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Fresh twist in pension fund war

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MASERU-THERE is a new twist in the fierce battle over who manages the pension fund for the government’s nearly 35 000 employees.
The contract for the administrator of the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODCPF) has been mired in an intense corporate battle between NBC Lesotho and Akani Retirement Fund Administrators for the past four months.

Four of the PODCPF’s nine trustees are fighting to block NBC Lesotho’s reappointment as administrator of the M7 billion-Fund.
In March the board reappointed NBC Lesotho for another three-year term but the contract could not be effected after an association of pensioners challenged it in the High Court.

But in a new twist the association’s case seems to have achieved the opposite of what it intended, at least in the short term.
thepost can now reveal that circumstances have forced the PODCPF’s trustees, including the four fighting in Akani’s corner, to extend the NBC’s contract which was due to expire at the end of April.

Two weeks ago the trustees extended the NBC Lesotho’s previous contract pending the finalisation of the pensioners’ case.
Thabo Thulo, the PODCPF’s Principal Officer, said the extension was necessary “to avoid a vacuum”.

“The board’s decision to reappoint the NBC Lesotho for another three-year term is still a subject of a court challenge,” Thulo said.

“The board however recognised that the Fund should always have an administrator so the previous contract was extended indefinitely pending finalisation of the case.”

He said “it is important for the members of the pension Fund to know that operations have not been affected by the matter”.
“There is therefore no reason to panic,” he added.
The pensioners’ case is yet to be heard.

Meanwhile, the battle between NBC and Akani Retirement Fund Administrators, which has played out in Lesotho and South Africa, rages on.
In South Africa the animosity between NBC Holdings – the sister company to NBC Lesotho – and Akani appears to have escalated in recent weeks.
The companies are already engaged in long-drawn legal battles in South Africa over the contract to manage Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) which has 21 600 members and is estimated to be worth M8 billion.

In that case the NBC and some CINPF members argue that Akani used unsavory means and violated the CINPF’s rules to win the contract.
In court papers the NBC alleges Neighbour Funeral Services, a company linked to Akani, made payments to its former employees to instigate the CINPF to terminate its contract and appoint Akani.

There is an interim court order blocking Akani’s appointment and allowing the NBC to remain as CINPF’s administrator pending finalisation of the case in July this year.

In the most recent case Akani brought a defamation case against NBC Holding and NBC Lesotho over allegations made in both Lesotho and South Africa.

Akani’s main gripe is over the NBC Holdings’ letter updating CINPF employers about the court battle between the two companies.
Akani was irked by the NBC’s statement that the judgement said there was “strong evidence of corruption” against it. This statement, it said, was a misrepresentation of the interim order and gave an impression that the court had made conclusive findings on the corruption allegations raised by NBC.

Akani also took issue with the allegations made by a senior NBC Lesotho official in a local newspaper. The officials told the newspaper that Akani was corrupt and had its licence revoked in eSwatini.
Akani said these statements were false and defamatory while the NBC insisted that the allegations were true and it had correctly interpreted the interim order. It also argued that the South African court had no jurisdiction to deal with an incident in Lesotho.

This week Justice Roland Sutherland of the South African High Court found in Akani’s favour, saying the NBC’s allegations of corruption were defamatory because the court is yet to rule on them in the ongoing case.
Justice Sutherland ordered the NBC to correct those statements but did not impose any damages.

But Akani’s victory in the defamation case appears to have come at some cost.
This is because in seeking to defend itself against the lawsuit the NBC made further allegations of corruption against Akani.

For instance, it told the court that it had bank statements showing that Neighbour Funeral Services made further payments to several senior members of the CINPF management, board of trustees and unions.
The officials who are named in court papers cannot be identified because they are yet to respond to the allegations.

The NBC also said there were payments of about R170 000 to its three former employees.
Akani has denied the allegations, insisting that the payments were for work done or insurance payouts.

