LOIC on verge of collapse

LOIC on verge of collapse

MASERU-THE Lesotho Opportunities Industrialisation Centre (LOIC), a vocational training school, is on the verge of collapse after the government withdrew its support.

The Ministry of Small Businesses’ principal secretary, Tankiso Phapano, told thepost this week that the government decided to withdraw funding to LOIC following a row over its control.
Phapano said the LOIC board claimed that the school is a private entity and therefore does not account to the government.

This led to the government disbanding the LOIC board last year in November during a meeting, saying it was wrongly and unlawfully constituted.
This was the second time that the government has disbanded the LOIC board.
“The current board was reinstated by the principal secretary (Phapano’s predecessor, Lerata Pekane), which is abnormal and unlawful,” Phapano said.

Pekane reinstated the board in 2019 after the Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka disbanded it after it claimed it was independent from the government.
The board was arguing that being given a subvention by the government was no indication that the school belonged to the state.
Phapano said the members of the board do not have any appointment letters from the Small Business Development Minister.
He said LOIC stopped being independent over two decades ago when it fell into financial problems and the government decided to fund it through the Ministry of Trade.

When the Ministry of Small Business Development was established in 2012 it took over from the Ministry of Trade.
Phapano said all along everyone thought there was a document passing the school to the government but upon closer scrutiny they found that there was no relationship between LOIC and the government.
This means, according to Phapano, that there has been no legal basis for the government to give subvention to LOIC.

“So far we have found nothing like a binding document or even an MOU or cabinet decision,” Phapano said.
LOIC was established in 1974 by a Christian missionary from Canada to equip Basotho children with vocational skills.
The missionary had garnered support from international funders and as a result the school was not dependent on the government until late 1090s when the international funders withdrew their support.

It was at the beginning of the 2000s when the government took over the funding of the school.
Phapano said the reason Mphaka disbanded the board was so that the government could have unfettered access to the school so that it could bring the needed help.
The board, he said, was blocking the government’s efforts to provide help.
Pekane, he said, reinstated the board without putting much thought on these reasons.

“But they have more than 10 years as members of the board holding the same positions they held 10 years ago,” he said.
He said the law says a board should be appointed by the minister not the principal secretary.
He said now the board claims to be independent as they are an association “forgetting that unlike before they are now under the government as they receive subvention to help run the school”.

He said the subvention will be held until further notice as they want clarity on why they should give money to a school that says it does not account to the government.
The school principal, Kokolia Ramabele, said without the subvention the school will not be able to pay salaries and settle bills.
“Recently we have been given less money than our needs as a school,” Ramabele said.

He said they last received funds from the government in September last year.
Ramabele said they met Small Business Development Minister Keketso Sello in August and “the meeting was very warm and went well”.
Ramabele said on November 16 the principal secretary met with the staff and talked.

He said the staff talked a lot about the problems facing the school.
“After that meeting the principal secretary made a decision that the board is the one causing problems,” Ramabele said.
He said they were surprised that in the same meeting the principal secretary told them that he would not work with the current board.
He said Phapano also vowed to hold the subvention if the board did not go as he had proposed.

He said on November 24 the board members were slapped with suspension letters and they wrote back to the principal secretary expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision.
He said they received a letter on December 11 after their graduation ceremony that said the subvention was being withheld.
“He never met the school’s administration but he is taking such harsh decisions,” Ramabele said.

He also said the school then decided to go to the courts of law as the decisions will hinder the operations of the school.
He said he was never called for a meeting to address the issues.
He added that there are people who badmouthed others to the principal secretary saying the same people have tricked the school on some procurement matters.

“They stole some money and when we demanded accountability, they went to the PS to speak ill about others,” Ramabele said.
He said some 50 bags of cement went missing at some point after being bought to help repair the Mohalalitoe Road at the junction leading to the school.

His suspicion was that they are being expelled because they were demanding accountability.
Ramabele said at some point the school’s funds were blown on useless things like birthday celebrations.

He said there was a medical aid scheme at the school that was costly to the school and was also unbudgeted for and when they demanded accountability the board was disbanded.

Nkheli Liphoto

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