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Court orders reinstatement of IEC staffer 

by Lesotho Times
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…but it remains unclear when he’ll resume duties 

Moorosi Tsiane 

THE Labour Appeal Court has ordered the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to reinstate its Public Relations Manager, Tuoe Hantṧi, who was fired in August last year. 

Justice Fumane Khabo this week nullified Mr Hantṧi’s dismissal, ruling that his disciplinary process had been flawed.  He ordered that it be started de novo (afresh) with Mr Hantṧi being afforded an opportunity to bring his lawyer to any disciplinary hearing. 

“The second respondent (IEC) is ordered to start the disciplinary hearing de novo, allowing legal representation (of Hantṧi) from commencement to completion of the disciplinary enquiry,” ordered Justice Khabo. 

Nonetheless, Mr Hantṧi was still not in office yesterday when this paper went for print, despite the court having issued its order on Monday. 

The Lesotho Timeshas seen correspondence between the IEC and Mr Hantṧi’s lawyer, Advocate Tṧolo Kalake, which proved that Mr Hantṧi was still out of office. A source within the IEC also confirmed that Mr Hantṧi was still not at work. 

Adv Kalake wrote to the IEC on Tuesday seeking clarity as to when Mr Hantṧi was expected to resume duties as per the court order. 

The IEC Director of Elections, Mpaiphele Maqutu, responded the same day stating that Adv Kalake’s letter had been erroneously addressed to the IEC chairperson, Mphasa Mokhochane.  He therefore urged Adv Kalake to redirect the letter to himself (Maqutu) as the person with legal mandate to address administrative issues of the IEC. 

Ironically, Adv Maqutu also demanded Justice Khabo’s judgement and order from Adv Kalake despite the IEC having been represented in court by Adv Shale Shale. 

It is all puzzling because the IEC had issued a statement on Monday, after Justice Khabo handed down her judgement, stating that Mr Hantṧi was returning to work and his disciplinary hearing would be started from scratch. 

“The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) would like to inform the public on the judgement passed in the case between the IEC and Public Relations Manager Mr Tuoe Hantṧi. The Labour Appeal Court has ruled that the IEC should begin the hearings from the beginning, with a date set and Mr Hantṧi be allowed proper legal representation. With the ruling, Mr Hantṧi will return to work as normal. 

“The Commission will quickly set in motion measures to ensure that a new date of hearing is arrived at swiftly and as quickly as possible, with the view to comply with order of court,” read the IEC statement. 

Mr Hantṧi was given the marching orders in August last year following the squabble between him and Adv Maqutu. He was accused of gross insubordination after failing to honour a meeting Adv Maqutu had called him to attend. 

When Mr Hantṧi appeared with Adv Kalake on 11 August 2023, the latter had asked for the disciplinary proceedings to be started afresh in light of the order allowing legal representation for his client. 

This after the now deceased Deputy President of the Labour Court, Makoanyane Keta, had set aside the entire proceedings of the disciplinary hearing that resolved to fire Mr Hantṧi.  He had ordered that Mr Hantṧi be represented by a lawyer at his disciplinary hearings which had begun in June 2023. 

However, the IEC refused to start the proceedings afresh and Adv Kalake walked out. It then proceeded with the disciplinary proceedings and fired Mr Hantṧi the same day. 

Mr Hantṧi rushed back to the Labour Court on 14 August 2014 and Judge Keta issued a verbal order the same day setting aside the entire disciplinary hearing and nullifying the PR manager’s dismissal.  Mr Keta issued his written judgment on 21 September 2023 declaring the disciplinary proceedings as null and void. Any decision taken in lieu of the disciplinary proceedings had no legal force or effect, he ruled, meaning Mr Hantṧ’s dismissal was effectively set aside. 

However, Adv Maqutu had refused to reinstate Mr Hantṧi because his understating of the ruling was that it did not specifically order his reinstatement but only that the disciplinary proceedings be started afresh in the presence of the PR Manager’s lawyer. 

Mr Hantṧi then filed a contempt of court application before Mr Keta against Adv Maqutu, Human Resources Manager Motanyane Rampeta, and Director of Legal Adv Lehlohonolo Suping. He asked for the three to be jailed for contempt of court for refusing him entry into his office in violation of the Labour Court ruling. 

Faced with the spectre of the contempt proceedings, Adv Maqutu and the IEC had subsequently filed an appeal against Judge Keta’s ruling and asked for it to be heard urgently, and for the execution of Mr Keta’s order to be stayed pending the finalisation of their appeal in the Labour Appeal Court. 

Justice Khabo ruled on 11 October that the IEC’s interlocutory appeal was not urgent. 

She eventually heard the appeal last week and reserved her judgement to Monday this week. Her judgement upheld Mr Keta’s order that the disciplinary proceedings should be started from the beginning with Mr Hantṧi’s lawyer present. 

Now that Adv Maqutu’s appeal has been set aside, that lifts the stay of the contempt of court proceedings which Mr Hantṧi had lodged against Adv Maqutu and others. 

However, it is not clear whether Mr Hantṧi would still want to pursue the contempt litigation. 

 

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