‘WASCO can move from good to great’
THE Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) recently appointed Lehlohonolo Manamolela as its chief executive officer (CEO). Mr Manamolela is charged with spearheading WASCO’s taking over control of the Metolong Dam and Water Supply Programme that is meant to provide water for Maseru and the surrounding towns.
He is also supposed to ensure WASCO fulfils its mandate to provide potable water and sanitation services to customers in urban and other designated areas. In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, Mr Manamolela talks about his background, the vision he has for the company and other related issues.
LT: Who is Lehlohonolo Manamolela?
Manamolela: I come from Qacha’s Nek where I attained my primary and high school education. I then enrolled at the National University of Lesotho in 1989 for a Bachelor of Arts in Administration although I had initially enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree. I graduated in September 1993. I wanted to diversify my knowledge as much as possible, and the best way to achieve that was to enrol in a social science programme. I also became a member of the university’s Student Representative Council where I gained some administrative skills.
The first job I got after my graduation in 1993 was at Radio Lesotho where I was employed as an information officer. This was during the beginning of the Basotho Congress Party government. In August 1994, I moved to the office of the auditor-general, where I filled the position of performance auditor. However, in August 1995 I received a scholarship to study in Scotland, with my interest being in studying Industrial Relations. This was a management programme offered at the level of Masters in Sciences. I learnt about labour law, governance, quantitative technics for decision making and strategic management. This was really an eye-opener for me in terms of managing companies.
Having successfully completed the programme, I was able to get employment in several coal mining companies in South Africa. I was one of a few educated migrant labourers at that time. But much as I considered myself educated, I learnt that I had to start at a low level to really understand the job. We learnt that academic qualifications were not enough to do a job well, but experience, skills and proper tactics were essential to being regarded as competent. I started off as an industrial relations officer and rose through the ranks from one Anglo American coal mine to the other. I worked in the mines from 1996 until 2000.
Upon my return home, I was employed by the then Lesotho Telecommunications Corporation (LTC). One of the reasons I decided to come home was because I had learnt the government had come up with a new policy to privatise its companies. I was employed at LTC as the director of human resources and administration. Our main mandate then was to restructure the company in its transition to being a private entity. I used the skills I had gathered from the mines to restructure LTC. I was then headhunted by the now Standard Lesotho Bank. I was employed by the bank at a time it was merging from two institutions, namely Stanbic Bank and Lesotho Bank 99. I think that was one of the most challenging processes. Many employees were affected by merger and we had to be very carefully in managing the process. The general lesson I learnt is that when you restructure companies, you must minimise the risk of job losses. Keep casualties low.
From the bank, I took a break from formal employment in 2013 and ventured into the world of entrepreneurship. I thought I had enough money to start-up a business of my own, but it was not easy. I established Ea Rona Holdings (Pty) Limited, which seemed to be successful at the beginning, but as time went by, the economy stagnated and the business did not do well anymore. I then decided to go back to the corporate world to improve the capitalisation of businesses. I was then employed at the Lesotho College of Education (LCE) as the deputy rector – administration. I never dreamt that I would work for an educational institution at any given time in my live. But I must say, that was the best experience of my working life. Every day, there were challenges – mostly staff demands and shortages of resources.
LT: How does it feel to be the CEO of WASCO?
Manamolela: First of all, I must be honest that I am very ambitious. I always told myself that I should become a CEO before I die. If I didn’t make it in the banking sector or anywhere else, I knew I would try somewhere else. This position came at the right time, because as we grow up, we go through different stages in life. There is a time when we all believe we can manage anything and everything. There is also a cooling period, and then a time to stabilise. This position comes at a time when I believe I am mature enough to deal with people. This is because the most important thing in leadership is how to deal with people. People are the most important resource you could ever have. When you deal with people you should do so with the greatest respect; show integrity; be patient with them; and always have sympathy. Most importantly, empower them; and trust them.
LT: What are some of the key areas you have identified that need your immediate attention at WASCO?
