The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) Board of Directors has rejected its suspension by Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa.
The eight-member Board also says it is seeking legal opinion on the suspension due to its implication on their reputations.
Mr Setipa suspended the Board on 4 May 2016 “to allow for restructuring” of the LNDC, which is government’s parastatal charged with implementing the country’s industrial development policies and marketing Lesotho as an attractive investment location.
Two days later, the Board wrote back to Mr Setipa rejecting the suspension and arguing the move was not justified.
The Board, which was appointed in July 2015 for a three-year term, further noted the minister did not follow due process when he wrote the suspension letter “in that he has not afforded us an opportunity to be heard, which is a serious violation of ‘audi-ultra partem rule’”.
“The Honourable Minister has stated in his letter that he has, on a number of occasions, requested that the LNDC and the Board be restructured to enable it to refocus and concentrate on its core mandate.
“We wish to place on record the fact that we are not aware of such requests in as much as such requests have never been formally communicated to us,” the Board members wrote.
“The Minister also makes reference to the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project of the World Bank.
“It is our considered view that since the commencement of our duties as the Board of the LNDC, the Project and its mandate, in so far as the LNDC is affected, has never been brought to our attention.”
In his suspension letter, Mr Setipa had said the LNDC and Board would be restructured with support from the Project.
The Board also argues it had never engaged with the Minister since its appointment hence he could not “reasonably and objectively assess” its performance.
“The performance of the Board has, to-date, not been assessed. In our view, the Board cannot be reasonably and objectively assessed within such a short period of time of barely eight months since its appointment.
“The Minister has not endeavoured to engage the Board to appreciate its strategic activities and related challenges in the discharge of its core duty to provide an oversight role on the activities of the Corporation, nor have we been consulted on issues of concern raised.”
Had he engaged them, Mr Setipa would have “given himself an opportunity to make an informed and fair assessment”, the Board adds in the letter.
“It is therefore our considered view that due process has not been followed hitherto the Hon Minister’s drastic and unprecedented decision. It is our firm contention that the principle of fairness should have been applied before the purported suspension.”
The Board also expresses concern about the implication of the suspension.
“Without the necessary consultations, it is completely unjustifiable for the Hon Minister to allege that he has acted in the manner he did to protect the integrity of the Board.
“In our view, suspension connotes incompetence, and could lead to defamation of character. It is our contention that factually and legally, there is no basis for the Minister’s action.
“It is our further considered opinion that the letter of suspension has undoubtedly cast negative aspersions on our performance, integrity and fitness to hold office collectively and individually. We therefore, find the contents of the letter damaging to our reputation, personal brands and detrimental to our integrity.
“Our individual brands are critical in our endeavour to build our futures based on our respective careers. Beyond the LNDC Board, we have our respective responsibilities based on trust which could be jeopardised by the import of a letter of this nature.
“As such, we take serious exception to such aspersions being cast. We will therefore take the necessary steps to protect our brands and integrity”.
The Board also tackles the absence of a timeframe in the suspension.
“In his letter, the Hon Minister has stated that the suspension is an interim measure and should not be interpreted as dissolution of the Board.
“We however, observe the said interim measure has not been given any timeframe, and therefore leaves us with no other interpretation except that this suspension is indefinite in nature hence tantamount to dissolution of the Board,” the members wrote.
“To restructure the LNDC Board as the Hon Minister so desires, requires an amendment of the LNDC Act, which is currently in process, and does not require that the Board of Directors be suspended or dissolved.”
The Board members also insist they have the necessary skills to lead the LNDC.
“We would like to place it on record that we have the requisite skills, experience, knowledge, competence and capacity to oversee the affairs of the LNDC and specifically, to refocus the mandate and restructure the Corporation,” continues the letter.
“We are aware that in terms of the LNDC Act ‘the affairs of the Corporation are managed and controlled by a Board of Directors’. It is our considered view that in the exercise of his powers in the affairs of the Corporation, the Hon. Minister should do so in consultation with the Board.
“We are not aware of any provision in the LNDC governing legislation that gives the Hon. Minister the power to arbitrarily suspend the Board without due process whether as an interim measure or otherwise.
“It is worth noting that the suspension comes at a time when existing vacancies in the Board have not been filled by the Hon Minister as yet per the requirements of the LNDC Act.”
Consequently, the Board says it resolved to seek legal opinion on the matter and collectively refuse to accept or recognise the suspension “pending the legal opinion referred to above or publication of such suspension by notice in a Government Gazette”.
The Board members are Dr Liengoane Lefosa, Dr Lefulesele Lebesa, Mampho Tjabane, Lebakeng Mohau Tigeli, Makhetha Thaele, Lehlohonolo Chefa, M Ntema, and S Ramafikeng.
Contacted yesterday on the Board’s response, Minister Setipa told the Sunday Express he could not comment on the issue.
“Unfortunately, as you will understand, I can’t talk about their position or even speculate. The fact is the matter is before courts of law and we have to await the outcome,” said Minister Setipa.
Meanwhile, Mr Setipa on 11 May suspended LNDC Chief Executive Officer Kelebone Leisanyane for alleged maladministration.
However, Mr Leisanyane immediately sought a High Court interdict blocking the suspension. The court gave the minister until 27 May to give reasons why the reinstatement should not be made permanent.
According to the court order, Mr Setipa should submit to the Registrar of the High Court within 14 days, a record of proceedings in which Mr Leisanyane was suspended.