FORMER board members of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) have approached the Ombudsman to resolve a pay dispute with the corporation dating back to April 2017.
The members, who were fired from the LNDC board in April last year claim they are yet to get their retainer fees accrued during their tenure running from July 2015 to April 2017.
The board was dissolved by then Trade minister Joshua Setipa for allegedly inflating their sitting allowances to the tune of M1, 2 million during their 2016 board meetings.
“They can’t be attending 56 board meetings and spend M1.2 million when they were expected to have attended just four meetings,” said Mr Setipa at the time of dissolution of the board in 2017.
He said he was shocked to hear that the board members were also demanding to be paid bonuses in addition to the inflated sitting allowances.
“They wanted bonuses for themselves which I blocked and at the same time they proposed only a 2 percent salary increase for the general staff of the LNDC.
“These people were now looting from the LNDC. So I will be appointing a new board at the earliest convenient time,” Mr Setipa said.
In a letter dated 9 September 2018, one of the former board members, ‘Mampho Tjabane, requested the intervention of the Ombudsman saying the delay in the payment of the money has negatively affected them.
The Ombudsman is mandated to investigate or inquire either on complaint or upon own initiative where there are among others allegations of injustice, maladministration and unlawfulness resulting from actions or decisions made by public entities and offices thereat.
“According to LNDC Board of Directors’ remuneration practice which is established through directors’ resolutions and shareholder’s resolution, board members are paid the retainer fee at the end of each calendar year,” Ms Tjabane said in the letter.
“The retainer fee is an equivalent of what a board member has been paid during the calendar year. There are different rates for board meetings, board committee meetings and other board engagements.
“I was paid the first retainer at the end of 2015. However, I have not received the fee at the end of both 2016 and 2017 calendar years. The management of LNDC failed to pay the retainer even after submitting the figures to the board for verification in December 2016.
“After verification the board directed the management to pay retainers to the then board members. However, the management did not heed the board’s decision and the board during its meeting on the 23rd March 2017 resolved that the management pay the 2016 retainer fees. This was also not made and I then decided to write an email to the then Acting CEO Ms Nthabiseng Posholi. She did not pay the money even after the email.”
She further indicated in the letter that the current LNDC chief executive officer Mohato Seleke referred her to the LNDC board chairperson.
“On 27 July 2018, I wrote to the new LNDC CEO Mr Mohato Seleke to inform him about the matter. However, instead of implementing the board resolutions, shareholder resolution and following a well-established practice of paying retainer fees to board members, he responded on 1 August 2018 by saying it is not his responsibility to pay the retainer fees. He argues that, it is the responsibility of the chairperson of the board of directors and the minister of Trade and Industry to deal with this matter. He says this is according to good corporate governance and for his comfort.”
Ms Tjabane argues the delay in getting the allowance is disruptive to her live as she is unable to use it when she needs it.
“I am writing to your good office to lodge a complaint because this delay in payment of my money is a big injustice to me in that I have to forgo its use and it is also losing value due to time value of money.”
Meanwhile, another former LNDC board member, Makhetha Thaele, said the current minister of Trade, Tefo Mapesela, has not helped their course as he was unsympathetic to their complaint.
“We have written to the current Trade minister, Mr Mapesela, but he told us in no uncertain terms that we should go wherever we think we will get help to get our allowances,” Mr Thaele said. He added that it was unfortunate that the current minister was inheriting a legacy of the past minister.
Mr Thaele maintains that the reason why Mr Setipa did not want them be paid their allowances was simply to get back at them over what he calls a “personal matter” against the board.
“We believe the minister did not want to pay us because our relationship with him had become sour. Therefore not paying us the allowances was more personal than anything.”
For his part, Mr Mapesela said after receiving a letter from Mr Thaele he approached the LNDC which, professed ignorance of the contents of the letter.
He advised for the aggrieved former members to approach the courts.
Meanwhile, Mr Thaele said this week they were awaiting judgement on a case which they lodged in 2017 against the LNDC.
The dissolved board consisted of Liengoane Lefosa (Bureau of Statistics Director-General), Lefulesele Lebesa (Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security), ‘Mampho Tjabane (entrepreneur), Lebakeng Mohau Tigeli (entrepreneur), Makhetha Thaele (entrepreneur), Lehlohonolo Chefa (Consumer Protection Association), Mosito Ntema and Sehlabaka Ramafikeng.
Contacted for comment, the LNDC brand and marketing manager, Lerato Tsoinyane, referred all question to Mr Mapesela “as the LNDC board is appointed by the minister”.