Fresh controversy hits NACOSEC



MASERU – A feud is simmering in the executive echelons of the national COVID-19 secretariat (NACOSEC), with fears this could destabilise the operations of the body meant to spearhead the fight the deadly pandemic.

Those privy to the development say the animosity among key staff was triggered by bad blood between those said to have been cherry-picked by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and personnel seconded from the health ministry.

An alleged three-day absence from work by one contract employee, Dr Catherine Lephoto, has exposed the fissures in the making. The exact designation of Dr Lephoto could not be established, with a senior staff member at NACOSEC expressing ignorance about what post she holds at the secretariat. However, according to the government website, Dr Lephoto is NACOSEC Deputy CEO.

Leaked correspondence between Lephoto and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr ‘Malita Litaba reveal a complete breakdown of the relationship between them. In a letter dated Tuesday this week, Dr Litaba accused Lephoto of going AWOL, a charge which the latter strongly opposed in her response on Wednesday.

“It has come to my attention that you have been absent from work since Friday, March 5, 2021, without authorization from my office. Further hereto, you failed to report to work on Monday, March 8, 2021, until today,” she charged.

“Your absenteeism from work without authorization is contravening the Public Service code of good conduct governing public servants, including NACOSEC employees,” the letter added.

Litaba then demanded that Lephoto explains in writing “within twenty-four hours”, reasons for her alleged failure to report to work and to equally give reasons “why the disciplinary action cannot be taken against you”.

“I will expect your response not later than 17h00 on Wednesday, March 10, 2021,” she said. “Should you fail to submit your explanation by the stipulated date, a decision will be taken without further reference to you,” she concluded.

Contacted yesterday, communications specialist, Rose Moremoholo, indicated that she was not aware of the letter and referred the paper to NACOSEC’s risk and communication manager Baroane Phenethi.

Phenethi was not available on his mobile phone when Public Eye tried to contact him yesterday. On Tuesday, the same day that Litaba wrote to Lephoto, news that the latter had absconded from work spread like wildfire.

Sources privy to the matter told Public Eye on Tuesday that a turf war between Ministry of Health workers on secondment to NACOSEC and those allegedly cherry picked by Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro from various public and private organisations to augment NACOSEC human resources has been simmering since last year.

On Wednesday, Lephoto responded to Litaba’s letter defending herself.

“Your office will recall that on or about 14 January, date on which the first level RED lockdown was announced in the year 2021, all NACOSEC staff was encouraged to conduct business virtually and reduce contact sessions except in cases of dire necessity,” she said. “Very unfortunately,” she added, “the notice was not recorded in writing but the fact is common cause to all NACOSEC staff.”

She indicated that to the best of her recollection and belief, there has not been a notice to date, revoking the above-mentioned notice and requesting NACOSEC staff, and myself in particular, “to transact business of NACOSEC from the premises of NACOSEC”.

“I must also mention that I was not called to physically present myself at the NACOSEC office at all material times to your correspondence. “At all material times to your correspondence, I attended and remained in attendance throughout the duration of meetings that were convened virtually some of which were initiated by persons other than myself,” she said.

Lephoto also mentioned that she responded to all email correspondence and discharged all the duties she is tasked to do. She said: “I thus availed my services to NACOSEC at all material times and accordingly contest the charge that I was not available at work.”

She added: “… it is my fair understanding that I have disputed the allegation that I was not at work and on that basis advise that I have explained why I was not physically at work, that it has been on account of the NACOSEC directive to which all employees, including myself, have obliged and continue to oblige as I respond to your letter.

“I have in unequivocal terms demonstrated to your office that I was virtually available at all times for work-related issues and that the business of the NACOSEC is currently being conducted virtually where I was available and have been available as evidenced by receipt of your ‘show cause’ letter.” She concluded: “On the basis of the foregoing I submit that my conduct at all material to your correspondence does not render me eligible or susceptible to disciplinary action.”

NACOSEC was established in June 2020 to replace the infamous National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) as an autonomous organisation to co-ordinate and implement all COVID-19 response strategies and measures. Since its establishment, controversy continues to stalk NACOSEC with some experts questioning its legal standing. This turf war will pile yet another layer of fresh controversy to NACOSEC.


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