High Court interdicts Litšoane

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Nat Molomo

LOCAL Government and Chieftainship minister, Litšoane Litšoane and his principal secretary, Khothatso Tšooana, were on Tuesday interdicted from convening a disciplinary hearing or taking any other form of action against Maseru mayor Mpho Moloi and five other Maseru City (MCC) councillors.

Justice Molefi Makara issued the interim order after Ms Moloi and five others filed an urgent application to stop Messrs Litšoane and Tšooana from acting against them for alleged insubordination.

The five other applicants are councillors Tholang Sefojane, Lebohang Ramathe, Nthabeleng Ntšasa, Tlali Lebesa and Thabo Hlehlisi.

Mr Litšoane, Local government principal secretary, Khothatso Tšooana, the MCC and the Maseru City Tender Board are among 18 respondents in the lawsuit.

According to one of the applicants’ lawyers, Advocate Molise Molise, the case was heard in chambers by Justice Makara. Adv Molise said Justice Molise subsequently granted an order interdicting Messrs Litšoane and Tšooana from acting against the applicants until the finalisation of their application for a final order barring the respondents from interfering with their duties, rights and privileges.

“The matter was heard on Tuesday and postponed to 21 August 2019. The court ordered that the respondents must not proceed with the disciplinary hearing against the applicants and the applicants will still enjoy their benefits,” Adv Molise said.

Among other things, the six councillors want the minister to be interdicted from convening a disciplinary hearing against Ms Moloi and the Maseru councillors for alleged insubordination. The disciplinary hearing had been set for this week on the 11th of August.

The applicants also want Messrs Litšoane, Tšooana and the MCC “interdicted from interfering with the applicants’ rights and privileges that include their right to earn monthly salaries, occupation of houses they currently occupy, use of premises assigned for executing normal duties in the course of their appointment as councillors”.

The councillors are also fighting to have Mr Litšoane barred from dissolving the MCC tender board and appointing a new one.

Mr Litšoane recently told the media that he had dissolved the MCC tender board because it was illegally constituted as it had councillors sitting on it and awarding tenders in contravention of the Local Government Act of 1997 which specifically prohibits councillors from being part of the tender panel.

Ms Moloi, and some of her fellow city councillors subsequently held their own press conference a fortnight ago where they accused the minister and the principal secretary of seeking to tarnish their images by spreading “false claims” that they had helped themselves to council money to pay themselves loans and salary advances. She also accuses them of having an underhand agenda of trying to influence tenders in the MCC in favour of their acolytes.

In her court affidavit, Ms Moloi says the tender panel was dissolved and the decision announced in the media without giving them a hearing.

She also refutes allegations she disrespected the minister by walking out of their meeting with him, saying she drove to the MCC offices to use the toilet only to find that that the minister had left upon her return. She said she was forced to drive to the council toilets because the toilets at the venue of the meeting were dirty.

Ms Moloi is accused of contravening the Maseru Municipal Council (MMC) code of conduct by residing in a staff house at the expense of council staff.

She is also accused of compromising the integrity of the council by encouraging or participating in a conduct that caused maladministration at the council.

A fortnight ago, Mr Litšoane addressed a press conference where he alleged that councillors and officials of the MCC diverted M3, 5 million meant for development projects to pay themselves loans and salary advances.

Mr Litšoane also announced that he had also dissolved the MCC’s tender panel for contravening the Local Government Act of 1997.

Mr Litšoane said the illegal diversion of funds had badly affected the council’s cash flows to the extent that the MCC was unable to pay its employees their July 2019 salaries. As a result, the ministry had to divert M500 000 meant for an electrification project to help pay those salaries.

But the MCC has vehemently denied the minister’s allegations in what has now become a public battle for the control of the MCC.

Ms Moloi and her colleagues said Mr Litšoane was misinformed. The councillors in turn levelled corruption allegations against Mr Litšoane. They also called his move of dissolving the tender panel suspicious considering that it had already started processes for the tendering of the Mpilo highway extension.

The Maseru mayor said there was nothing amiss with the councillors sitting on the tender board. She vowed they would disregard its “purported” dissolution and continue with the business of awarding tenders, among them, the tender for the construction of new Mpilo highway.

“We were shocked to hear that the minister has decided to dissolve the tender board. There are so many other committees in the MCC and it is strange that of all these, he chooses to dissolve the tender board when it is in the middle of processes to award tenders for the construction of the new Mpilo highway. By so doing he invites us to believe rumours doing the rounds of interests to torpedo the proper adjudication of this tender and corruptly sway it to certain favoured people.

“I would like to make him (Mr Litšoane) aware that his decision to dissolve the tender board is just a joke. Just like him, we are all here with a mandate from the people who elected us. For him to decide to dissolve the tender board is just a huge joke,” Ms Moloi said two weeks ago.

On his part, the chairperson of the MCC tender board, Metsing Mothetsi, said its “purported” dissolution was a unilateral decision taken without their input. It was still to be formally communicated to them, he claimed.

“We just heard over the radio that the MCC tender board has been dissolved. We do not have a problem with the honourable minister’s (Mr Litšoane) powers (to take action) but he should have engaged us on a formal level. He still has not informed us that the board has been dissolved.”

Mr Mothetsi said they found it puzzling that Mr Litšoane was only acting against them now when they were in the middle of awarding tenders for the Mpilo road. He said this was despite the fact that the same minister had never questioned them for awarding tenders in the past.

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