THE High Court is tomorrow expected to hear a case in which the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC) Chief Delegate, Charles Putsoane, is fighting his dismissal.
The government, in January 2016, offered Mr Putsoane M6 million to leave the organisation before his contract expires in March 2017. This was after the LHWC boss had previously refused to accept M5 million to quit the post he assumed in April 2014.
The LHWC is the largest infrastructure partnership between the Lesotho and South African governments, and consists of three delegates from each of the two nations. The commission is tasked with implementing the Lesotho Highlands Water Project — a multiphase initiative comprising several dams and tunnels in Lesotho and South Africa.
Mr Putsoane’s lawyer, Advocate Tembo Lesupi, told the Sunday Express yesterday his client had refused to accept the M6 million exit package because “the calculations were not based on his contract”.
Said Advocate Lesupi: “We made a counter offer to the government that Mr Putsoane’s exit package should be based in terms of his actual contract which, things being normal, was supposed to end next year. On the basis of that, we requested an exit amount of around M7.9 million against the M6 million the government was willing to offer.”
This dispute, the lawyer said, led to Mr Putsoane filing a court case in June 2016 to block his dismissal after the government refused to accept his M7.9 million counter offer.
Subsequent to Mr Putsoane’s application, the High Court issued an order dated 6 June 2016 which, among others, directed the Ministry of Water’s Principal Secretary (PS) Khomoatsana Tau to withdraw his letter dated 31 May 2016 terminating Mr Putsoane’s contract. The court order gave Mr Tau three days to withdraw the letter.
The court order also provided that “failing compliance with the above (withdrawal of the dismissal letter) the first respondent (Mr Tau) should appear before the court on 22 September 2016 to show cause why, if any, an order for his arrest and incarceration for a period of 30 days shall not be issued.”
The court also ordered that pending finalisation of the matter, “the first respondent is interdicted and restrained from tempering with the employment of the applicant (Mr Putsoane) in any manner shape or form whatsoever.”
The court further ruled Mr Tau’s termination letter should be “reviewed and set aside”.
Other respondents, as cited by Mr Putsoane in the matter, are the LHWC Secretary Charles Mwakalumbwa, LHWC official Tšiu Khatibe, the Ministry of Water, LHWC and Attorney-General Tšokolo Makhethe, respectively.
However, in an urgent application filed on 30 August 2016, Mr Putsoane submits the respondents continue to “interfere” with his employment contract despite the court order.
He notes in his founding affidavit that: “I approached this honourable court on an urgent basis on 25 August seeking, inter alia, dispensation with the rules of court, and primarily the granting of an interdict pending finalisation of the matter for the first and second respondents to stop interfering with the employment of the applicant.
“Indeed on 25 August 2016 an order to that effect was granted. On 26 August 2016, the said order of court was served upon all the respondents by the messenger of court. Despite the order of court being granted and served on the first and second respondents, the said respondents have continued to undermine the order of court.”
Mr Putsoane says on 29 August 2016 he went to his office as usual, “knowing full well that I have the protection of the order of court”.
“Upon my arrival, I discovered that my keys to my office doors could not work, and this led to (an) inescapable conclusion that the locks have been changed . . .
“I must state that order of court had specifically directed that my employment should not be tempered with by both the first and second respondents.
“I aver that as part and parcel of my employment benefits, I enjoy use of a vehicle of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission; this car is being refueled for me by the Commission, but now I attempted to go refuel the said vehicle on 29 August 2016 but I was turned away by one of the petrol attendants whose name I do not know informing me that he has been instructed that I am no longer employed at the Commission.”
Mr Putsoane argues the respondents, “particularly the first and second respondents’ actions constitute a clear undermining of the authority of the court”.
“Their actions show that they are above the law. They have been served with the orders of court. The said court orders are clear and unambiguous, they order the said respondents not to interfere with the employment of applicant in any manner shape of form whatsoever,” he asserts.
“The respondents, however, continue to consistently defy the order and authority of the court. The said defiance and violations of the orders of court are intentional. It is important that the court should speedily step up and protect its image and integrity by issuing arrest warrants against the first and second respondents, calling upon them to show cause why they should (not) be imprisoned for contempt of court.”
Further motivating his prayers, Mr Putsoane argues the case brought to the fore a tendency by high ranking government officials to “consistently and in a blatant fashion undermine the authority of the court”.
“. . . this creates a perception in the eyes of the public that government officials are above the law. It is important that the court acts swiftly to dislodge any such perceptions to restore confidence in the judiciary,” he says.
“Defiance of court orders is a steady and certain path towards anarchy and lawlessness, and the court also has to act swiftly to dispel any notion that there is lawlessness in the country.”
The Sunday Express is also in possession of the 25 August 2016 court order issued by Justice ’Maseshophe Hlajoane which calls upon Mr Tau to show cause “if any” why he should not be found guilty of contempt of court for “violating and disregarding” the 6 June court order.
Mr Tau is also ordered to appear in court personally on 22 September 2016 to show cause why, “an order for his arrest and incarceration for a period of 30 days for contempt of court shall not be made final”.
The court order also interdicts Mr Mwakalumbwa from “executing any instruction, verbal or written, from the first respondent (Mr Tau) that violates the orders of this honourable court pending finalisation of all matters before this court”.
It further interdicts Mr Mwakalumbwa “and any of the employers of the fourth respondent (Ministry of Water)” from receiving any instruction from Mr Tau which violates the terms of the court orders issued by the court.
Advocate Lesupi told the Sunday Express yesterday the case would resume tomorrow.
“We are basically going to argue over whether the respondents, in particular the PS, should be arrested or not based on the basis that he has defied court orders,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Mr Tau proved fruitless yesterday.