Staff Reporter

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Labour unions in nasty fight

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TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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Mahao bares all (Part I)

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It’s been nearly four months since the fallout between Energy Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao and principal secretary Tankiso Phapano started. The impasse remains unresolved as Prime Minister Sam Matekane has rejected Prof Mahao’s request to transfer Phapano. He had also turned down a similar request from the Basotho Action Party (BAP). This has led to speculation that the prime minister could be turning a blind eye to the chaos at the ministry because he wants to allocate it to his Revolution for Property (RFP). There are also murmurs that the friction between Prof Mahao and Phapano could be a reflection of the factionalism in the BAP. thepost talked to Prof Mahao about these and other issues in a wide-ranging interview last week. Below are excerpts of the first part of the interview.

Let’s talk about your time in government. How has it been so far?
I think it is in the public domain. When I first came for the first two months things went very well. Since January problems began to show up, particularly because of the issue of the principal secretary (Phapano) that everybody knows about. The relations haven’t been sorted out in terms of working relations. But you do know that there is a government manual that says what the role of the minister is and what that of a principal secretary is. What has become a perennial problem is that the PS doesn’t seem to want to keep within his lane. He almost thinks he is a minister. But otherwise it has been reasonably well.

What is the cause of your fight with Phapano?
I will tell you it came as a total surprise because Phapano was brought in by myself literally managing every avenue of the process of appointment. The standoff started the first day we met, which was on the 3rd of January, when I had called him to deliberate on a certain document and he didn’t seem to appreciate it and I understood because he had just joined the previous day. So I called in someone who was knowledgeable to advise us both. After taking advice from that person I then instructed that they go and draft a memorandum. And that is where he burst out. So it started there and ever since then things have not reverted to normalcy.

What document was it?
We have had a problem with performance in terms of LEC projects that are financed by the World Bank. The World Bank had issued two memos where it was raising concerns. Monies have been there with us for more than three years and very little of them have been spent. And so the World Bank raised concerns in November and in December. And the question was how we ensure that there is delivery because when money is not used it might just go back. We sort to have a handle on that process. And this lady who is a coordinator of the World Bank projects advised that we could do something which was done by the ministry in its former incarnation with WASCO. Which was a memorandum which would be a framework in terms of how we manage the performance between us and the LEC. In that case, it was the ministry and WASCO. And then the PS said, no, it’s not going to happen.

So it had nothing to do with what people have been talking about, the power project?
Absolutely nonsense. There was nothing of the sort. What happens is this. There are World Bank funds under a programme called LREAP. Those funds were intended to finance industrial zones, Belo, Tikoe and rural electrification. But for more than three years there had been very little progress. This is why I’m saying that in November the World Bank had raised concern. Again in their December memo they raised concern. We were also quite concerned as a ministry because you expect progress, especially when there are resources.

You say Phapano was very angry. Did he eventually tell you why he was angry with a mere MOU?
He said I haven’t advised you to draw up an MOU. What I had done was to say, PS, this lady and the director of legal, develop that MOU and then we discuss it. That’s when he burst out.

But is work being done?
Yes work is being done but it is not at the pace that I was working before he came in and at the pace I would have preferred.

Are you saying he is slowing down work?
He is certainly slowing down work. Let me give you a few instances and I don’t want to belabour a lot on these issues. For example, I requested him to organise a press conference where I was going to announce our programme of action for 2024 and he said, no, that is not advisable. Eventually, of course, I pressed on and we did have the press conference. But he had initially decided he was not going to be part of that press conference until the director of energy called him and said, you can’t have a minister having a press conference and the PS is not there. The other one I had asked him to arrange for a meeting with the staff of the ministry. That was in January and up to date he has not arranged that meeting. On one occasion I had asked him to arrange my meeting with the LEC staff and he didn’t. I had to write to LEC to arrange for the meeting, which actually ought to have been done by the PS. And there have been several other such instances where he just believes that I shouldn’t have to give him instructions.

