LHDA boss contract renewal raises eyebrows

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. . . as water project officials insist move is above board

Pascalinah Kabi

THE renewal of Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Refiloe Tlali’s contract by two years has stirred controversy, amid allegations mandatory hiring procedures like advertising for the post were flouted.

Sources close to the matter have told the Lesotho Times that Ms Tlali’s contract had been renewed at the instigation of the previous Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven-party government ahead of the 3 June 2017 parliamentary elections.

However, Ms Tlali has rubbished the claims in an interview with this paper yesterday, saying there was nothing amiss about the renewal of her contract and that all the requisite procedures were followed.

Ms Tlali was first appointed to head the LHDA, the implementing agency of the multi-billion maloti binational Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) on 14 June 2007. Her previous contract with the authority ended on 14 June 2017.

The LHWP is the largest infrastructure partnership between the Lesotho and South African governments.

Established under the 1986 water treaty between the two countries, it consists of three delegates from each of the two nations. The Lesotho Highland Water Commission (LHWC) is tasked with implementing the LHWP — a multiphase initiative comprising several dams and tunnels in Lesotho and South Africa.

The LHWC is accountable to the two governments for the overall implementation of the LHWP. It advises, monitors and has approval powers on activities of the LHDA and the operations and maintenance function of the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, the two authorities charged with the implementation of the LHWP in Lesotho and South Africa respectively.

It is currently tasked with overseeing the estimated M26 billion second phase of the LHWP aimed at alleviating South Africa’s acute fresh water shortages.

Lesotho is represented by B Khatibe as acting chief delegate, S Mohlouoa is a delegate, while M Lephoma and M Mokhethi are alternative delegates.

Dr Mosisili’s son, Rethabile, was last month fired from the post of LHWC chief delegate, with the government saying his appointment had not been approved by the Public Service Commission and thus null and void. Mr Rethabile has, however, challenged his dismissal in a case before the High Court.

For its part, South Africa is represented by B Nkosi as chief delegate with LS Tromp as delegate while both Mr PS Swart and Mr L Mabuda serve as alternative delegates.

Charles Mwakalumba serves as the commission’s secretary.

The sources said Ms Tlali had been reappointed under “questionable circumstances”.

“Discussions around engaging a new CEO started around January 2017 and the then government of Lesotho wanted the LHDA board to renew ‘M’e Refiloe’s contract by six months while preparations for recruitment processes like advertising for the post were underway,” the source said.

“On the other hand, the government of South Africa wanted ‘M’e Refiloe’s contract to be renewed with two years. The commission operates in such a way that no decision can ever be made unless all the commissioners reach a consensus.”

Another source said for a number of months, the commissioners could not reach a decision on the matter. However, the source added, the situation swiftly changed in the days leading to the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections.

“The Lesotho representatives were instructed to inform the commission that the job will no longer be advertised,” said the source.

“The commission was informed that the government of Lesotho had taken a decision to renew the contract by two years. Most people were surprised that both governments were prepared to not advertise for a position of that magnitude.”

Ministry of Water Principal Secretary, Emmanuel Lesoma, confirmed to this publication that the LHWC instructed the LHDA board to renew the contract by two years.

In an interview with this paper last Saturday, Mr Lesoma said he was aware that the previous government of Lesotho wanted Ms Tlali’s contract to be renewed by six months while recruitment processes were underway.

“The last time I checked, the LHWC was still debating on the matter because the Lesotho government wanted a six-month renewal, while South Africa wanted a two-year renewal and you know that a decision can never be made unless commissioners have reached a consensus and we have not been given a report,” Mr Lesoma said, asking this reporter for time to find out the latest developments.

On Tuesday this week, Mr Lesoma said the Lesotho contingent in the commission had presented a report stating that the previous government had agreed on a two-year contract renewal.

“The LHWC then instructed the LHDA board to renew ‘M’e Tlali’s contract by two years and it has since been renewed. The challenge now is who gave the Lesotho delegation that instruction and why,” he said.

“I am sure that instruction was not issued by this current government unless it was done in advance by the previous government because ‘M’e Tlali’s previous contract expired on 14 June 2017.”

Mr Lesoma then surmised that the instruction could have been issued by former Water Affairs minister Kimetso Mathaba.

Mr Mathaba served in the capacity from late 2015 to June 2017 when the Dr Mosisili-led seven party government gave way to a four-party coalition led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

This was after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections resulted in a hung parliament, with Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho cobbling together their 64 parliamentary seats to form government.

