Co-op Lesotho turf war rages on

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Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

THE High Court on Friday postponed a case in which the Cooperative Lesotho Limited (Co-op Lesotho) board of directors seeks to interdict Commissioner of Cooperatives, ’Maphamoli Lekoetje, from interfering in the organisation’s operations.

Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane postponed the matter to 21 April 2016 after seven Co-op Lesotho employees made an urgent application seeking to be joined in the matter.

The employees are challenging the board’s court application, arguing that its chairman, Lefokotsa Seeisa, has no authority to act on Co-op Lesotho’s behalf. They also argue that the application was ill-conceived since the organisation was in the process of winding up its operations with a forensic report into its alleged mismanagement being compiled.

The employees accuse Co-op Lesotho General Manager Thabo Shale “and his group” which allegedly includes Mr Seeisa of lodging the application as a ruse to thwart the winding up process.

’Mamaeketsa Molefi, Tieho Mohapi, Thabo Selapane, Lebohang Masupha, ’Mapalesa Pasane, Katiso Mohloai-Seola and ’Malebohang Rapase, argue that Ms Lekoetje was within her rights to interfere in Co-op Lesotho affairs.

Mr Seeisa, Co-op Lesotho, Minister of Small Business Development Cooperatives and Marketing, the ministry’s principal secretary, Ms Lekoetje and the attorney-general are cited as first to seventh respondents respectively in the matter.

According to the certificate of urgency filed by their lawyer, Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, the workers argue that the board’s application had the potential of prejudicing them since they had been served with “unlawful” letters of dismissal.

“The applicants remain with no alternative remedy in view of the hovering circumstances set out above, not unless this Honourable Court first determines who is Lefokotsa Seeisa in the context of the decisions he purports to make for and on behalf of Co-op Lesotho pending the final determination of his application to have the Commissioner of Cooperatives interdicted from executing her statutory functions with regard to the administration and management of Cooperative Lesotho,” it reads.

In her affidavit, Ms Molefi notes that the Commissioner of Cooperatives wrote a “show cause” letter dated 17 September 2014 to the Co-op Lesotho executive committee on why they should not be suspended on or before 19 September 2014.

“There was no response to it nor were representations made in that regard,” she states.

“The Commissioner proceeded to suspend the management committee or board of Cooperative Lesotho with the letter dated 22 September 2014.”

The suspended executive committee, Ms Molefi says, comprised of chairperson Motseki Mabejane, treasurer ’Mamotlatsi Bereng, Secretary ’Masenate Seetsa and Mr Seeisa “who was just a member without any portfolio”.

“I must mention that since that time, there has not been any legitimate management committee of Cooperative Lesotho to date,” she says.

According to Ms Molefi, she first learnt about Mr Seeisa’s “unilateral assumption of what he called position of chairman in a meeting he detailed us to attend on 28 January 2016 when he first arrived at our workplace”.

“This is what he said in that meeting: ‘From now I am the chairman of Cooperative Lesotho, you are not allowed to ask me questions about my status and or how I came to be,’” she says.

“After making the aforesaid disingenuous proclamation, he called off the meeting. I never acquiesced to this clowning position because it dawned to us that he had unlawfully been recruited by Mr Thabo Shale to advance his interests.

“It suffices to mention that during the suspension of the executive committee, the manager of Cooperative Lesotho (Mr Shale) took over the management and directly accounted to the Commissioner, Mrs Lekoetje. As fate had it, Mr Thabo Shale plummeted the financial situation of Cooperative Lesotho.”

She says following  a joint decision of the commissioner and Minister Thabiso Litšiba to probe the organisation, Mr Shale was suspended by Ms Lekoetje in September last year, pending an inquiry into his alleged mismanagement and embezzlement of the organization’s funds. The suspension was nullified by a court order with Mr Shale returning to work on 17 December 2015.

However, Ms Molefi alleges that since his reinstatement, Mr Shale had destabilised the organisation, which is an arm of the ministry responsible for supervising all the country’s cooperative societies.

“For the information of this Honourable Court, after his coming back from suspension, Mr Thabo Shale made it impossible for us employees to perform our duties efficiently,” she says.

“We reported this to the Commissioner who caused to be issued a letter dated 29 January 2016. The gravamen of the letter was that Mr Thabo Shale must desist from writing letters of termination for the labour force.”

Ms Molefi claims to have been appointed by the Commissioner and Mr Litšiba to be part of a team set up to wind up operations.

“It was in the course of my mandate aforesaid that I advised tenants of Cooperative Lesotho about proposed modalities for payment of their rentals given the nature of the winding up process to avoid possible further looting of same by suspects,” she states.

“For the information of this Honourable Court, it would appear that the issue of rentals, which is one of many financial malpractices for which Mr Shale is under probe did not sit well with him. I suspect he had wished to go on benefiting from rentals notwithstanding the advanced stage to which the forensic investigation are (sic) about him.”

Mr Shale, she says, instituted a disciplinary hearing for her “and claimed to have suspended me”.

“It (suspension letter) is signed by him, the prime suspect in the misappropriation of the cooperative’s finances,” Ms Molefi charges.

“I was later taken to what Mr Shale called a disciplinary hearing before Mr Lefokotsa Seeisa on 16 March 2016. I found that in that comedy of errors, the chairman was Mr Seeisa while the complainant was Mr Shale.

“I asked the duo what was happening and Mr Seeisa told me he was going to chair my disciplinary hearing in his capacity as the chairman of the board.”

She adds: “I told him he is not the chairman and there was nothing I was going to say under their contrived stratagem. He subsequently expelled or purported to dismiss us from employment.

“. . . As matters stand, we were advised in writing by the Commissioner for Cooperative Development that Mr Seeisa has no authority and or right to dismiss us from our employment.”

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