Education Facilities Unit turmoil deepens

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MASERU — The turmoil in the Education Facilities Unit (EFU) deepened this week after the government made a court application to compel the unit’s former workers to hand over operation files to the education ministry. 

The workers had refused to hand over the files complaining that the ministry was offering them new employment terms without proper contracts.

The EFU, a donor funded department of the education ministry, plunged into chaos recently when funds dried up.

The unit was jointly funded by the government and the World Bank together with other aid organisations.

Its main role was to build schools and supply necessary equipment to educational institutions.

It was the central procurement division of the ministry. 

Problems in the unit started when donors scaled down on funds forcing the ministry to absorb the workers into the civil service.

Before this they were not part of the civil service.

This angered the workers who complained that their salaries had been arbitrarily slashed to fit into the civil service structures.

They refused to come to work leaving the unit’s operations in disarray. Eighteen EFU workers declined an offer to join the civil service when their contracts with the unit expired on March 3. 

Contractors were not paid and school inspections were delayed.

This week the government applied to the High Court seeking to compel the workers to do a proper hand over of operations and files.

The ministry alleged in the court papers that managers Motlatsi Ramakatane who was the contracts manager and Ekabamang Koma who ran special services in the EFU had refused to hand over the files to the Ministry of Education. 

In his application the principal secretary in the education ministry Motsoakapa Makara said the “respondents (workers) wilfully failed, neglected and refused to effect the said handing over as demanded.” 

He said the unit did not have the files to prove the claims for payment from some contractors.

“Owing to the claims launched by the individual constructors, I caused my fellow employees to make a diligent search for those files, and documentations in their respective offices and those of respondents but to no avail,” Makara said in his affidavit.

“Hence I further ordered that a letter of demand be served at respondents demanding them to come to the office to make a formal handing over of the files.”

Makara said constructors were flocking to the Ministry of Education’s offices demanding payment.

“Some have also intimated that they will seek legal redress in the courts of law,” Makara said.

On Monday the High Court issued an interim order calling on two former senior managers to show cause why they should not be directed to formally hand over the files to Makara and to give him a detailed account of files when the need arises.

The workers have since launched a fight back.

They have since taken their case against the ministry to the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR).

On Tuesday this week the case at the DDPR was at conciliation stage but the Lesotho Times learnt that parties were not agreeing and the applicants opted for the next level, arbitration.

The Lesotho Times understands that about 100 schools that are under construction are not being supervised and inspected by the experts from the government because of the problems in the EFU.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, Education Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla said the EFU workers’ contracts expired on March 31 and when they did not report for work on April 1 she concluded that they had declined an offer to be absorbed into civil service.

Khaketla said she was shocked a few days later when she was served with summons from the DDPR.

“I was shocked when I was served with summons from the DDPR,” Khaketla said.

Khaketla said the workers’ contracts were supposed to have lapsed in December last year but they were extend-      ed to the end of March this  year because there was a lot of work that was supposed to be done.

She said they were made aware two years earlier that their contracts would expire by the end of 2008 and they would have to be included in the civil service.

Asked why she dismissed them as non-employees of her ministry when they wrote her asking for intervention in their dispute with Makara, Khaketla said had they made a request in August she could have listened to them.

“They had ample time to prepare themselves for this change but they did nothing until their contracts lapsed,” she said. 

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