MASERU –– The Labour Appeal Court (LAC) has fined Lerotholi Polytechnic College and its director M80 000 for contempt of court after they failed to comply with an order to reinstate a lecturer who had been unprocedurally dismissed.
The college had fired Blandina Lisene for allegedly using her relative to mark final examination papers for a course she was teaching.
The LCA fined the director, Tsietsi Lebakae, M20 000 whilst the institution was slapped with a M60 000 fine for contempt of court.
The money should be paid to the lecturer within 30 days, the court ordered.
Delivering judgment last Monday Judge Kananelo Mosito said Lebakae could not escape being guilty of contempt because he was the most senior officer at Lerotholi Polytechnic.
“A director of a company who, with knowledge of an order of court against the company, causes the company to disobey the order is himself guilty of contempt of court,” Mosito said.
Mosito said a person who contributes to the offence of contempt of court can be punished as an accomplice even if they are not the principal offender.
“Orders of the courts of this kingdom have to be respected and the courts will not countenance any flagrant disobedience of their orders as well as any acts of disrespect for the courts’ authority and dignity,” Mosito said.
“This court must hand out such punishment that should deter the likes of the respondents in future from disobeying orders. Contempt of court is an affront to the dignity of the court and it taints the court’s reputation.”
Lisene was fired from Lerotholi Polytechnic after an internal inquiry found that she used her relative to do her job of marking final examination papers in 2006.
Lisene sought the intervention of the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) where she lost the case.
She approached the Labour Court seeking a review of the case in 2007.
The Labour Court set aside the DDPR’s decision on account that the arbitrator omitted the fact that Lisene suffered prejudice during the disciplinary hearing at the college.
Her lawyer had not been allowed to be present at the disciplinary hearing.
The Labour Court found her dismissal unfair and ordered the college to reinstate her.
The college appealed against the decision but the LAC confirmed the Labour Court’s decision in May last year.
The court also ordered that she should be paid the income that she had been prejudiced.
At the time the college had already replaced Lisene with a new lecturer.
While giving oral evidence, Lisene told the court that after the college was ordered to reinstate her, she reported to the office only to be told by the registrar that the college council was yet to decide how the judgment would be implemented.
The registrar informed Lisene to go home with a promise that she would be contacted in due course.
Lisene kept on going to the office to inquire as to when she would be reinstated but she got no joy.
She was ultimately called to the office but only to be told that the college was now planning to retrench her. She was told that they should start negotiations about the retrenchment package.
The college, in response, told the court that it wanted to comply with the order but there was already another person who had been employed in Lisene’s place.
It said it still regarded Lisene as its employee but when asked why it did not pay her salary in May and June its response was that it was “a mistake”.
But Judge Mosito said the college’s actions had clearly shown that it had no intention of reinstating Lisene.
“Their conduct was that they did not really wish to reinstate the applicant,” he said.
“What they actually did was to inform applicant that she should consider the possibility of retrenchment.”
Mosito said the fact that the college testified that it intended to reinstate Lisene and to comply with the court’s judgment was not supported by its conduct.
“If it is true that the respondents ever intended to reinstate the applicant in compliance with our order, how come they did not take the trouble to see to it that the applicant was still being paid?”
The judge said it was clear that there was no way the college could have wanted to reinstate Lisene because her position had already been filled.
“We have come to the conclusion that the respondents had a clear intention not to comply with our order.”
Meanwhile, Lerotholi Polytechnic lawyer Qhalehang Letsika told the Lesotho Times this week that they were planning to appeal against the LAC’s decision in the Court of Appeal.
Letsika, however, would not be drawn into discussing their grounds for appeal.