Dr Thabane was sworn in as prime minister for the second time on 16 June 2017, on the same day that Ms Tlali’s contract was renewed.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Mathaba gave contradictory answers on the previous government’s position with regards to the renewal of Ms Tlali’s contract.

“Cabinet never made a decision of a six-month contract renewal, but I remember very well that we decided that her contract must be renewed by two years,” Mr Mathaba said.

Asked when the decision was made, Mr Mathaba said he could not remember very well, saying: “It was at the time when we were in the middle of the election campaign period, and if I am not mistaken, it was in April.”

On why the position was not advertised to the public, Mr Mathaba said he needed to research on what the law said about advertising for the LHDA CEO’s position.

“On that matter I will need to go and see what the contractual obligations said regarding this one; especially on whether it actually allowed us to advertise the job or not.”

Mr Mathaba called within an hour saying he did not need to go through the LHDA laws, as he was mixing the issue of Ms Tlali with that of the fired Lesotho chief delegate to the LHWC Rethabile Mosisili.

“Actually, cabinet sat down in April and made a decision on the issue of the Lesotho chief delegate and not the renewal of ‘M’e Tlali’s contract. There was no way cabinet would sit down and discuss her matter because it is not our mandate to do so.

“What happens is that the hiring, firing and contract renewal of the LHDA CEO is the responsibility of the LHDA board in consultation with the LHWC as per the laws governing the LHWP.

“’M’e Tlali’s contract was renewed by the LHDA board. What happens is that the LHDA board will decide if it wants to renew or not, make its recommendations to the LHWC and the commission may decide to approve or disapprove. Once the approval has been made, a minister will get a report from the board to present to the cabinet,” Mr Mathaba said.

Mr Mathaba said the mandate of hiring, firing and contract renewal entirely rested with the LHDA board, working in consultation with the commission.

“However, the government of Lesotho has powers over the LHDA. If it feels that the CEO is not serving its interests, the government can then take drastic measures of ensuring that the LHDA board engages a CEO with the government’s interests at heart.

“But I know for a fact that the cabinet (for the previous government) never sat on this matter and I never gave a directive for Lesotho delegates in the commission to push for the renewal of ‘M’e Tlali’s contract by two years.

“You can talk to the commission’s secretary to find out what really happened,” Mr Mathaba added.

Mr Mwakalumba expressed surprise at the allegations that Ms Tlali’s contract was improperly renewed, when contacted yesterday, saying: “Where do they get those policy frameworks from.”

He said Ms Tlali’s contract was renewed in line with section 3 (a) 1 of the LHDA (Amendment) Act of 2000, which states that the CEO shall be appointed by the LHDA board “on such terms and conditions as the board may determine with the approval of the commission”.

“The law is very clear, and there is no need to waste time on this,” Mr Mwakalumba said.

“The appointment of the CEO is made by the LHDA board in consultation with the LHWC.

“This lady’s (Ms Tlali) contract was running until round about July I think, and she was recruited initially on a competitive basis. There were a number of candidates from South Africa and Lesotho who competed for that job, and based on merit she was appointed to that job the first time around.

“And now her contract is over, I don’t think it’s a crime to extend someone’s contract who is on service.”

The LHDA website states — under the Protocol VI: System of Governance category – that: “The board shall, in consultation with the LHWC, appoint the chief executive who shall have appropriate qualifications and managerial experience with a proven track record for such appointment.”

It further states that the power to remove the chief executive from office would be vested in the board, acting in consultation with the LHWC, adding that it shall determine the terms and conditions of service of the CEO.

For her part, Ms Tlali confirmed to the Lesotho Times that her contract had been renewed with two years with effect from 16 June 2017.

“There is nothing amiss about the fact that my contract was renewed without the position being advertised. It is a normal procedure that has been ongoing for years here at the LHDA,” she said.

“Until 2014 when we engaged employees on a permanent basis, all LHDA employees and managers would sign contracts and those contracts would be renewed without advertising the positions to the general public.

“What happens is that every person employed by the LHDA would have applied for the advertised job and then signed two-year contracts.

“But when the contract expires, the individual will approach the authority to make their decision known on whether they want their contract renewed or that they are okay with the termination.

“The relevant authorities will then decide on the next step. If the position is made vacant, that is when employment opportunities will be advertised. But it is very normal for the LHDA to renew contracts of its employees already on the database without advertising for the posts.”

Ms Tlali added: “As I speak, we have different managers whose contracts were renewed without a vacancy being advertised and there is nothing peculiar with the renewal of my contract. All proper procedures were followed.”

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