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WASCO board seeks to get rid of CEO

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) board of directors have stepped up their bid to fire suspended chief executive officer (CEO), Futho Hoohlo. This after the board chairperson, Chabeli Ramolise, wrote to Mr Hoohlo last week, demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be hauled before a disciplinary committee to answer misconduct charges.

It remains to be seen how WASCO will proceed with the matter after Mr Hoohlo responded by denying all the allegations levelled against him. The embattled CEO also has a pending Labour Court application to nullify his suspension.

The court issued an interim order allow him to remain in his post pending the finalisation of his application. The matter will be heard on 23 February 2021.

Mr Hoohlo was suspended on 15 November 2020 on various misconduct allegations including claims that he violated WASCO policies by seconding a senior WASCO employee to the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) set up by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to coordinate the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also stands accused of gross negligence which has allegedly cost WASCO unspecified amounts of revenue. He is also accused of sitting on boards of other companies during his working hours at the water utility.

The WASCO board had on 26 January 2021 offered to pay him out of the remainder of his contract. It had offered to pay him his 12 months’ salary and benefits for him to leave his job.

It is not clear why the board offered to pay him for 12 months when there were still 18 months left on his contract as of last month.

However, Mr Hoohlo made a counter-proposal on 28 January 2021, insisting he would only go if the company paid him 18 months’ salary and benefits.

This demand did not go down well with the WASCO board which responded with the “show cause” letter on 3 February 2021.

“While in terms of your employment contract and WASCO policies you are required to devote all your time and commitment to WASCO during working hours, you are a board member of other entities and participate in board meetings of those entities during WASCO’s working hours, thus contravening not only your employment contract, but WASCO’s policies and regulations as well,” Mr Ramolise wrote in his 3 February 2021 “show cause” letter to Mr Hoohlo.

“During July 2020 you seconded the director of corporate services, Litsebe Jimson, to NACOSEC contrary to the WASCO Secondment Policy. In August 2020 you made a false statement during the Human Resources and Remuneration Committee (HRRC) meeting to the effect that Mr Jimson was not seconded to NACOSEC while you knew that you had seconded him to NACOSEC.

“During the calendar year 2020 until January 2021, under your leadership, WASCO suspended applications for new water connections. You did not exercise proper care and attention in taking this decision which led or was likely to lead to WASCO losing revenue. As a result, you are alleged to have acted in a grossly negligent manner in taking the decision in issue.”

Mr Hoohlo duly responded on 5 February and denied all the allegations levelled against him by Mr Ramolise.

“I sit as a trustee to the Board of the Public Officers and Specified Offices Defined Contribution Pension Fund. Upon my appointment, I notified you of my membership of that board. You consented that my membership would not conflict with my duties and that as long as I would make up for the time that I spent in its meetings, there would be no problem.

“I deny that I circumvented WASCO Secondment Policy and seconded Mr Jimson to NACOSEC as alleged. I deny that I made a false statement during the HRRC meeting saying he had not been seconded to NACOSEC. I confirm that Mr Jimson was attached to NACOSEC as a representative of WASCO in the latter company’s capacity as an essential service provider. Mr Jimson remained a WASCO employee.

“On the issue of suspending applications for new water connections, I deny that I failed to exercise proper care and attention and/or that I acted with gross negligence in taking the decision. I informed you of the plan to execute this decision in order for the company to address and resolve issues relating to backlogs of water connections. I recall that you commended the decision as great and observed that it was taken in the best interest of the company,” Mr Hoohlo wrote in his response.

He also reiterated his desire to reach an amicable agreement to pave way for his departure from WASCO on the basis of his proposal to be paid his 18 months’ salary.

“On 26 January 2021 you made a proposal through a letter. In terms of your proposal, the company offered to pay me remuneration equivalent to 12 months of my salary inclusive of other allowances for the mutual termination of our working relationship. I countered this offer through my letter dated 28 January 2021 in terms of which I indicated that I was ready to accept payment of compensation equivalent to the remainder of my fixed term contract which is equivalent to 18 months.

“I confirm that I am still interested in the amicable resolution of the matter and I believe it will be in the best interests of both parties to continue with our negotiations.

“However, should you proceed with the disciplinary proceed as intimated in your letter, I am ready to deal with the matter and defend my rights because I have reason to believe that the board is being pressurised to dismiss me. I reiterate that you have informed me that the board is under pressure to get rid of me,” Mr Hoohlo wrote.

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