why it did not send Pitso’s qualification for accreditation by the relevant authority instead of having its assessment done by the Acting Accountant General; Finance responded that that had been a fault on their part.
Talking to the Centre, Matsoso said she could not respond to the questions as “we have a PA in Finance to respond to you”. This reporter told her the questions were personal to her not the Ministry but she insisted she was never going to respond.
The Centre has been reliably informed that Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is also investigating this matter. However, the DCEO spokesperson ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko said the anti-corruption body is investigating the Ministry of Finance on several cases. Senoko could not confirm this particular case, pending finalisation of their investigations.
The Ombudsman discovered that Ministry of Finance had no transparency in shortlisting candidates for different positions it had advertised therefore “not possible to rule out the complainant’s allegation that favouritism took precedence in filling of posts”.
“There was a time Pitso was shortlisted as the only qualifying candidate, the Ministry was able to take that docket to PSC and that officer was successful after the interview but Makhetha’s name could not be submitted to PSC on the basis that the Commission could not interview one person.”
Represented by Director Human Resources, Manager and Officer Khoboso Molungoa, ‘Mamonaheng Lekhotsa and Matsepo Makhesi, Finance told Ombudsman it was the discretion of PSC to interview one person for a post or not. “In Pitso’s case PSC made a decision to interview her alone as she was the only one who had been shortlisted.”
Ombudsman then recommended positions of Deputy Accountant General–Cash Management, Deputy Accountant General -Expenditure, Finance Director -Expenditure, Finance Director -Revenue, Finance Director -Cash Management be re-advertised and analysis of applicants be done in a fair and transparent manner, and based on merit principle.
PS Tšolo talking to the Centre was quick to say the ministry “can apply to the High Court for a review of the Ombudsman’s decisions if we don’t agree with them”.
“I also want to point out that employment of public servants is an issue of PSC and the Public Service Ministry, so if there was any doubt at any point, it should have been raised by the people who employed her. By law, the Ombudsman is not supposed to question PSC decisions.”
Section 19(1) of Ombudsman Act 1996 under limitation of jurisdiction provides that the PSC shall not be subject to investigation by the Ombudsman. However, the ensuing subsection (2) says, “Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Ombudsman may investigate…Public Service Commission for failure to perform, or for unreasonable delay in the performance of their (its) functions”.
Tšolo said it was premature to say whether they would honour the recommendations or not.
Ombudsman however unearthed the analysis that showed Pitso in every shortlist and how qualified candidates were struck off, living only those unqualified to contest with Pitso, giving her unfair advantage.
“Finance did not refute the allegation that Pitso was shortlisted for all the posts she applied for, even for those that required CA or MBA yet she only had a diploma. She was shortlisted even when PSC rejected her for failure to meet job specifications. This really reflected the determination of the Ministry to get Pitso promoted.”
One of the 20 Financial Controllers who hauled the ministry to the ombudsman on a different complaint, ‘Mapaseka Koloko gives a picture of how Pitso was shortlisted for every position she had applied for.
She told Ombudsman that in February 2018 she met one of her colleagues who informed her that Pitso would be going for an interview for the position of Deputy Accountant General–Cash Management “and that Finance had made a decision that she (Koloko) be shortlisted so that she could “accompany Pitso when she went to get the post from PSC”.
“she alleged she took it to be a hearsay.
“Koloko alleged that in February 2018, she received a call from Mrs Mamonaheng Lekhotsa, HR Section Treasury, informing her that she had a letter delivered to the Treasury which was labelled “urgent”.
Since she was not able to collect the letter, Koloko asked Lekhotsa to open and read it out to her. The letter was from PSC inviting her to an interview for the position of Deputy Accountant General – Cash Management.
“Her first thought had been to confront Lekhotsa with the hearsay message from colleague which the letter confirmed to be true. She said she later went to HR office with the intention to get assistance with regard to procedure for turning down the interview invitation.
“Later that month she got a message from Lekhotsa to the effect that PSC wanted to shift the interview to the 8th February 2018 since the other candidate would be going for a course and would only be available in August 2018.
She expressed her discontent with PSC and told them that if interviews could be shifted on account of that candidate, it was obvious that the post was already hers and she suggested that they might as well inform her that she has successfully won.
“She further testified that after some time, she received a call from PSC Deputy Secretary, who informed her that they were expecting her for the interview on the 8th February 2018 because by the 22nd February 2018 the other candidate would have left already.”