Minister says move has nothing to do with the unceremonious way he left the parastatal last year
TRADE and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa has fired the entire Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) board, the Sunday Express can reveal.
Mr Setipa, who joined the LNDC as CEO on 10 January 2012, left the organisation “by mutual consent” on 30 April 2014. He had been suspended by the board on 11 December 2013 pending investigations into his management of government’s premier investment-promotion and economic-development showcase.
Mr Setipa had maintained a low profile since then, but suddenly rose to national prominence once again when he was unveiled as the Maseru Central Constituency candidate for the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in the 28 February 2015 snap elections. Although the constituency was won by Lesego Makgothi of the All Basotho Convention, Mr Setipa was thrown a political lifeline when he was nominated to the Senate, paving the way for his appointment to cabinet in March this year.
After serving as a senior advisor to the director general of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland from 2005 to December 2011 before moving to the LNDC, Mr Setipa’s appointment as Trade and Industry minister was hardly a surprise given his wealth of experience.
However, according to sources who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, Mr Setipa has since fired the LNDC board with most of them receiving their letters of dismissal last week.
The LNDC board comprises, among others, representatives of the ministries of Trade, Agriculture, Finance, Development Planning, Tourism and Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), as well as three “independents” nominated by the Trade and Industry minister. The LNDC CEO and legal officer are also members of the board.
According to the sources, only three of the members (names withheld) would be re-appointed to the board, as the minister seeks to turnaround the fortunes of the organisation.
The Sunday Express spoke with two of the sacked members, Tseko Bohloa of the LCCI and Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation CEO Mpaiphele Maqutu, who said the dismissal letters had come as a shock.
Mr Bohloa said: “I received my termination letter on 4 June from the minister himself. This was soon after the LCCI had received the minister’s letter asking the chamber to re-confirm its representation on the LNDC board, which they did by reappointing me. However, the minister then wrote me a letter directly as the appointing authority, informing me that I would not be part of the board anymore,” said Mr Bohloa.
“His reasons in the letter are that I can no longer serve the LNDC objectively since I was its caretaker chief executive officer between the time he was dismissed and a new appointment was made early this year.”
According to Mr Bohloa, he cannot contest the dismissal since the LCCI had seconded him for the post.
“I can’t do anything about it; I have to accept the minister’s decision and only the LCCI can challenge his action should it feel there was some injustice in all this,” he added.
Mr Bohloa also said he suspected Mr Setipa no longer trusted the board following its decision to suspend him, leading to his departure from the organisation.
“I think he does not trust as anymore because of the history we have with him. But he does not understand that we were just doing our duty as a board and had no personal agenda against him,” he said.
On his part, Mr Maqutu said the dismissal had come as a surprise.
“I am in shock because my position on the LNDC board is a legal requirement and determined by the law that established the corporation. So the position is not even determined by my own minister, let alone that of Trade and Industry,” said Mr Maqutu.
He added that his letter had informed him that the decision to remove him from the board had been taken in consultation with my minister. The Sunday Express could not immediately verify this with the Tourism minister.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Setipa told the Sunday Express his decision to sack the board was not in retaliation for the unceremonious way he left the parastatal but a way to “transform” the LNDC into a “Basotho-oriented” agency driven by “new blood with new ideas”.
Mr Setipa said according to the law which established the LNDC, it is his ministerial prerogative to appoint three independent board members whose positions he had since advertised through the mainstream media while the others are statutory appointments.
“There are three independent non-executive director positions in the LNDC board and several others are statutory and reserved for specific government ministries.
“Members of the board are also supposed to serve three-year renewable terms but we realised that some of the members had been there for far too long and we needed new blood with new, innovative ideas. That was the reason behind the removal of some of the members,” Mr Setipa said.
The minister added that unlike his predecessors “who used to appoint their friends” to the board, he had decided to “professionalise” the selection criteria.
“I know people will say the decision to remove some of the old board members was politically-motivated but I can assure you that they are wrong. Firstly, I should mention that the last minister to appoint independent directors to the board was Temeki Tšolo of the ABC (All Basotho Convention).
“When I first met LNDC staff and board members after my appointment as minister (in March this year), I told them whatever happened between us when I was still working with them was now water under the bridge. This is why the termination will only apply to those who have served in that board for too long and not the entire group.
“Tšolo had appointed his cronies as board members, who did not have the required experience in trade and industry. Surely people don’t want to see me appointing my comrades from the LCD to those positions! That is why there will be a rigorous vetting process before those positions are filled,” Mr Setipa said.
“Because of the adverts, we have already received about 50 applications for the three posts of independent directors.
“We are going to use a criteria that favours youths and women in business when selecting these new independent directors to promote gender-equity and also because women are now increasingly becoming interested in big business.
“We also need to pay more attention to the youths as there have been claims in the past that the LNDC was not interested in the youths and seemed to be biased in favour of developing and supporting foreign-owned businesses. So we will be striving to have people who are going to advance the interests of Basotho in the LNDC board,” said Mr Setipa.
On statutory posts, Mr Setipa said the agriculture ministry was being represented by its deputy principal secretary who is now on retirement hence the termination letter.
Mr Setipa further said he had asked ABC Secretary-General Samonyane Ntsekele, who was also one of the LNDC independent board members, to go as he is now a Member of Parliament. Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka, who was also a board member when he was the Ministry of Trade and Industry Principal Secretary, had continued in the position despite having left the ministry, so he also had to leave the LNDC because the ministry now had its own PS, the minister added.
“We also wrote to the ministries of Agriculture, Planning, Finance, and Tourism through the LTDC and even the LCCI, to have their membership in the LNDC board renewed with strict emphasis on giving us new blood with new ideas so that we don’t have people who have already served six years being reinstated.
“These statutory position-holders are now in the process of being replaced by their respective ministries, where necessary. We need a board that is more responsive to the interests of Basotho and that can contribute meaningfully towards the development of trade in our country,” said Mr Setipa.
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