THE National University of Lesotho’s (NUL) Non Academic Workers Union (NAWU) has laid into Education and Training Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse for requesting the university to pay former Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Siverts “due benefits”.
Prof Siverts resigned on 24 August 2013 after serving only two years of her five-year tenure. Prior to the resignation, Prof Siverts had relocated from her official residence at the NUL campus for a house in Maseru after she allegedly received death threats through phone calls and text messages. The university paid for Prof Siverts’ M22 573.69 monthly rental and security expenses during her stay at the Maseru home. However, when Prof Siverts’ resigned, the university deducted the rental and security expenses from her terminal benefits.
In her address while opening the NUL Council Annual General Meeting on Tuesday last week, Dr Phamotse requested Prof Siverts’ “due benefits” to be reimbursed.
“. . . it would be unwise of me if I do not appeal to council to clean our dirty linen by facilitating and instructing the payment of due benefits to Prof Siverts, our former vice-chancellor so that we begin pursuing the aspirations of government spotless,” she said.
However, during a press conference convened on Tuesday this week, NAWU chairperson ‘Matebello Mokupo said the union had learnt of the minister’s remarks with “great shock and dismay”.
“As a trade union, we understand the minister’s statement as suggesting that Prof Siverts should be paid the remaining three years of her contract that she did not serve as expected. In other words she only served two of her five contractual years,” said Ms Mokupo.
“The minister’s statement could also be understood as suggesting that Prof Siverts should be paid some money that was at some point deducted from her terminal benefits.”
Ms Mokupo said renovations and furnishing for the former vice-chancellor’s Roma campus residence cost M284 197.62, “where she was also provided 24-hour security service”.
“But for unknown reasons, and without authorisation from (the) NUL Council, Prof Siverts decided to move out of her official residence in Roma to a rented house in town which cost the university M11 000 while a security service cost M11 111.51 totalling M22, 573.69 per month,” she said.
“All these events compelled the university council to establish a three member commission of inquiry which recommended the recovery of the financial loss incurred from Prof Siverts.”
The NAWU chairperson also said Dr Phamotse should not intervene in the matter, since it was a contractual issue.
“If the employee (Prof Siverts) felt that she had been treated unfairly, she should have approached the courts of law for intervention,” said Ms Mokupo.
“By raising this issue of payment, the minister gives us an impression that she intends to reverse council’s decision in this matter.”
Contacted for comment, Dr Phamotse said the NUL council, and not NAWU, should comment on the matter.
“If the NUL council takes a stance on the matter, it would be well-placed to respond as I was making the statement to them and not to NAWU. It is wrong for NAWU to be insinuating what I said and did not say,” said Dr Phamotse.
“I have no personal interest whatsoever in the matter. All I am doing is trying to ensure that we settle all outstanding issues as I am also doing the same with other institutions. It’s also important to note that the former vice-chancellor (Prof Siverts) never communicated with me in person, but with the office of the Chief Education Officer of the tertiary department in this ministry.”
On his part, the tertiary department’s acting Chief Education Officer, Ralenkoane Makhube, said Prof Siverts was seeking reimbursement for rental and security expenses during her stay in Maseru. He said the American professor was justified in moving to Maseru given the threats to her safety in Roma.
“The university should have paid Prof Siverts’ housing and security expenses because she was compelled to relocate to Maseru as a result of threats to her security during the strikes that were taking place at NUL at the time,” he said.