Why LNDC boss was suspended

Why LNDC boss was suspended

Staff Reporter

MASERU

THE Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) chief executive KeleboneLeisanyane has been suspended.

Leisanyane was suspended by the Minister of Trade Joshua Setipa on Tuesday for allegedly failing to get tenants for the corporation’s factory shells in Ha Tikoe, Mohale’s Hoek and Maputsoe.

Setipa accused Leisanyane of failing to attract an investor for a planned knit fabric mill and inability to come up with a policy for the Special Economic Zone.

Setipa said his ministry had been waiting for the policy for submission to the cabinet for approval.

Leisanyane was given until 10am yesterday to leave his office at the LNDC head office. But by end of day he was still in the office.

Instead he has launched a court case to block the suspension. By last night his lawyers were seeking an urgent High Court order to stop the minister in his tracks.

Sources who spoke to thepost said Leisanyane has said he will not back down on his decision to stay put.

The minister’s decision againstLeisanyane comes barely a week after he suspended the LNDC board.

How the relationship between Setipa and Leisanyane collapsed is not clear. What is known is that these are two men whose paths have crossed in the past.

In 2012 Setipa was the chief executive of the LNDC while Leisanyane was the managing director of Loti Brick, a company wholly owned by the LNDC.

Leisanyane reported directly to Setipa. Setipa is said to have been unhappy with Leisanyane’s performance.

His gripe was that Leisanyane was struggling to meet targets and the pilferage in the plant had remained high. He had hinted that he was not going to renew Leisanyane’s contract when it expired.

Setipa was eventually pushed out as LNDC boss before he could get Leisanyane out of Loti Brick. As fate would have it, Leisanyane would be appointed to replace Setipa at the LNDC.

In 2015 there was another twist of fate when Setipa was appointed trade minister, the same ministry in charge of the LNDC. He was now technically Leisanyane’s boss again.

Their relationship had a semblance of cordiality, at least in the open, until this week when Setipa asked Leisanyane to “show cause” why he could not be suspended.

All in all the minister wanted Leisanyane to explain four issues. He said the chief executive should explain his alleged failure to get tenants for the factory shells.

Leisanyane, the minister said, should explain his failure to act in the LNDC’s “best interest” with regards to the allocation of the corporation’s site near Maseru Mall.

The third allegation was that Leisanyane had failed to come up with a Special Economic Zone policy as directed by the ministry.

The fourth was that Leisanyane had failed to get an investor for a planned knit fabric mill.

Leisanyane was given until Tuesday afternoon to respond to the allegations. But his reaction was to consult his lawyers who in turn responded to the minister by requesting that their client be given seven days to present a comprehensive response.

They said given the seriousness of the allegations and the need to thoroughly respond “we regret that the time frame within which to respond to your letter is unreasonably short and legally flawed”.

The short notice was against the principles of natural justice, they said.

They added that the minister should respond to their request for seven days by Tuesday afternoon.

“Failing which we shall have no option but to seek available legal recourse.”

The minister did not respond to the request, prompting Leisanyane’s lawyers to write another letter. This time they sought to give reasons why the minister had no legal authority to ask their client to respond to the allegations.

Leisanyane, they said, had been put under immense pressure because of the short notice he had been given to respond to the allegations. They said the contract of employment is between Leisanyane and the LNDC “represented by the board chairman”.

The board chairman is the principal secretary of the Ministry of Trade Majakhatata Mokoena who is alleged to be at loggerheads with Setipa.

The lawyers said in terms of the contract Leisanyane “is accountable to the board of directors and answerable to the board chairman”.

“The contract further states that client shall serve under the direction of the board of directors through the chairperson of the board.”

They said they were of the view that the minister’s letter is “procedurally and legally flawed” because their client “cannot be held accountable to you outside the parameter of the law and the employment contract”.

“It logically and legally follows therefore that client is not under obligation or duty to give reasons with regard to what you term allegations of mismanagement.”

“In the same vein it is client’s position that both the contract and LNDC Act do not give you power or authority to suspend him”.

The lawyers said they had been instructed to take “proper legal steps to protect client’s integrity and rights enshrined in the contract and the law”.

They said they hoped the minister would halt the process to suspend their client.  The minister responded yesterday morning with a suspension letter that might now have triggered a legal tussle.

The minister said he was unable to grant Leisanyane seven more days to respond because of three reasons. The first, he said, is that a suspension is meant to allow further investigations into the alleged conduct.

The second reason was that his continued presence at LNDC might lead him to interfere with investigations and potential witnesses.

“I am enjoined to take precautionary measures to safeguard the LNDC on behalf of government more so when you have held meetings with staff where you have challenged legality or otherwise of my suspending the board,” Setipa said.

He however said Leisanyane was being suspended with full pay and benefits. The suspension, he said, does not imply that Leisanyane is guilty of any misconduct. “Upon receipt of this letter kindly leave the LNDC headquarter premises and your office no later than 10pm today,” the minister said.

“Please also refrain from entering the LNDC headquarters until further notice.” Setipa confirmed the suspension but refused to give further details. Leisanyane also confirmed the letters but said he was still in the office.

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