The transformation is huge. He was almost like a son to you.
Literally my son. He would visit virtually every day at my house. When he gets to the house he wouldn’t ask to be provided with tea, he would just go into the kitchen and make tea and that’s how we took him with my wife. Indeed on the day he got a letter of appointment my wife and Mrs Bosiu actually took him out for lunch to congratulate him.

Do you regret it?
No. I was doing what was right. I don’t regret. I think whatever happened with him, he knows why. I don’t. But it does look like he is somebody who was saying, well, let him facilitate the appointment and as soon as I get that letter, I’ll show him exactly who I am.

You then realise that you and the PS are not working well and the relationship has soured. What did you do to remedy the situation?
First of all, on that first day (3rd of January). Look, this is a comrade. This is one of my own. I called the National Chairperson, Mr Kibane, and said, I talk to Phapano, I don’t understand what is happening. The National Chairperson was out in Leribe at his home and he told me he was working on the arrangements for a relative’s funeral and so he was not going to be immediately available. I then called the deputy leader (Maqelepo) who came that evening and I asked him to handle that matter. There were a number of interventions by comrades like Dr Matlosa and Mrs.Bosiu Mrs Marite had a session with him. And when all of those did not seem to guide him in the direction we wished I then convined a meeting of the top six of the party and I asked them to handle that matter. That did not work either. I then went to the Prime Minister almost a month and a couple of weeks later. I gave him the full details of the challenges that we were experiencing. And all he said was “look, Phapano is your son, try to work with him”.

Did you go back to him again?
No. The last intervention was from the party. The Central Executive Committee wrote to the Prime Minister to say in order to resolve that impasse we request that you move Phapano to the Ministry of Tourism. Minister Maqelepo was more than ready to receive him and of course the Prime Minister turned down the request.

Did he give reasons?
Well, he did. I’m not so sure what exactly the response particularly said with respect to the issue of resolving the issue. He simply turned it down. He probably gave reasons but I can’t recall what they were but they were not addressing the issue of the impasse as far as I am concerned.

So now you are stuck with a PS who you can’t work with. How are you going to solve it?
As they say Sesotho they say li tlohele li hole ‘moho, which is to say let’s see what fate would take on the matter.
But you can’t leave the management of a ministry to fate.

So what do you want me to do? If you were in my position, with all the efforts that I have done, what can I possibly do?
Have you run out of options?
Not exactly.

You might as well leave the government if you don’t get what you want.
Well, that’s your opinion. I’m out there to do service to the nation.

You are out there to do service to the nation but there is a problem in the ministry that could either slow down or stop some of the services that you want to give to the people. How then do you proceed in such circumstances?
Well, I’ve already told you that it is not particularly easy but in spite of that work is being done.

What is the position of the party?
I already told you that the party wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and that is how far the party has gone.

Is it not going to push any further?
Not as yet. We don’t allow this matter to appear to overwhelm us. It really doesn’t overwhelm us. As I say, life goes on within the party, within the ministry, in spite of all those. You have to, at some point, accept that there are challenges here and there in life.

What are the implications of this friction between you and the PS in the political party? Does Phapano have a group of people within the party backing him?
In fact that leads me to some issues that I want to criticize you about as a newspaper. You are not reporting accurately. In one of your publications you said the BAP is imploding. There were no facts to that effect. What happened is that there was a petition of a vote of no confidence by the youth against their representative in the executive. When the petition was read and deliberated in the committee he wrote a letter of resignation from the committee.

That is not an implosion. He did not say he was leaving the party. Another thing that you misreported was when the National chairperson, Mr Kibane, wrote a letter resigning from the committee and not from the party. At that time a number of constituencies had written to the central executive committee demanding an explanation why some members of the executive committee had gone to the MGC offices where they were made to commit to the removal of the minister (Mahao) from the ministry.

The chairperson, Mr Kibane, was part of those who went. Afraid because these people were calling for a special conference to come and deal with this problem, Mr Kibane wrote to say he was withdrawing from the executive. He didn’t say he was withdrawing from the party.

