‘LCA boss was unprocedurally suspended’
FORMER Communications, Science and Technology Minister Keketso Sello went ahead and suspended the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mamarame Matela, even though the LCA board had voted against the move.
This according to the fired LCA Board Chairperson, Motanyane Makara, and another board member, Seth Griffiths. They make the claims in their affidavits filed in support of Ms Matela’s Labour Appeal Court application to reverse her 2 June 2021 suspension from the LCA by Mr Sello.
Mr Makara is also challenging his 31 May 2021 dismissal by Mr Sello. He was fired on allegations of incompetence and having a “compromised relationship” with Ms Matela.
Ms Matela was suspended pending investigations into her alleged corrupt role in the awarding of a tender worth more than M500 million to South African company, Global Voice Group (GVG). The tender is for the supply of a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system.
Mr Makara and Ms Matela subsequently filed a joint Labour Appeal Court application to have the dismissal and suspension nullified.
The LCA, the LCA Board of Directors, Universal Service Fund-LCA, Keneuoe Mohale, Acting LCA CEO Goolam, the communications minister, the communications principal secretary, the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Global Voices Group SA, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, Vodacom Lesotho, Sekhametsi Investment Consortium, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and the Attorney General are the first to 14th respondents respectively.
Mr Nizam Goolam was appointed acting CEO on 2 June 2021- the same day Ms Matela was suspended.
Mr Sello was subsequently moved to the Public Service portfolio in a 3 June 2021 cabinet reshuffle by Dr Majoro. Former Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs Minister Samuel Rapapa is the new communications minister.
In his founding affidavit, Mr Makara accuses Mr Sello of acting outside his powers by attempting to influence the board to suspend Ms Matela at its 24 May 2021 meeting with him.
“The board met in the Minister’s (Sello) office on 24 May 2021 and he wanted to pressurise us to suspend the CEO (Ms Matela) immediately,” Mr Makara states in his affidavit.
“We accordingly reminded him that it was wrong that he initiates suspension because we are entitled to recommend suspension or removal to him if there is a case to answer on the part of the CEO. He appeared incensed with our standpoint then.
“He insisted that Ms Matela must be suspended to allow for investigations into the award of the (GVG) tender. I told him that the problem with his approach was that he had already made up his mind on the guilt of the CEO.
“Mr Sello directed us to meet as the board and circumscribe the agenda of the meeting around the suspension of the CEO without dealing with the sexual harassment allegations (which Ms Matela has levelled against Mr Sello). He presented to us an email dated 24 June 2019 which he said made an open and shut case over the conflicted position of the CEO.
“He was alleging that the CEO might have derived personal benefits from Global Voice Group SA. He accordingly directed us to make a finding that the CEO is guilty of corruption in a meeting of 24 May 2021 for the hypothetical reasons which he advanced. I found his directive to have unduly influenced the board.”
Mr Makara also accuses Advocate Realeboha Makamane, an LCA board member who was appointed by Mr Sello, of pushing the latter to fire him as well as suspend Ms Matela.
He also accuses Adv Makamane of illegally advising the board to delete the record of 24 May 2021 board meeting which would have shown that the board did not take a decision to suspend Ms Matela.
“The CEO presented herself for questioning and the board was divided over the expected outcome of suspending her…
“Adv Makamane lobbied for the suspension of the CEO on the basis of the email retrieved from Minister Sello. He sought to justify that the minister (Sello) will only be satisfied with the suspension of the CEO to allow for investigations. His viewpoint was that the CEO would in any event be afforded a hearing before the forensic auditors.
“Notwithstanding the legal problem, it was Adv Makamane’s position as a lawyer that we must still transact the business of the minister to suspend the CEO and this stirred emotions. The voting proceeded and resulted in a tie. I was asked to make a tiebreaking vote. I did and voted against the motion. That meant the motion to suspend the CEO without hearing was not approved and no action could be taken. In my opinion, the matter was resolved in favour of the camp opposed to the one shared by the minister and Adv Makamane.”
Mr Griffiths also accuses Mr Sello of attempting to force the board to suspend Ms Matela. He said the LCA board was now divided because of the problems caused by Mr Sello.
“I must place it on record that we met as the board on 25 May 2021 pursuant to the instruction of the Minister. At the board meeting, it was stressed that the minister has oversight and can take steps to ensure that the board conducts its operations in accordance with the provisions of the (Communications) Act. I made it clear that the board has an independent statutory existence with its members being obliged to comply with their obligations in terms of the Act. This gave rise to debate because I was not convinced that we should be conduit pipes of the decision of the Minister to suspend the CEO.
“It suffices to say we ended up voting as summarised in the affidavit of Mr Makara. There was no decision taken to suspend the CEO. If there is any director (board member) that is going to say there was such a decision, this clearly was contrived,” Mr Griffiths states in his affidavit.