LAWYERS representing 130 Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) employees are calling out of court settlement with Law and Constitutional Affairs Principal Secretary, Tanki Mothae, to resolve their stand-off with the IEC over the proposed implementation of a new organisational structure the workers say is discriminatory.
Should the talks fail to yield and agreement, the lawyers warn that the workers would down tool and the IEC would be forced to abandon its plans to clean up the voter’s roll and delineate electoral constituencies.
The employees argue that the IEC has reneged on implementing a new organisational structure based on the recommendations of a study that was conducted by a consultant, Dr Griffith Zabala, which would have seen them being promoted and receiving higher salaries. They allege that instead of implementing the Dr Zabala structure, the IEC has decided to implement another structure which allows it to hire new employees- development that would prejudice them.
They took their case to the Constitutional Court in March this year and they are unhappy with the delays in finalising the matter hence their appeal to retired Colonel Mothae for an out of court settlement.
The lawyers wrote a letter to Rtd Col Mothae in his capacity as the acting chief accounting officer of the IEC following his appointment by the Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to hold the fort after substantive chief accounting officer, Dr Letholetseng Ntsike, was suspended from work for an alleged insubordination.
Dr Ntsike was suspended by former IEC commissioners Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Advocate ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Dr Makase Nyaphisi in March 2019 for alleged insubordination.
At the time of Dr Ntsike’s suspension, 130 employees had already petitioned the Constitutional Court seeking an order to compel the IEC to promote them to higher posts within the electoral body in line with the recommendations of the organisational structure drawn by Dr Zabala.
The employees approached the Constitutional Court after the IEC management shelved Dr Zabala’s proposed structure and introduced another they say would have prejudiced them.
In March this year, the Constitutional Court issued a temporary interdict barring the IEC from implementing its new organisational structure until the finalisation of the commission’s 130 employees’ main application for the nullification of the structure which they say is discriminatory.
The interim court order was granted on 7 March 2019 by the constitutional bench comprising of justices, Sakoane Sakoane, Keketso Moahloli and Molefi Makara.
The IEC, the Ministry of Public Service, the Ministry of Finance, the Clerk of the National Assembly, the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney general are cited as the first to sixth respondents respectively in the lawsuit.
The case is still to be finalised and in the latest turn of events, the 130 employees have proposed an out of court settlement to prevent the collapse of the IEC. The proposal is contained in a letter to Rtd Col Mothae written by their lawyer, Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, dated 29 July 2019.
“On account of having a direct and substantial interest in the outcome of the claims and reliefs they (130 employees) made before the court, we engage your office in this correspondence in view of the prejudice occasioned to your organisation and our clients by an unexplained delay in handing down the judgement by the constitutional court.
“We have noted instructions that your organisation is taking steps to review boundaries of constituencies and new voter’s registration in order to facilitate the process of voters under the proposed new system,” Adv Lephuthing states.
He said the IEC programme to clean up the voter’s roll and delineate electoral constituencies could only implemented by the IEC employees but these still had a pending case against the electoral body before the courts of law. He said they had written on several occasions to the Constitutional Court reminding it to deliver judgement in the employees’ application but to no avail.
“How can this (IEC plans to clean up the voter’s roll and delineate electoral constituencies) be done or be allowed when the status of our clients is awaiting final determination of the Constitutional Court to grant or reject their claims to perform their duties under the structure of Dr Zabala?
“If it becomes impossible for the judiciary to deliver judgement as gauged by the lapse of time from May 2019 to now on a matter of such grave constitutional importance to the independence of IEC, it becomes obvious that we need to settle the matter out of court because courts of law are becoming a problem to the litigating public in this country,” Adv Lephuthing states.
He said his clients took their work seriously hence their proposal for an out of court settlement
“We earnestly propose a meeting with you in the presence of your lawyers because an over-arching consideration of justice and convenience of IEC cannot just be left to the hands of our judiciary alone. Kindly arrange for a meeting where we can agree as to which type of work can be done by our clients as is reasonably necessary for the administration of IEC.
“There must be an administrative arrangement in place to avoid a situation of the possible collapse of IEC because of a theoretically and practically collapsed judiciary,” Adv Lephuthing further states.
Efforts to get a comment from Rtd Col Mothae were unsuccessful as he was not reachable on his mobile phone.