And then you wrote that there is an implosion. What a serious misrepresentation that was. Elsewhere you wrote that because of Mahao’s character, I’m paraphrasing, Thotanyana and his group resigned from the party. Far from the truth. Thotanyana and his group were actually expelled from the party by a special conference and that was public. Remember they even went to court trying to stop the conference and we won the case. The conference took place and decided to remove them from the party. That is not resigning from the party.

It is being expelled. Basically your newspaper has been systematically misrepresenting facts because you have abandoned the cardinal rule of journalism which is to hear both sides before you can actually put pen to paper.

So the point I’m trying to make is that Phapano seems to have some people that he has control over and there can be a number of speculations in terms of what his handle on them is within the party. They include those people who went to MGC offices without the mandate of the party. The BAP constitution says there cannot be a meeting of the working committee or central executive committee if there is no quorum and if the leader or the deputy leader is not present.

And these people who were marshalled to MGC offices and arm-twisted to make this kind of commitment had no mandate from the party, nor was the leader or the deputy leader even aware of such a meeting.

How many of these people? And from which committee?
The working committee. What happened was that there was a workshop that was intended to train our councillors and they happened to be attending that conference when they got called to MGC. But our suspicion is that this was prearranged. And there were about eight or so.

And they committed to your removal?
Well, they were made to say that one way of resolving the issue between the minister and the PS is for the minister to be removed from the ministry.

Wasn’t the secretary general of the party part of that meeting?
He was.

Doesn’t that show that there are issues within the political party?
Nonsense!

How so?
When people are hurled into a meeting not even knowing what the agenda is. They didn’t know what the agenda was. We suspect some were part of the agenda but it was not disclosed to the rest. That is why I have subsequently received letters from some of the members who were there who said “we were really caught unawares, we didn’t know what the issue was and we found ourselves engaged in a meeting whose agenda we did not even know”. They have written their apologies to the party. Yesterday we had a meeting in Mafeteng and some of those people apologised before the membership of the BAP that they found themselves in that sort of situation.

Your secretary general has been in the newspaper clearly stating that he believes the RFP, your partner in government, wants to wrestle the energy ministry from the BAP. Do you share that view?
I don’t want to go into speculation. At this point and time there hasn’t been any representation to that effect on the part of the RFP. But look, this is politics. It might well be that is a fact but I don’t know because I deal on the basis of communication remitted to me or to the party formally.

I’m saying he (your SG) was putting it on record that this is what he believes is the situation.
It may be on the basis of the evidence that he does have.

It’s based on the evidence that he has to indicate that there could be something happening. But do you believe that is so?

Let’s deal with facts not issues of belief.

He says he believes that the RFP believes that it overcompensated you for your support in the coalition government. Having now become comfortable after such a desperate time, they now believe that they could claw back some of that power or some of what they gave you. Do you believe there is that sudden change of heart or a change in the price?
Let’s start from here. I was the one who was interacting with the leader of the RFP during the negotiations. He had said he is allocating us two ministries but we just could not accept one of them.

Which one was that?
I shouldn’t mention. We said we would be interested in either a ministry of energy or local government. He said I will revert to you. When he did revert, he had assigned us as the Ministry of Energy. So that was per negotiations. As far as I’m concerned that should remain as is until further notice, either on his part or on our part.
Phapano’s belligerence doesn’t seem to be informed by the party but by some handlers outside the BAP.
There are indications of that.

What indications? What do you see?
That Phapano draws authority from elsewhere other than from the powers and functions confined on him by public service rules and particularly the duties and responsibilities of principal secretaries. That he does not draw his authority from the backing of the party.

Where is he drawing it from?
Your guess is as good as mine.

From where?
Well, guess where.

No Professor you are hiding behind the cliché. Who is Phapano’s master? If you don’t want to say who the Phapano Master is, who do you suspect is his puppet master?
I’m saying you do your guesswork.

Why should I? I’m the one asking you.

Well, why should I speculate on something that I don’t have tangible evidence about? Look, you must understand, my training, I’m a lawyer. We deal on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of speculations. I can speculate, but I don’t want to do that. I deal with evidence.
But you are not a lawyer right now, you are a politician.
Who says so?

