LNDC board milks M1.2 million in allowances

LNDC board milks M1.2 million in allowances

MASERU – THE nine members of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) board paid themselves a whopping M1.2 million in sitting allowances over nine months.
And they still want more in bonuses and retainer allowances, a demand that has put them on a collision course with Trade Minister Joshua Setipa.
The board is already suing Setipa for allegedly interfering with the LNDC’s operations (See story on Page 1).
But the minister is not taking it lying down.

This week he asked the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences and the Police Commission to institute an investigation against the board members for alleged fraud.
On Friday he is expected to file a court case against the board for allegedly overpaying itself.

Setipa wants the board members to repay the allowances he claims they did not deserve. He is also suing the board for defamation.
Although thepost could not get his court papers at the time of going to press Setipa confirmed the case.

In an interview last night Setipa said he is disturbed by the “scurrilous” allegations the board raise in its High Court application.
He said the allegations are frivolous and smack of sour grapes.

His only crime, he said, is that he blocked the board’s attempt to pay itself bonuses and retainer allowances. He said the board’s case is about money and nothing else.
“We will see if they will be able to sustain those allegations they are making against me in court,” Setipa said.

“The truth is that they have been overpaying themselves. They have been having too many meetings in order to justify the allowances.”
“I want them to repay every extra cent they received from the LNDC because there is no justification for the amounts they have paid themselves.”

He said last year the board aggressively pushed for sitting allowances to be increased by 100 percent at a time when the salaries of employees where marginally increased.
Now the board, he added, is demanding bonuses when employees did not get theirs and their salaries were increased by only two percent.
He said after much haggling he agreed to increase the sitting allowances by 50 percent. That means that the board members were going to be paid M3 000 per sitting, which translates to M12 000 in seating allowances for each member per year.

According to the LNDC Act the board is supposed to have four mandatory meetings per year. That is in addition to the meetings of different committees.
Setipa however says even that increase did not seem to satisfy the board members because they have continued to push for bonuses.
The problem, according to the minister, is that some board members have turned their positions into full-time jobs. thepost has however seen documents that show that the board met a staggering 56 times in nine months.

That means the board was meeting almost every week instead of once every three months.
For their ‘troubles’ the board members took home a combined M1.2 million in allowances. Had they met four times they would have earned just M96 000.
The highest paid board member was Lehlohonolo Chefa who earned a staggering M126 000 for attending 51 meetings.

Makhetha Thaele earned M111 000 for attending 40 meetings. Lebakeng Tigeli earned M103 000 for attending 37 meetings.
Board chairperson Matseliso Lehohla received M103 000 for 34 meetings.

Mosito Matema was paid M101 000 for 34 meetings while Mampho Tjabane got M95 000 for 31 meetings. The rest of the members got below M70 000 each.
Setipa said although he could not confirm the figures the number of meetings reflect a board that is now involved in the day-to-day operations of the LNDC.
“Yet they have the nerve to accuse me of interfering with the corporation. They should explain those meetings. They are the ones interfering.”
He said the case against him only came after he refused to pay the bonuses.

“That is when they decided to tarnish my image with unfounded allegations.”
“In fact I did not really refuse to allow the bonuses. I merely said there should be a basis for paying those bonuses. I told them to go and come up with a performance contract that justifies those bonuses but they did not bring it. Instead they start suing me.

“I am coming after them. They will have to repay every penny unjustifiably earned.”
The huge allowances have triggered concerns within the LNDC, with some employees pointing out the board members are now being paid like employees.
“This is an extremely nosy board that is out to get as much as it can from the corporation,” said an employee who refused to be named.

“Its micromanagement at its best but the real target seems to be money,’’ said another who also requested anonymity.
“Never before has the LNDC paid so much to a board. This board simply does not understand that being a board member is not a form of employment.”
Another employee described the board “as a team of young and overzealous people with no understanding of their limit in the corporation.”
“They forget that theirs is a role of oversight and not operational. They simply don’t get it at all,” he said.

“There are three bad apples in that board. The noisiest ones either have no real jobs or they are failed business people or running some tiny projects. They come into LNDC and think this is where they will earn their bread.”

But board chairperson Lehohla says that is an unfair characterisation. Last night she said some of the issues needed proper clarification and context to understand them.

She said as an employee of the ministry she will not want to directly address the minister but would rather provide a general perspective that is neutral.
“It is unfair to create an impression of looting because there was no such,” she said. “The board was dealing with the disciplinary hearing of the former chief executive and the construction was met quite a number of times to deal with the big LNDC projects”.

She said because the board had been suspended for some time there was a backlog.
“There was a long list of issues to be handled. People should also know that the board is supposed to have 11 members but it currently has only nine. That means those had to be in more committees.”

On the bonuses Lehohla said the minister did not refuse to approve but wanted a contract to justify paying them.
As for the allegations of being nosy and overzealous Lehohla believes “that is the perception of people who do not understand the kind of issues the board had to deal with when it came into office.”

“The board was asking questions and demanding accountability. It refused to be a rubberstamp so for the first time people had to answer questions and provide documents to support their actions”.

“Asking those questions and scrutinising things might have come across as being nosy but we were just doing our work to the best of our abilities”.
Another board member said there was nothing amiss about the payments because they were “legitimately earned”.

“In any case most of those meetings were at the instigation of the minister. I would say 70 percent of the meetings were dealing with the minister’s issues”.
But Setipa described that allegation as “nonsense”.

“They should prove that with minutes of those meetings. I think I met them only twice,” he said.

Staff Reporter

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