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Battle of the titans at WASCO

Business

As Board intensifies move to oust Hoohlo

Mohloai Mpesi

The Lesotho Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) Board renewed its bid to oust the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Futho Hoohlo when it slapped him with a show cause letter last week.  

The letter signed by the Chairman of the Board Chabeli Ramolise levels a heap of allegations against the CEO centred around misconduct and dating back to August last year. Hoohlo was roped-in to steer water utility on August 5, 2019. 

In the letter, the board blames Hoohlo for purportedly backing the Director of Corporate Services, Litsebe Jimson, to the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) in move said to be in conflict with the WASCO secondment policy on or around July last year.  

He is further said to have made false statement during the Human Resource and Remunerations Committee (HRRC) meeting to the effect that Jimson, was not seconded to NACOSEC during or around August 2020. 

The Board further charges Hoohlo with suspending applications for new water connections during the calendar year 2020 until January 2021 under his leadership. Thus, questioning his incompetency as the company subsequently lost revenues.

Meanwhile, in the letter, the board further indicates that Hoohlo frustrated the implementation of the HRRC and Board Resolution by placing the Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary on a fixed term contract. He is also charged with violating his commitment to give the company undivided attention by sitting in boards of other entities the same which he is said to serve during his employer’s time.

“As a result, you are alleged to have acted in a grossly negligent manner in taking decision in issue, particularly when TOC had already expressed its reservation about the idea of suspending applications for new water connections when it was raised in its 5th Ordinary meeting.

 â€œFurther that you created the impression that the DCS and CLO and CS have strained relationship which seem to have stem from their previous employment when that is not the case.”

“Please indicate in writing before close of business on February 5, 2021 why disciplinary action may not be taken against you based on the above allegations. You will appreciate the Board is giving you this opportunity out of courtesy as there is no provision in the WASCO policies requiring the Board to invite you to make representation why you may not be disciplined,” the letter concluded.

The WASCO CEO wrote back to the Board in response to the allegations the same day, in the letter Newsday saw a copy of. 

However, in an interview with this publication, Ramolise could neither confirm nor deny the allegations on this issues citing that the matter was not intended for public consumption.  

“The internal issues of the Board are not meant for public consumption and I can’t comment on the matter,” Ramolise said.

For his part, contacted for a comment this week, Hoohlo could also not be brought to comment on the matter citing the confidentiality of the subject. He was, however, quick to confirm that he was indeed furnished with a show cause letter.

“In terms of good governance, upholding principles of confidentiality, my integrity and discipline, required in the position I hold, I shall not discuss such details with media,” Hoohlo said.

“Clearly, the details of your questions indicate that you are privy to correspondence between the WASCO Board Chair and myself, and I shall not go into the details of exchange.

“What I can confirm is indeed I did receive a “show cause” letter from the Board Chair dated 03/02/2021, and on the same date, I duly responded to it as requested, by close of business on Friday 05/02/2021,” he said.

“The correspondence between the WASCO Board and myself was never intended for public consumption,” he said.

Be that as it may, Newsday can reveal that in his response, Hoohlo denied that he seconded Jimson to NACOSEC and also circumventing WASCO policies.

According to Hoohlo, Jimson was attached to National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) as a representative of WASCO in the company’s capacity as an essential service provider.

“I refer to the above matter and your letter dated February 3, 2021. In terms of your letter aforesaid, I am requested to make representation on why I should not be disciplined for various allegations contained in your letter. I wish to respond accordingly as follows.

“I confirm that on November 2020, I received a letter form yourself indicating that the Board had resolved to conduct an investigation concerning the ways the Maseru Waste Water Project tendering process was handled. Your letter further indicated that I was being investigated for alleged misconduct in respect of the aforesaid tendering process. You concluded and/or requested in the same letter that I show cause why I could not be suspended.

“I confirm that on November 16, 2020 I was suspended through a suspension letter dated November 15, 2020. At the time you did not raise these allegations which you are raising for the first time now, yet you claim that they happened between July and August 2020 save for the issue relating to new connections. At this early stage I wish to indicate that this approach shows that the Board is acting maliciously and in bad faith as I will demonstrate below.

