‘I still want to serve Basotho’
…says Public Service PS Machabana Lemphane-Letsie who was sent on forced leave last pending the expiry of her contract later this year.
Government last week sent six principal secretaries (PSs) on forced leave pending the expiry of their contracts later this year.
Among those asked to go was Machabana Lemphane-Letsie who was with the Ministry of Public Service. Ms Lemphane-Letsie’s contract was supposed to expire on 31 October 2015 but according to Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka, she—and her five colleagues—had to step down with immediate effect due to the many leave days they had accrued.
Read the letters dated 23 June 2015 that Mr Mphaka wrote to the PSs: “I am directed to inform you that the government has made a decision not to renew your contract of employment when it expires. The government notes that you still have outstanding leave days to expend before the end of your tour of service and as a result, I am instructed to direct you to proceed on leave with immediate effect…
“You will remain on special leave until the end of your contract with full benefits accruing to your position as principal secretary. You are, therefore, requested to handover the administration of the office to the deputy principal secretary who will continue with the day-to-day running of the ministry in your absence.”
In this wide-ranging interview held at Moshoeshoe I International Airport on Monday this week on Ms Lemphane-Letsie’s return from abroad, the PS tells Lesotho Times reporter Billy Ntaote how she learnt of her forced leave while out of the country on government business.
LT: You are just arriving from outside the country where you had been on government business…so how did you come to know about the decision to send you on special leave pending the expiry of your contract?
Letsie: I left Lesotho on 22 June for a United Nations Conference in Colombia. Before my departure for the conference, I had been on leave preparing the burial of my late father, which took place on 20 June in Mokhotlong. And before going on that leave, the Minister of Public Service had told me that government had taken a decision to make principal secretaries take their pending leave days. And as one of those who still had these days, I had to go on leave.
LT: So how many leave days did you have and what happened next?
Letsie: Those leave days are a little bit less than the days I have before the expiry of my contract. My contract is supposed to end on 31 October 2015, while my pending leave days are between 35 and 40. However, while I was on this trip in Colombia, I learned that the Government Secretary had written letters instructing us that we should go on leave pending the expiry of our contracts. So I only learnt about this while I was out of the country on official business.
LT: But were you ever told that your contract would not be renewed?
Letsie: First of all, the letter informing me of the forced leave was written when I was not in the country. I only came to know about its contents from my colleagues who had received similar letters. Honourable Au, as my minister, had previously told me that government had decided that those of us with many leave days should take them. However, he never talked to me about this decision that my contract would not be renewed.
LT: So what are your views regarding this decision?
Letsie: I believe the government has the right to embark on reforms. Last year, the country’s leadership went to New Zealand on a study tour (from 28 June to 5 July). I was part of that tour, which was led by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing. One of the major reasons that took us to New Zealand was to learn how to change the way we were operating as a government. And one of the critical issues we were expected to learn was how to depoliticise the public service.
Depoliticisation of the public service, in short, was all about government changing the way it was hiring workers, including principal secretaries. The PSs were largely hired on the basis of nepotism or political affiliation without due regard of experience and academic qualifications. This sometimes led to us impeding service-provision to the general public. And what I have realised is that in the current seven-party Coalition Government Agreement, there is a clause on depoliticising the public service. And there cannot be any step towards depoliticisation of the public service without starting with principal secretaries. It is my expectation that this decision to send principal secretaries on leave is the starting point in this depoliticisation, and hiring them on a professional basis; on merit.
LT: So how best do you think this depoliticisation should be carried out?
Letsie: I am expecting that in line with this government’s Coalition Agreement I have just mentioned, positions for PSs are going to be advertised, and the recruitment conducted in a professional manner without considering people’s political affiliation or relationships. I will apply when such a call for applicants is made through adverts in the media as I believe there is a lot that I can offer the government of Lesotho; I still want to serve Basotho. I still want to continue my work in the Ministry of Public Service. I also believe and hope that this coalition government would seek assistance from people who have been helping us in the past so that we get to a point where we would have a depoliticised civil service. Maybe the Commonwealth can assist with experts who will interview candidates for the positions to ensure the recruitment is transparent.
LT: But why the emphasis on starting the depoliticasation process with principal secretaries?
Letsie: If we cannot change the way we hire these Chief Accounting Officers, then there would not be any change in the service. If we fail to change this hiring criteria, then we cannot continue to talk of performance management as no one would find the need to work exceptionally well. When we were in New Zealand, what we pledged to do was make sure people leading government ministries were not hired on the basis of their political beliefs. In many countries across the world, the posts of principal secretary are advertised and experts engaged to do the vetting of applicants to ensure the right people are hired. When we undertook the journey to New Zealand, there was no properly functioning government at the time and we were expecting that after elections (on 28 February 2015), the pledge to reform the public service and depoliticise it would be implemented.
LT: We have a new government in office led by Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, which replaced the one led by Dr Thomas Thabane after February’s snap elections. So with a new leadership that was maybe not privy to the New Zealand tour, do you think this depoliticisation of the civil service is going to be implemented?
Letsie: Some Members of Parliament who were part of the delegation to New Zealand are now members of cabinet. We had ‘Matumelo Sekatle, who is now Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Minister; we also had the then Deputy Speaker of Parliament Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, who is now the Minister of Home Affairs. There were also Senators on that tour, and who remain in those positions. I don’t think there would be a problem for this to be implemented and I believe that it is going to be effected. We never went to New Zealand for a holiday; we went there because we wanted to bring change to the government of Lesotho. And that change should come right now because if it doesn’t, we would have let down those who funded the tour.