Storm rocks LRA

Storm rocks LRA

MASERU – THE suspension of Thabo Khasipe has thrown the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) into turmoil, amid revelations that low-ranking employees are frustrated and want to fight the decision.

Khasipe was suspended two weeks ago, 63 days after his appointment as commissioner general, over allegations that he did not timeously file his tax returns in some years and made misrepresentations to the LRA board when he was hired. He is now being charged for violating Lesotho’s tax laws and fraud.
But the decision has not gone down well with the LRA Staff Union which believes Khasipe is being victimised and his suspension will have “detrimental effects” on the authority.
The union has since asked the board to reconsider Khasipe’s suspension.

In a February 6 letter to the board the union makes serious allegations that if proven correct might have lasting damage on the LRA’s integrity.
The union wants senior management of the authority investigated for tax compliance. It questions why Khasipe was suspended despite having a tax clearance certificate issued in September 2016.

The suspension, the union says, “is contradictory with our tax laws as tax clearance certifies taxpayer’s compliance with the tax laws.”
The union says it was already looking forward to Khasipe investigating members of the executive management for tax compliance because it has evidence that some are not complying.
It is not clear what kind of evidence the union has against those in the executive management.

It can however be inferred that they could have some damning evidence because some of them work with the system and have access to tax records.
The union also wants the board to institute a forensic audit into the authority’s finances. “We can no longer trust the executive management, but the Commissioner General (Khasipe) with day-to-day operations of our company.”

Board chairperson Lehlomela Mohapi responded to the union on February 13 in a diplomatically couched letter. Mohapi said the board had discussed the union’s letter at its meeting on February 10.

On the union’s request to reconsider the suspension Mohapi said: “It is the fiduciary duty of the Board to take action calculated to preserve the reputation of the Authority in the circumstances”.

“The Board is therefore duty-bound to investigate the veracity of the allegations against the CG as a necessary internal process,” Mohapi said.
Mohapi said the board noted the request that the commissioner general investigates the executive management and conducts a forensic audit.
The union responded to the board on February 21.

“We sought counsel subsequent to receiving your response. And we are convinced that you are the only authority that possesses the power to investigate alleged company policy transgressions and to discipline offenders, in accordance with Section (15) (1) of the Lesotho Revenue Authority Act of 2001,” they said.

“Neither the suspension of the substantive Commissioner General nor the court case precludes you from discharging your fiduciary duty of care.”
A storm is also brewing over a salary increment allegedly awarded to Advocate Realeboha Mathaba, Commissioner for Enforcement who was acting commissioner general for almost a year. Mathaba came third in the race for the commissioner general’s job that went to Khasipe.

Although it is difficult to confirm when the salary was increased thepost has it on good authority it happened sometime in June last year when the board wanted to extend his acting period. By that time Mathaba had been acting for six months.

He is alleged to have told the board that although he had been acting for six months his benefits were still the same as those of people he was now supervising.
In August the board informed Mathaba that his application for the commissioner general’s position was not successful but by that time an agreement had been reached with the board to review by as much as 40 percent, according to insiders.

The union wants the board to investigate why Mathaba’s salary was increased while the rest of the employees have had their salaries frozen for the past five years.
LRA regulations state that once a person acts in a role for more than six months they are automatically confirmed to that position.
This meant that after the sixth months of acting Mathaba should have been automatically appointed commissioner general.
A senior member of the union told thepost that they view Mathaba’s salary review as an “act of discrimination”.

“The rule is that salary reviews are done across the board. You cannot increase the salary of one person in an organisation,” said the official who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media without approval from his bosses.

He said for the past five years LRA employees have been getting only inflation adjustments because the authority says it does not have money.
“Staff morale is low. People are frustrated and I hear that we are behind targets,” the official said.
He said the union is not happy that Khasipe has been suspended “when it is well known that there are many in the executive committee who are not complying with the tax regulations”.

Apart from allegations that he got an undeserved salary increase Mathaba has also had to fend off allegations that he could have instigated the investigation into Khasipe because they were competing for the same job.

In an interview with thepost this week Mathaba said he was aware of those allegations which he said were being “peddled” by people who want to soil his name (See full interview with Mathaba on the allegations).

What triggered suspicion against Mathaba was the timing of the charges against Khasipe which some say indicate a power struggle in the authority.
Mathaba however says he was not personally involved in the investigation as it was handled by the DCEO.

\The investigation into Khasipe is understood to have started in 2015 and the focus was some transfers made when he was Ambassador to Kuwait in 2014.
Along the DCEO contacted the LRA because it was commercial investigatin which could also have tax implications.

The charges he is now facing have nothing to do with the investigation into the transfers. Instead he is being charged for not filing tax returns.
The second charge of fraud is related to his alleged declaration to the board that he had filed his tax returns on time.

It is however the board that alerted Khasipe to the missing tax returns and he took steps to rectify the situation.
He filed the returns, paid penalties and got a tax clearance. Khasipe has since launched a constitutional challenge against the decision to charge him.
Khasipe argues that the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision to charge him is arbitrary because there is no complainant in the case.

Staff Reporter

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