I’m going nowhere, says water boss

I’m going nowhere, says water boss

Staff Reporter

MASERU

LESOTHO’s chief delegate on the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), Charles Putsoane, has told the government he will not leave office despite incessant pressure to do so.

His daring response has set him on fresh collision course with the government which has been pushing for his removal as head of the commission since mid-last year.

Putsoane is now alleging that the recent attempt to push him out before his contract expires is a continuation of the “harassment, victimisation, and humiliation” he has suffered at the hands of the government since last year.

In almost a year Putsoane has managed to fend off a suspension, a dismissal and a forced leave.

The fresh tussle has been triggered by a May 31 letter instructing Putsoane to leave office by June 1.  The letter by the water ministry’s principal secretary, Khomoatsana Tau, alleged that Putsoane and the ministry agreed to “amicably” part ways at a meeting on May 26.

Tau said the LHWC had been instructed to prepare his benefits according to the contact.

But in his reply Putsoane says there was never any agreement to terminate his contract.

On June 2 Putsoane’s lawyer wrote a forceful letter to Tau, accusing him of ignoring a 2015 court order that said Putsoane should remain in office until the lawsuit against the ministry is finalised.

They were referring to an order against the ministry to remove him from office.

The lawyers said because the out-of-court negotiations had failed, the ministry should wait for the hearing on September 22.

They said Tau’s letter instructing Putsoane to leave office violates the court order. Tau’s instruction is meant to “frustrate the implementation of the order of Court and unfortunately render the order of court nothing but an exercise in futility,” they said.

They further describe Tau’s action as “regrettable” and “demand” that he retracts the letter.

“We also inform you that we are going to institute legal proceedings to have you imprisoned for contempt of court should you fail to act as demanded,” the lawyers said.

Tau responded through the ministry’s lawyers who said the May 26 meeting had been held at Putsoane’s behest and reiterated that an agreement had been reached to terminate the contract.

The lawyers said Tau and Putsoane had agreed that the “relationship between the employer and employee had been evidently broken beyond redemption”.

They also warned Putsoane’s lawyers not to file an application without informing them as they had done in previous cases.

Putsoane’s lawyers however ignored the warning and filed an urgent application in the High Court on Tuesday this week, seeking to force the principal secretary to withdraw his letter.

The order was immediately granted, effectively stopping the government in its tracks until the matter is heard on September 22.

The interim order interdicts and restrains Tau from “tampering” with Putsoane’s employment in “any manner, shape or form whatsoever”.

It also says the PS should withdraw his letter to Putsaone within three days or face a 30-day jail sentence for contempt of court.

Putsoane’s three-year contract expires in April next year.

Earlier this year Putsoane and the ministry had reached an out-of-court settlement that would have ensured he leaves office with a M6.5 million ‘golden handshake’.  thepost understands that Putsoane had accepted the payout and was ready to go but the ministry’s lawyers made an additional demand that scuppered the deal just as it was about to be signed.

It is understood that the lawyers wanted Putsoane to get about M1 million less because the deal was with effect from November last year despite its details being thrashed out early this year.

They said since November Putsoane had receive salaries which should be deducted from the final payment agreed in the deal.

Putsoane’s lawyers are said to have vehemently rejected the proposed deductions, arguing that the M6.5 million was tantamount to a buyout of the contract.

They said in accepting M6.5 million their client had forfeited some allowances for housing, security, phone and car. All these benefits, the lawyers said, are guaranteed in their client’s contract.

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