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Sweet deal for former textile workers



MASERU – WHEN a textile company, Peter Blond, shut down its operations in February last year, the 980 workers were caught by surprise. They had bills to settle and mouths to feed at home. Surprise soon gave way to anxiety as they tried to figure out how to cope with their sudden loss of employment. But what worsened their situation was that they were still owed salaries and other benefits and the employer had not made any plan on how he was going to settle. Peter Blond was a textile company based in Maputsoe, about 70km north of the capital Maseru. Its biggest client was Woolworths.

The company collapsed after it ran into serious financial problems. Now 14 months after the company shut down, Peter Blond’s former workers will starting next week finally smile all the way to the bank, thanks to a deal with the company’s liquidators. Trade unions, working closely with the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), have over the last 14 months been pushing to have the company’s assets go under the hammer so that creditors could be paid. The LNDC was the preferred creditor, which means it had the right to be paid first because its payment was deemed more important than others.

The LNDC as a preferred creditor however forfeited its share and decided to give priority to the workers. On Monday, there will be a final meeting if creditors before the liquidators, Webber Newdigate, allocate payments. The former textile workers will be paid first. The LNDC boss, Mohato Seleke, told thepost last week that enough funds had been raised to ensure that all workers are paid. Seleke however declined to reveal how much the liquidators had raised. He also declined to reveal how much the workers will be paid. Seleke however said the workers will share slightly over a million maloti. He said the biggest bidder during the auction, Jonsson Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd, is now expanding the factory to allow it to hire 500 workers. Seleke said two investors had expressed an interest to take over the factory.

“The first investor (Jonsson) is the one who has already absorbed most of the workers after they lost their jobs,” Seleke said. “He is expanding and will hire 500 employees.” He said a second investor will start operations in June after the completion of the maintenance on the factory shell. Jonsson is only waiting for electricity to be functional and will start operations very soon, Selete said. He said the liquidators have successfully raised the necessary funds to pay the creditors because they made sure that they sold to the highest bidder. “It is not in most cases where all creditors are paid in liquidation cases, let alone where preferred creditors forfeit their precedence and give it to workers,” Seleke said.

Seleke lashed out at some trade unions who were peddling falsehoods that the former factory workers will not be paid. “I have asked them to approach other preferred creditors like WASCO and LRA to ask them to go to the back of the line and wait till the workers have been paid but even today they have not given me any feedback yet they are accusing the LNDC of corruption and asking the DCEO to intervene this issue,” he said. “Among creditors is a Basotho owned security company that was owed over M300 000,” Seleke said. He said the LNDC did all that was in their power to ensure that it delivered the promises made to Peter Blond’s workers when it closed shop.

One of the important promises was that workers would be given the first priority when a new investor came through. Sam Mokhele from the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) confirmed to thepost that the CEO of LNDC had asked them to approach parastatals and ask them to go to the back of the queue so that workers terminal benefits could be paid first. However, he said they suggested that the CEO should be the one communicating with those other parastatals as they already have a working relationship. Mokhele said the reason they went to the media about the Peter Blond issue is because they wanted workers and the public to know that they were not the ones who were blocking the payments.

“We had agreed and indeed we were consulted in several meetings up to a point when we told them that an investor had been found,” Mokhele said.

“We then agreed that former Peter Blond employees would be given a priority when the investor started hiring because they already knew the work.” He said they were surprised later to find out that LNDC found a new investor who already has a lot of companies in Maputsoe and is looking to expand. “This to us said that former Peter Blond employees would no longer be a priority as agreed because the investor already has his own employees,” Mokhele said.

“If he is to hire he will only take a certain number to increase his work force unlike the first investor who was going to hire most of them,” he said. Mokhele said he is not happy because the LNDC had not disclosed the amount of money that was due to workers and the amount it was forfeiting to see if indeed all workers would be compensated.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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Police hunt former minister



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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Magistrate saves WILSA boss



A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.
Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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Mphaka barred from ABC deputy’s race



THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has barred former Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka and three others from contesting for the deputy leader’s position at an elective conference set for this week.
The three are Kefeletsoe Mojela, Katleho Molelle, and Lekhetho Mosito.

Mosito was an MP who was appointed Defence Minister for a day and removed the following day during Dr Moeketsi Majoro’s premiership.
The elective conference is set to be held at the Leqele High School hall this weekend.

A circular from the ABC said the three did not qualify to enter the race because they had not held any positions in the party’s committees.

The decision to bar the three is reminiscent of the same tactics that saw former leader Thomas Thabane block Professor Nqosa Mahao from contesting for the party’s deputy leader’s position.
Professor Mahao subsequently walked away and formed the Basotho Action Party (BAP).

A weakened ABC has never recovered from that split.

Mphaka and his colleagues were vying for the deputy leader’s position until they were stopped in their tracks by the circular which was issued out on Monday this week.
Dr Pinkie Manamolela is the current deputy leader.

She was plucked from the women’s league to replace Dr Majoro who had resigned from the national executive committee after losing the leadership race to Nkaku Kabi in 2022.

There is a high chance that the four could drag the ABC to court to assert their right to contest. The legal wrangles will likely destabilise the party that is still smarting from a thorough thrashing in general elections held in October 2022.

Mphaka this week told thepost that he will challenge the decision to block him in the courts of law.
“They are crazy people,” Mphaka said.

“I will not allow this to happen,” he said.

“I have already instructed my lawyers to launch an urgent application in the High Court to challenge the decision before Friday this week.”

He complained that it was not clear why the party had decided to kick him out of the race after he spent a lot of time and resources campaigning.

Mphaka said the national executive committee “usually allows members to contest for positions without considering whether they were ever in the constituency committees or not”.

The contenders in the race are former Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele, ex-Police MP Lehlohonolo Moramotse, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Leshoboro Mohlajoa, and Maseru Star Taxi Association member Sekhonyana Mosenene.

A member of the national executive committee told thepost that “many of us support Mphaka and Kefeletsoe at all costs”.

“We were dismayed when we saw the circular removing the duo from the race,” he said.

He said many ABC members were rallying behind Mphaka because “he has been campaigning even before everyone could start”.

“They know he has lots of followers.”

He said it is unfair that Mosenene has been allowed to run but he has never held any position in any constituency except that he represented his taxi association in the ABC national executive committee.
“Why has he been allowed to contest yet he is just like Mphaka and Kefeletsoe?”

He complained that Sekhonyana, while representing taxi operators in the committee, was eventually made the deputy party spokesman despite not being in any constituency committee after ’Matebatso Doti resigned from the position.

“Mphaka was chosen by the party to lead the 2022 elections campaign teams and develop a party manifesto,” he said.

“He was allowed to do all that without being involved in any party structures.”

The party’s spokesman Montoeli Masoetsa declined to comment.

Dr Manamolela told thepost that “the decision was not made by the party’s national executive committee”.

“I do not want to talk much …but it is not true that the party’s NEC decided to remove Mphaka and Kefeletsoe”.

Kabi could not be reached for comment.

Nkheli Liphoto

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