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IEC commissioners sue over salaries

Moorosi Tsiane/Pascalinah Kabi

THE High Court will today hear a case in which the embattled commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) are seeking an order to compel the government to continue paying their monthly salaries until their main case regarding their employment status is finalised.

The commissioners also want the High Court to compel the Thomas Thabane administration to continue to paying their benefits and privileges in terms of their employment contracts which expired on 7 January 2019.

The three commissioners are Chairperson Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Advocate ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Dr Makase Nyaphisi.

The trio were appointed for five year terms in 2014 and they have continued to occupy office despite the expiry of their contracts on 7 January 2019. They received their January, February and March salaries but last month they went home empty-handed after the government decided not to pay them.

Justice Lehohla, Advocate Pholo and Dr Nyaphisi are the applicant while the government, Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, the Council of State, the Budget Controller in the Ministry of Finance, the Minister of Finance, the Attorney General and the Principal Secretary of Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affairs have been named as first to seventh respondents.

The trio’s lawyer, Clark Poopa, served the defendants with the court papers on Monday and the case will be heard today in the High Court.

In their founding affidavits, Justice Lehohla, Adv Pholo and Dr Nyaphisi state that the respondents must “show cause” why the court cannot order the government to continue to pay their salaries, benefits and privileges until the main case regarding their employment status has been finalised.

Last month Justice Lehohla and his colleagues filed an urgent court application to compel the government to reverse its decisions not to renew their contracts and instead ensure that their tenure is extended by another five years.

And this week the determined commissioners filed yet another court application asking the court to declare that the government’s decision not to pay their salaries is unlawful.

“We are ordinarily paid our salaries on or around the 25th day of each month. By the end of April 2019, there was some delay in the payment of public officers’ salaries and as a result the public officers’ salaries were not paid by the 25th of April.

“The payment of salaries was made on the 27th of April 2019 and other public officers received their salaries on the 28th April 2019. At any rate all public officers were paid their salaries by the end of April 2019,” Justice Lehohla states, adding, they were dismayed that their April salaries were not paid.

Justice Lehohla states that on 30 April he asked Dr Nyaphisi to find out from the IEC Human Resource Manager, a Mr Rampeta, why their salaries were not paid.

He alleges that Mr Rampeta informed Dr Nyaphisi that the payment of salaries of members of the IEC have been stopped by the government.

“I wish to take this honourable court into confidence and inform it that in terms of our respective contracts of employment we as members of the IEC are entitled to certain benefits, including unlimited airtime and salary for my support staff (secretary and chauffer). These benefits which we enjoy by virtue of being members of the IEC have been cut off,” Justice Lehohla said.

It is against this background that Justice Lehohla and his colleagues launched the urgent court application seeking an order interdicting government from stopping the payment of their salaries.

Justice Lehohla, Adv Pholo and Dr Nyaphisi have also questioned the government’s appointment of the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Law, Tanki Mothae, as the IEC’s chief accounting officer in place of the suspended Director of Elections, Letholetseng Ntsike.

Dr Ntsike was suspended from her duties by the commissioners in March 2019 for allegedly defying orders that they gave her. The commissioners then appointed IEC Information and Technology Manager, Lebohang Bulane, as the Acting Director of Elections. Mr Bulane is however, unable to discharge his duties as his appointment was rejected by the government which insists that the three commissioners’ contracts expired and therefore they cannot make any decisions regarding the IEC.

The commissioners also want the court to nullify all transactions performed by Mr Mothae on behalf of the IEC.

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