Manamolela: I have identified possibilities and obstacles. It is my belief that, going forward, this company could achieve a lot in this period. Water is a universal commodity that we use on a daily basis. When I was in South Africa, I observed a company called Rand Water. Having studied strategic management, I know it is important to understand how a company operates. This is exactly what I did with Rand Water. I saw Rand Water change because I walked past the company every time I travelled to work. According to the government at the time, the company was a non-performer. But I saw it change to become one of the best companies in delivering potable water to the people. Some people will tell you that WASCO is useless. But WASCO is not a bad company. It is a company that we can work together to change people’s perception about it. It is just that when people work for long in one company, they miss certain possibilities. The people at WASCO are passionate, but need to be helped to move from good to great.
LT: What is your vision for WASCO?
Manamolela: As a person, my vision emanates from the Constitution of Lesotho, which says people must be afforded opportunity to resources; water being one of them. It also emanates from Vision 2020, which alludes to ensuring the country is able to harvest water. The National Strategic Development Plan also indicates that water must be our most valuable commodity. It must be utilised to the fullest and benefit all the people. All these align with the WASCO Strategy of 2015 to 2020. Firstly, I will talk about the customer. The customer wants to have reliable and potable water. But sometimes we don’t deliver on that. The customer must always be told when the water may not be accessed. We should be able to keep customers abreast of developments affecting them. The other element is finance. Are we really using our finances to expand and grow from where we are? Our finances should not be driven by donations and grants from government. We must build sufficient funds to ensure that we are able to expand. We need to be able to grow supervision and management skills in the company. Lesotho is in the forefront of delivering water. This means we need to build Lesotho as the leader in water management in Africa. To do that, each person who works here must start understanding they are leaders in the water sector. We need to build that capacity such that, as more dams come, Lesotho excels in the water sector the same way South Africa did in its mining sector.
The final part of my vision is around stakeholders. We need to work well with them. Our stakeholders include non-governmental organisations because they assess if we are doing a good job. There is also the board of directors – our master. The board must ensure what we are doing is sustainable and within reason. Then the regulator, Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA), which is also our master. LEWA ensures that in whatever we are doing, we think about our consumers and the environment. All in all, my vision is to move WASCO from good to great in the next three years of my tenure. Understanding that we don’t have competition as yet, should LEWA grant another license to another company are we ready to survive that competition. While we are still protected by this monopoly, let’s always think as if there is a competitor in everything we do. I must say I am excited to be here and associated with the water sector because it is the future of Lesotho.
LT: You have not talked much about the issues of finance within the company. How serious is the challenge of finances within WASCO, since there is an allegation the company has accumulated a massive debt over the years?
Manamolela: I will talk about what I saw on the balance sheet. The organisation is financially healthy. In other words, the company is not insolvent. It has money and assets. But it also has a liability in its balance sheet like any other company. Yes there are consolidated debts that we have accumulated over the years. There are loans that we have acquired from international banks which keep the organisation going, but we are healthy. Even though I won’t give you figures, I can foresee that by December next year we will have doubled our profits through the initiatives we will take to ensure our income stream talks to our costing stream. To some extent, we are a heavily labour intensive company. Unlike other companies of our nature, we recruit a lot of people. Currently we have between 500 and 600 employees throughout the country. But the expectation is that we are gradually growing to have 800 employees.
LT: With your coming on board, are we going to see major restructuring of WASCO?
Manamolela: Fortunately, WASCO has just undergone a major restructuring exercise prior to my coming in. I am glad the restructuring process has happened because it is always associated with job losses for some people. All I am doing now is to give people comfort about protecting their jobs and upskilling them. My wish is for the government to review its policy around water. They must merge the rural water delivery with the urban water delivery. I am saying this because my vision can be compared with that of the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC). LEC gives electricity to all Basotho. But those in the urban areas subsidise those in the rural areas. If we could take the same approach here, I think the sector would grow faster.