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WASCO could have handled sexual harassment issue better

by Lesotho Times
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THE sexual harassment complaint by WASCO’s Public Relations Manager, Lineo Moqasa, against Chief Executive Officer, Thelejane Thelejane, could have been handled much better at the state-owned utility.

The WASCO board of directors, chaired by Mr Sekete Phohlo, appears to have failed miserably. Despite promising to probe the case and issue a determination, Mr Phohlo’s board seems to have inexplicably gone cold on the issue.

It will not disappear however.   Ms Moqasa appears determined not to be cowed into acquiescence.  Her sympathisers will also not let the issue go off the radar.  Mr Thelejane has himself gone to court to sue Ms Moqasa.

Granted, anyone can make an allegation of sexual harassment for whatever reason. Ms Moqasa could be lying to get at her boss. She could also be telling the truth.  The facts can never be known unless a thorough transparent probe in pursued.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a huge problem in Lesotho. This is why every corporate must have in place transparent mechanisms of probing such complaints whenever they occur. That requirement is even more imperative in state bodies like WASCO which ought to lead by example.

It’s therefore mind-boggling that without probing the sexual harassment case and issuing a determination, Mr Phohlo’s board recalled Ms Moqasa from suspension only to haul her before a disciplinary hearing to answer charges over the mundane dispute between her and Mr Thelejane over parking space.  Ms Moqasa boycotted the hearing and was instantly fired.

Mr Phohlo’s approach in handling the issue is deeply troubling. A sexual harassment allegation is more serious than a case of insubordination over parking space. The least Mr Phohlo could have done was to ensure the sexual allegation was probed and a determination issued. Ignoring the issue won’t do the WASCO board nor Mr Thelejane any good, his defamation case notwithstanding. In any event, any court hearing the defamation case would want to know whether it was vigorously probed and whether Mr Thelejane was cleared internally first.

Ms Moqasa’s lawyer, Adv ‘Mamosa Mohlabula-Nokana, has since accused WASCO of bias against her client and of “supporting the perpetrator over his victim”.  In the absence of a transparent probe to establish the facts, many will agree with that perspective.

Sexual harassment and gender violence have become major vices in Lesotho. Not every sexual harassment allegation is legit. But corporates in particular must be seen to be taking the issues seriously. The least they can do is investigate to establish the facts.

By hauling Ms Moqasa before a disciplinary hearing and dismissing her over a parking space dispute, in which the complainant is Mr Thelejane, the same person who allegedly sexually harassed her, the impression created is that WASCO’s loyalties are with the CEO.  That will only dent the parastatal’s image.  In the end, without a transparent internal probe, the odds will favour Ms Moqasa should she elect to take the issue further or continue playing it out in the court of public opinion.

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