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LCA boss loses appeal against suspension

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Court of Appeal has dismissed suspended Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) CEO, ‘Mamarame Matela’s application to compel the Labour Appeal Court to hear her appeal against her suspension.

Court of Appeal president, Kananelo Mosito, only read the operative part of the judgement on Friday. He said Ms Matela’s application had been dismissed with costs. The written judgement with the reasons for the decision would be issued in due course, Justice Mosito said.

The ruling clears the way for Ms Matela to appear before a tribunal to determine her fitness to remain in office.

Ms Matela was suspended in June 2021 by then Communications, Science and Technology Minister Keketso Sello. She was suspended for alleged corruption in the awarding of a M500 million tender to South African company, Global Voices Group (GVG) to supply the LCA with a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system.

She approached the Court of Appeal after Judge Polo Banyane declined to her appeal against her suspension on 7 July 2021.

Justice Banyane had ruled that the Labour Appeal Court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the matter as it was not a court of first instance in labour disputes.

Ms Matela was represented by Advocate Christopher Lephuthing when her appeal was heard on 19 October 2021 by the apex court comprising of Justices Petrus Damaseb (presiding), Johann Van Der Westhuizen and Moses Chinhengo.

Adv Lephuthing argued that Justice Banyane had erred in declining to hear Ms Matela’s appeal.

He argued that Section 38A of the Labour Code empowered the Labour Appeal Court to hear cases challenging suspensions from work.

“The (suspension) decision cannot be divorced from section 38A of the Labour Code which allows the court to review suspensions,” Adv Lephuthing argued.

“Therefore, the Labour Appeal Court can hear this review application.  Her Ladyship (Banyane) was wrong to have declined jurisdiction.

“In her judgement, she concedes that the minister exercised public power. However, she does not tell us why she deviated from 38A. Her reasoning is confusing as to what should happen to this case after she declined jurisdiction.”

The LCA, the LCA Board, the Minister of Communications, the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences, Global Voices Group SA, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa were the respondents in the matter.

They were represented by Attorneys Qhalehang Letsika and Kuili Ndebele.

Mr Letsika argued that Justice Banyane was correct to have declined jurisdiction and the matter should have been filed in the Labour Court.

“The appropriate forum is the Labour Court because the minister was exercising powers of an employer. It is sufficient to say the Labour Appeal Court was correct to say it does not have jurisdiction. As to what the applicant does from there, it is her own business,” Mr Letsika argued.

Mr Ndebele also argued that Ms Matela had failed to demonstrate any special circumstances which warranted the Labour Appeal Court to hear the matter as court of first instance.

“The Labour Appeal Court can only exercise powers as a court of first instance under section 38A of the Labour Code. A good cause must be shown by the applicant as to why the court should assume such jurisdiction. However, there is no application in terms of 38A by the applicant to show the cause and therefore the Labour Appeal Court could not exercise jurisdiction as a court of first instance,” Mr Ndebele argued.

After hearing both sides’ arguments, Justice Damaseb then reserved judgement to 12 November 2021.

Reading the judgement on behalf of Justice Damaseb on Friday, Justice Mosito said the application had been dismissed with costs. He said the reasons for the verdict would be issued in due course.

The ruling clears the way for the government to set up a tribunal to inquire into Ms Matela’s fitness to remain in office. This follows the allegations that she corruptly facilitated the awarding of the M500 million tender to GVG to supply the LCA with a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system.

Ms Matela insists that she is innocent and was only being punished by Mr Sello for refusing to give in to his sexual advances. She has even reported the alleged abuse case to the police who have since said they submitted the docket to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane. She has also written to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro complaining about the alleged abuse and victimisation by Mr Sello who has since been moved to the Public Service portfolio. Both DPP Motinyane and Dr Majoro have remained tight-lipped on Ms Matela’s claims.  Mr Sello denies any wrong-doing.

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