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96 lose jobs as project folds

MASERU — Mismanagement of funds and other assets at the Roads Improvement Unit (RIU) has led to its abrupt closure, leaving 96 employees without jobs, the Sunday Express can reveal.

The RIU, a project funded by the government under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, wrote to all its workers on Friday informing them that their employment had been terminated with effect from tomorrow.

The principal secretary in the public works ministry, Lebohang Phooko, confirmed that “poor management of the entire programme was one of the reasons behind the RIU’s closure”.

Phooko, however, told this paper in an interview that the RIU was not closed because of lack of funds.

But the letter he wrote to the workers stated clearly that their contracts were terminated “due to lack of funds”.

The Sunday Express saw the letter.

“It is not true that the programme has been closed because of lack of funds,” Phooko said.

“We are merely re-structuring the roads sub-sector.

“It will no longer be a department of rural roads but it will be a directorate.”

Workers who talked to the Sunday Express after holding a meeting with Phooko on Friday said he admitted the RIU was closed because of poor management and lack of funds.

They said Phooko came under a hail of questions in the meeting when he announced that RIU was poorly managed and that it lacked funds.

Nelson Mohapi, who was one of the affected RIU employees, said Phooko “spoke only the truth he knew that this project was poorly managed”.

“He knew that we were all aware that this project’s funds and all its assets were not properly managed and so there was no way he could tell us a different story,” Mohapi said.

“The PS knew the truth and he spoke it.”

Another worker, Ernest Mofolo, said there was mismanagement of machines such as excavators, craters and generators.

“It is a well known fact that management was very loose here,” Mofolo said.

“I am of the belief that this project could not have fallen if it was in good hands.”

Workers said the RIU failed to pay    for some machines that had been taken for repair at a private garage “because the money for such operations had been used for other non-core operations”.

For example, they said the RIU took an excavator to a local company to be repaired but the management failed to pay until the company sold the machine to recover its costs.

The RIU management is also alleged to have taken a loader, earth-moving equipment and a heavy-duty industrial generator to the same company but never paid for the services until that company sued the unit.

“It is because they have spent the money somewhere else, not for the purpose it was allocated for,” said a senior worker who preferred anonymity.

“That company has since closed its workshop in Maseru and it now operates from Ladybrand,” he said.

“The management failed to pay because the money had been misused and the company has since sued to recoup costs.”

Workers said the RIU, which was established in 1984 as a project tasked mainly with maintaining roads, started to have serious problems between 1996 and 1997 when the management was replaced.

“The new managers we got were inexperienced and were still fresh from school,” said a long-serving senior employee.

“The new managers demoted capable people who had worked here for a long time and replaced them with unqualified ones.”

The worker said for the past 10 years the RIU has had “the poorest management than all government departments combined”.

The workers said it started well in 1984, partly financed by the United Kingdom government, with only minor problems like all government-sponsored projects.

The change of management in 1997, according to the workers, brought “unbearable problems”.

“The poor state of management manifested itself in 2004 when we realised that the project was not paying some of its debts,” said another worker.

“But things worsened two months ago when we heard from informal sources that this unit might be closed.

“Nobody felt any need to communicate the closure to us formally.”

The workers said they were now faced with the dilemma of losing jobs abruptly.

Mohapi said he did not know how he would continue educating his son who is in Form A.

“I started working here in 1990 and I did not think my work here would end like this,” he said.

“I am stranded.”

Mofolo said his wife and their two children were dependent on him.

“How am I going to feed them when I am no longer working?” he said.

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