A NEW set of 51 fired Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism employees have petitioned the High Court to overturn their dismissals.
Their petition follows a similar one by 48 other civil servants from the same ministry who first sued the government after they were similarly dismissed. The 48 nonetheless withdrew their case on Friday following an earlier ruling Tuesday by Justice Tseliso Mokoko that their case was not urgent. The government’s lawyer, Thomas Thakalekoala, had also argued that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case as it was a Labour Court case.
But their 51 counterparts have still gone to the High Court with their urgent application, arguing that it has jurisdiction.
All in all, 198 civil servants have been fired from the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism. The first 48 went to court, followed by the 51, bringing the total of those contesting their dismissals to 99. The other 99 seem to have accepted their fates as they have not challenged their dismissals.
The whole 198 were dismissed as part of the new Sam Matekane government’s efforts to get rid of civil servants whom it said had been employed illegally or for political purposes by previous coalition governments. As part of its efforts to contain runaway state expenditure, the new government has also imposed a freeze on new recruitment into the civil service. It had also vowed to clean up the public sector and promote merit in recruitment.
A 15 December 2022 circular by the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Employment principal secretary (PS), Lineo Ramabele-Smith, preceded all the dismissals. It announced a freeze on all new recruitment and the dismissals of those “employed illegally” by previous coalitions.
“It has been discovered that the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have been appointing officers without following proper recruitment processes. These are appointments which were not authorised by relevant authorities. MDAs are therefore requested to terminate all employment of staff (done) outside legal recruitment processes by 31 January 2023,” Ms Ramabele-Smith wrote.
The 51 who filed their application on Wednesday, argue that the High Court has jurisdiction to hear their case. It should do so on an urgent basis as well. They argue that the government was wrong to have terminated their contracts without affording them a hearing.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) and Attorney General Rapelang Motsieloa are first to third respondents respectively.
The LHDA is cited because some of the workers were deployed at ‘Muela Hydropower Station which is managed by the Authority. It is not clear in what capacities these people were employed there. The Matekane government believes they were appointed politically as part of a “jobs for the boys” by previous parties.
But the 51 insist they were hired legally.
“The first respondent (the minister) offered us employment on the basis of many considerations. We were made to apply for positions created in the national parks and in order to determine competency and suitability for the vacant positions, we underwent the recruitment and selection process conducted and carried out within the parameters of the law that governs us,” one of them, Motseoa Pule, states in her founding affidavit.
“It is for this reason that the Ministry cannot be heard to complain about the manner in which the assessments were carried out and it has never been their case that our recruitments were against the established positions and contrary to the job descriptions and requirements of the specified jobs for which we were employed. The government paid us for the last time on 20 July 2022.
“The condition precedent for terminating unlawful appointments is self-review and any termination of our employment done without an order of this court in the self-review application is doomed to be declared unlawful. We cannot afford to have a government that fails to honour its undertakings to pay our salaries and to launch simple applications of self-review. It is declared (by the gvt) that we were not recruited lawfully. This is incorrect.”