LNDB boss 2, minister 0

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MASERU — Agriculture minister Ralechate ’Mokose’s second attempt to fire the Lesotho National Dairy Board (LNDB) chief executive, Selematsela Montši, hit a brick wall last week.

The minister wants Montši fired for allegedly mismanaging the LNDB.

The LNDB was established by the government to regulate the dairy industry in Lesotho.

But over the past few years the board has come under attack for allegedly marginalising local farmers while promoting milk imports from South Africa, from which it gets huge levies to fund its operations.

The board has also been accused of understating its earning from levies it gets from milk imports.

Farmers have also alleged that the board flouted corporate governance principles to protect the Lesotho Dairy Product (LDP), a company that it owns and on whose board Montši sits.

An investigation commissioned by Finance Minister Timothy Thahane in February 2009 revealed that both the LNDB and the LDP were being mismanaged.

Gobodo Forensic, the South African firm hired to do the investigation, said  Montši has frustrated their audit by withholding crucial documents that would have helped them assess LNDB and LDP.

The company said Montši had blocked their access to bank statements as well as accounting records showing the income and expenditure of LNDB and LDP.

’Mokose instructed the acting principal secretary, Liteboho Mofubetsoana, to fire Montši on Monday last week, five months after his first attempt failed due to legal technicalities.

’Mokose told the Lesotho Times that he directed the principal secretary to write Montši a dismissal letter because he (Mofubetsoana) had powers to fire the chief executive in his capacity as the chairman of the LNDB.

Montši’s lawyer, Sekara Mafisa, had earlier argued that the minister had no legal powers to dismiss his client.

“I too have legal powers to fire him but since his argument was that the powers to dismiss him were vested in the board chairman, I have directed the same chairman to expel him,” ’Mokose said.

“Whether the letter is signed by the principal secretary is not a big issue because the principal secretary takes orders from the minister,” he said.

“My powers to fire him are enshrined in the Lesotho National Dairy Act, which established the LNDB.”

However, a defiant Montši told the Lesotho Times on Monday that neither ’Mokose nor Mofubetsoana have the authority to fire him.

“Neither the minister nor the principal secretary has any powers to dismiss me,” Montši said.

“There are legal ways in which I can be removed and they (the minister and the PS) do not feature in any of those ways,” he said.

“The board is the only body that has any say in my appointment or dismissal from work.”

Montši said until the board fires him he will remain in office and he will not be taking instructions from the minister to leave his job.

When ’Mokose tried to fire him in March Montši responded through his lawyer, Mafisa, informing the minister that he was arrogating himself powers he doesn’t have.

Mafisa told ’Mokose to withdraw the dismissal letter he had written to Montši.

He told ’Mokose in the letter that he was not the one who employed Montši and therefore did not have powers to fire him.

The letter said Montši was employed by the LNDB chairman, not the minister.

“It is not clear to him (Montši) exactly which appointment you are seeking to terminate,” said Mafisa’s letter.

“(My) client has been appointed the Executive Director and head of LNDB by the chairman of LNDB and appointed a member and secretary to LNDB,” said the letter.

“Apart from that ambiguity, client contends, your purported termination of him is grossly irregular and illegal.”

The letter says in terms of the law ’Mokose “may not terminate” Montši’s appointment “except on the recommendation of the Board for reasons of misconduct or incompetency.”

The letter said Montši knew well that the Board had not advised ’Mokose to fire him.

“For the above reasons client will, with great respect, remain in office as if no letter such as yours has ever been addressed to him.  He therefore very humbly requests you, Honourable Minister, to withdraw your letter forthwith.”

But ’Mokose told this paper that the law that established the LNDB empowers him to fire Montši.

“The law explicitly says the executive secretary is appointed by the minister of agriculture and I don’t understand why they say the minister can’t fire him,” he said.

’Mokose said Mafisa’s letter also failed to mention that tenure of office for all members of the board is three years but Montši “has been there for over 20 years.”

He said Montši will be “fired whether he likes or not”.

Meanwhile, last night ’Mokose was expecting to have received an investigation report by a team of experts he commissioned to probe allegations by dairy farmers that the LDP had not paid them for the past two years.

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