But that’s what you are, a BAP leader in a BAP office, and we are talking about political issues here. I haven’t asked you about constitutional law. Where do you think Phapano gets his authority?
Isn’t it better if you ask Phapano where he gets his authority from?

Good but he is also a problem to you. Is he doing someone’s bidding? Not from the other party, but from somewhere, as you say, “indication”.
It could well be.

Is it because of the politics or the business side of the ministry?
It could be both.

Precisely because you can’t be controlled?
Well, let me tell you this. My party has three guiding principles. Clean government and the rule of law. Clean government because that is a major challenge in this country. Our whole DNA is to ensure that wherever we are we must safeguard clean governance and we must ensure that everything is according to the law. But you do know that if there is anything that our country defaults on, it’s precisely on those two issues. And it is possible that there are forces out there that may be very uncomfortable with that DNA. But it is the DNA of the BAP and it is the DNA that I must safeguard where I am.

Do you feel that apart from Phapano probably having a puppet master, have you felt any pressure to do any particular bidding for someone?
No. It’s not that people have difficulty approaching me. So anybody who comes with a silly agenda would have to think twice. It’s my personality. Nobody has any doubts about my ethics. And to think of approaching me to do anything that is untoward would be extremely difficult and I think many people would have a problem with me for that.

People have difficulty with approaching you to do certain things. You on the other hand don’t have any difficulty with being frank about certain situations and being incisive in your analysis of what is the issue. On Phapano, what is the fundamental issue here in your analysis?
The BAP will be three years this month. The DNA that we have been trying to embed in the organisation, in our members, is on the basis of those three principles, the two of which I have mentioned to you. But it is quite obvious that not all of the members fully subscribe to those principles and when opportunity avails itself then, of course, they show their true character and that’s all I can say.

You have asked for a PS to be removed or transferred so that you could do your work because the relationship has soured. Your party has asked for the same and met with a similar reaction. At what point do you say that this is intolerable as a political party, and therefore you are leaving?
That will not be my sole decision and call to make. When we do believe that the matter is so weighty as to warrant making a decision, as the party leadership we will sit, mull over the issue and take a decision. That moment has yet to arrive.

But given a DNA there are certain things you could say these are the ones I would not tolerate. The three principles that you are talking about.
So far, from where I am sitting, there hasn’t been a case of malfeasance that has happened and I failed to have it resolved. So yes, those principles have not been breached yet.

-Editor’s Note: The second part will be published next week. The interview has been edited for clarity and might slightly differ from the digital version. The substance has however been preserved.

Staff Reporter

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Police hunt former minister

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THE police have launched a hunt for former police minister, Lepota Sekola, who is suspected of involvement in stock theft.
Police want to arrest Sekola in connection with two cattle carcasses that were found at his grandfather’s funeral in Borokhoaneng three weeks ago.

During the initial interview, Sekola had insisted that the cows belonged to his late grandfather who had kept them in South Africa for better pastures.

The police didn’t arrest him at that time because investigations were still in the early stages. Further investigations have however led the police to believe that the animals were stolen from South Africa.

But when they were ready for the arrest, Sekola could not be found at his home or on his phone.

Police say Sekola will be charged with unlawful possession and illegal importation of two cows from South Africa.

The National Stock Theft Coordinator, Senior Superintendent Mapesela Klaass, told thepost last night that they “have completed investigations but he (Sekola) is nowhere to be seen”.

“We cannot get him on his mobile phones,” S/Supt Klaass said, adding that the police have been “visiting his home but he is not there”.

“His family members are aware that we are looking for him,” he said.

S/Supt Klaass said they are continuing with their search and as soon as they find him, they are going to drag him to the courts.

He said the police suspect the cows were brought from South Africa to be slaughtered for Sekola’s grandfather’s funeral.

Police sources told thepost that one of the cows had new branding while another had nothing. Both had holes on the ears that signalled that they used to have ear tags.

Majara Molupe

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