“I confirm that I instituted legal proceedings against WASCO in the labour court in terms of which I challenged the lawfulness of my suspension. The court granted an order in terms of which it held the purported suspension in abeyance pending finalisation of the matter,” the letter reads.

“Following this, the parties engaged in negotiations exploring the possibilities of setting the issue between the parties amicably. To this end, I confirm that my legal representative and I held a meeting with Board and yourself in your capacity as Chairman of the Board on January 20, 2021. The parties further held a meeting on January 21, 2021 in which meeting the parties discussed the mutual separation of the parties and payment of my benefits as an amicable settlement to the pending case before court.

“I confirm that on January 26, 2021 you made a proposal through a letter dated January 26, 2021. In terms of your proposal, the company offered to pay me remuneration equivalent to twelve (12) months of my salary inclusive of other allowances for the mutual termination of our working relationship.

“I confirm that I countered this offer through my letter dated January 28, 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 eighteen (18) months.

“I anticipated your response in this matter on whether my counter proposal was accepted or rejected. I confirm that I have not received your response. You will recall that the Board initiated the mutual separation as the best option given that you had made it clear that the shareholder being the government of Lesotho had extended tremendous pressure on the Board to dismiss me for reasons which you were not prepared to disclose. You will recall that you mentioned that the shareholder threatened to dissolve the Board if it failed to ensure that I was removed from the company.

“I confirm that instead of dealing with our proposed mutual separation, I have, however, received your letter requesting me to make representation on why I should not be disciplined for allegations of misconduct contained in your letter.

“On the issue of sitting in Boards of other companies, I confirm that as far as I am aware, I sit as a trustee to the Boards of the Public Officers and Specified Offices Defined Contribution Pension Funds. Upon my appointment, I notified you of my membership of those Boards. 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.

“As a matter of fact, the Board has always known that I am member of the Board of Trustees of the Pension since my appointment as the Chief Executive Officer of WASCO.

“I deny that I circumvented WASCO secondment policy and I deny that I seconded the Director of Corporate Services, Jimson to NACOSEC as alleged. In the same way I deny that I made false statement during the Human Resources and Remunerations committee meeting to the effect that Mr Jimson was not seconded to NACOSEC. I confirm that Mr Jimson was attached to National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) as a representative of WASCO in the company’s capacity as an essential service provider,” the letter reads.

“I confirm, therefore, that Mr Jimson was never seconded to NACOSEC. I confirm that Mr Jimson remained an employee of WASCO and was attached to NACOSEC as a representative of the company. I did not, therefore, make any false statement during the Human Resources and Remunerations Committee meeting in respect of whether Mr Jimson was seconded to NACOSEC or not.

The letter continues that, “On the issue of suspending applications for new water connections, I deny that I failed to exercise proper care and attention in taking the decision and/or that I acted with gross negligence in taking decision. I confirm that 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.

“On the last issue relating to the implementation of the HRRC and Board Resolution, I confirm that I did not frustrate the implementation of the aforesaid instructors as alleged. I confirm that I initiated an investigation into the matter after I observed some irregularities as demonstrated in my letter to the Chairperson of the Human Resource and Remunerations Committee (HRRC) dated August 23 2020. I confirm that it is not a misconduct to make observations and note potential irregularities in the structure of the company.

“In the same way, my office dictates that I act in the best interest of the company. I did not frustrate the process but requested the deferment of the matter to ascertain whether there was potential of exposing the company to liability in view of the irregularities that I observed,” the letter reads.

“I confirm that my investigations revealed that there existed a possibly strained relationship between the DCS and CLO. I deny that I created the impression that the DCS and the CLO have strained relationship as suggested.

“I confirm that following my investigations and as a result of the observations I made, I endeavoured to mediate between the parties in my role as Chief Executive Officer of the company. This was done in the best interest of the company.

“For the forgoing, I confirm and believe that I should not be subjected to disciplinary proceedings in respect of these allegations as suggested. I confirm that I am still interested in the amicable resolution of the matter and believe it will be in the best interest of both parties to continue with our negotiations. “However, should you proceed with the disciplinary process 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 pressurized to dismiss me. I reiterate that you have informed me that the Board is under pressure to get rid of me,” the letter concludes.    0 Intense Empha

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