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‘LRA managers’ suspension unlawful’

Pascalinah Kabi

FIVE senior managers, who were suspended by the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) in March this year for alleged corruption involving the misappropriation of funds, will return to work after the High Court ruled against their suspension.

This follows Friday’s ruling by acting High Court judge, Justice Moroke Mokhesi that the suspension was unlawful and they should be reinstated with immediate effect.

The five senior management officers are Chief Financial Officer Mangangole Tsikinyane, Chief Planning and Modernisation Officer Idia Penane, Chief Legal and Policy Officer and Acting Board Secretary Seth Macheli, Head of Litigation Moutloatsi Lichaba and Commissioner of Enforcement, Realeboha Mathaba.

They were suspended from work on 7 March 2018 after the authority’s workers’ union, presented the LRA board with allegations of financial and governance impropriety including the misappropriation and alleged pilfering of millions of LRA funds.   The managers strenuously denied the allegations and challenged their suspensions in the High Court in March this year.

The LRA initially suspended them for six weeks to facilitate an audit exercise to ascertain the veracity of LERASU’s allegations and the suspension was subsequently extended for an indefinite period late last month.

However, the LRA suspensions will have to be lifted with immediate effect after Justice Mokhesi’s Friday ruling that the “suspension of the applicants is declared unlawful, invalid and null and void with no force or effect”.

“The respondents shall publicise the reinstatement of the applicants through the media outlets they used to publicise their suspension within a week of service of this order. The first respondents should pay the costs of this application,” Justice Mokhesi ruled.

Justice Mokhesi said the LRA had failed to justify why the quintet’s presence at the workplace would be obstructive to the investigations or disciplinary proceedings.

He said an employee cannot simply be barred from accessing their workplace because of allegations which were still to be verified.

He said an employee can only be barred from accessing their workplace only once it had been objectively established that their presence will compromise the integrity of pending investigations into their serious misconduct and that this was provided for in the LRA Human Resources guidelines.

In reaching his verdict, Justice Mokhesi cited several cases including that of Manthabeleng Makhobole versus Principal Secretary of Finance and others to demonstrate that “suspending an employee has far-reaching effects on such an employee’s social and personal life” even if the suspension was with full pay.

“The implications of being deprived of one’s pay are obvious. The implications of being barred from going to work and pursuing one’s chosen calling and of being seen by the community round one to be so barred, are not so immediately realised by the outside observer…. There are indeed substantial social and personal implications inherent in that aspect of suspension,” part of the judgement states.

In addition to the court application, the five also asked the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to investigate the corruption allegations levelled against them by the authority’s workers’ union.

They took the unusual step of requesting the anti-graft body to investigate the allegations levelled against them because they believe they are innocent and such an investigation would exonerate them.

Advocate Mathaba separately wrote to the DCEO on the 25th of March, stating among other things that, “specific allegations against me are to the effect that I am on the former LRA boss Thabo Letjama’s payroll and that I was offered a consultancy contract without following due processes”.

“It is further alleged that I had resigned from the employ of the LRA but that I was later re-employed due to my corrupt relationship with the then Commissioner General.

“In as much as the allegations…that have precipitated my suspension are spurious, I wish for these allegations to be investigated and proper action be taken in order to restore public confidence and trust in the LRA,” Adv Mathaba writes.

He further pledges his full cooperation including providing access to his personal information to facilitate the investigation.

His four suspended colleagues also penned a joint letter to the DCEO, where they  “submit ourselves to your organisation for due investigation of the serious financial impropriety allegations made against us by the LRA Staff Union (LERASU) and for which it would appear the LRA Board has decided to suspend us from duty pending a forensic audit”.

“We consider the allegations serious enough to merit your attention as the statutory body established with the specific mandate to receive and investigate any complaints alleging corruption in any public body.”

Apart from clearing their names, the quartet further state that a DCEO probe is necessary to restore public confidence in the LRA “whose image must necessarily have been critically impaired as a result of those allegations”.

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