It never rains but pours for Futho Hoohlo as WASCO boards suspends CEO again

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STAFF REPORTER

MASERU – The Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) Chief Executive Officer, Futho Hoohlo, is on a two-week suspension pending investigations and a possible disciplinary hearing, Public Eye can report.

The WASCO boss is being thrown out of the company for alleged misconduct, the second such since assuming the post two years ago.

Public Eye understands Hoohlo is accused of setting the police on private investigators, Quantum Advisory Services (Pty) Ltd, engaged by the WASCO Board to investigate allegations of misconduct against him.

So serious is the raging battle, that WASCO Board Chairperson, Chabeli Ramolise, has placed Hoohlo on a salaried suspension, but equally instructed him to return all company property in his possession such as “laptops, keys and any other material”, except for his assigned official motor vehicle.

The Director Operations and Maintenance, Thelejane Thelejane, has been appointed Acting Chief Executive pending finalisation of the matter.

In turn, Hoohlo rubbishes the claims, responding that the engagement of Quantum Advisory Services by the Board was done in violation of the WASCO procurement policy and regulations, which he adds is tantamount to criminal activity “qualifying to be investigated by the police.”

Hoohlo says a criminal case against the WASCO Board (Maseru Central RCI: 74/03/21), has been opened in a move to counter the allegations against him.

On Friday last week, WASCO Board Chairperson, Chabeli Ramolise, slapped Hoohlo with suspension following the latter’s response to a March 29 letter, in which the Board had requested the CEO to “Show cause why you may not be suspended from work”.

 Show-cause letter contents

“Kindly be advised that the Board of Directors of WASCO in its 13th Extra-Ordinary Board meeting (Executive Session) held on the 25th March 2021, resolved to invite you to show cause in writing, why you should not be suspended from your official duties at WASCO, in line with Section 63.2.1 of the WASCO Human Resources Regulations of 2017,” reads the letter to Hoohlo in part.

The letter continues: “Contrary to provisions of WASCO’s Code of Corporate Values, Ethics and Conduct of 2017, which require you to cooperate in the process of investigation you obstructed investigations into your alleged acts of misconduct by setting police, under your control and supervision, on Quantum Advisory Services (Pty) Ltd, a firm of external investigators that has been procured to assist in your own investigations.

“On or about the March 23, you used the police to engage in the investigations where you have direct personal interest in that you set them on the external investigators, who are investigating you, to investigate purported violation of WASCO Procurement Policies in relation to the procurement of the said external investigators, while it is not in the first place mandate of the police to investigate alleged violation of internal policies,” its adds.

Charges

“You will recall that you were summoned by the Board in a meeting held on or about 25th March 2021 to report and or explain the factors which animated the ‘criminal investigation’ against a company and or consultant that runs under the brand of Quantum Advisory Services Pty. Ltd. which was mandated to investigate you for misconduct. From the enquiry, the following factors became evident and are on record:

  1. You did not formally report a crime at any police station or post in the country but reported the purported crime against the Board to some agents of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) stationed at the precincts of Water and Sewage Company Pty Ltd – a Public Enterprise which you head in your capacity as the Chief Executive Officer.
  2. The posting of the said agents of Lesotho Mounted Police Services is not a product of the legislature but a contractual arrangement between the Water and Sewage Company and Lesotho Mounted Police Services.
  3. The said agents originally under administrative supervision of the Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary, but you elected to unilaterally assume supervisory control over them for reasons which now become abundantly clear as borne out by your response and conduct.
  4. You staged a criminal complaint under circumstances above-described and insisted on this approach without seeking any legal advice from any competent legal personnel of the company and this was done notwithstanding a glaring conflict of interest on your part.
  5. Your conduct described above where you set the police under your control and supervision on the private investigator who is investigating you obstructed investigations against you. You are clearly posing a great risk to the company. Again, the magnitude of your actions renders it in the best interest of the company not to have you present at WASCO while your investigations are continuing.
  6. Given the factors articulated in paragraph 1 above, the Board reserves the right to formally report a crime with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) and to steer a criminal investigation into your abuse of your public office, and or corruption in alliance with the aforesaid agents who are purporting to carry out a criminal investigation which was never reported through conventionally accepted modes. On even note, the Board reserves the right to stage any additional charges for misconduct that it may deem fit and necessary in the prospective Disciplinary Enquiry.
  7. Further afield, your irregular report of the purported crime staged by the Board and or, its authorized agents not only serves as a clear and firm basis for your suspension and consequent disciplinary action, but it also serves as an indication that the relationship between and the Board (your employer) is strained and it is clearly in the best interests of the company if you step aside and allow due process to take its course.
  8. With this letter, we emphasize that should you explore any judicial redress to this initiative of your suspension in a court of law, proper service of the papers to the company must be effected before the audience and or, acquisition of any order against the company. We say mindful that in your previous litigation with the company you acquired an interim revoking the suspension without service to the company (ex parte). That was both legally reprehensible and uncalled for – any measure which shall follow that well precedented approach will attract the pursuit of punitive cost orders being sought against you by WASCO.
  9. You must upon receipt of this letter submit all the property of the company in your possession – be it keys, laptops or any other material in your possession which belongs to WASCO, except the motor vehicle, to Mr Thelejane Thelejane, Director Operations and Maintenance at WASCO.
  10. You must further do a proper handover to Mr Thelejane, who has been appointed as the Acting Chief Executive, to ensure smooth transition during your suspension.
  11. During this period of suspension, you shall not attend your place of work, other than for the purpose of assisting in the investigation into your conduct. Please, therefore, remain available to meet with any of the persons assigned to investigate this matter. You shall not contact any other employee of the company during this period of suspension.
  12. Your suspension will be for two weeks with effect from 9th April 2021 as we hope that investigations against you would have been finalized by then.
  13. I conclude this letter by reiterating that the Board has authorized the procurement of the private investigator to investigate you and it is convinced that the procurement was above board.

 

Hoohlo responds to show-cause

“I can confirm that on 9 March, 2021, I received a letter from the Chairperson of the Board, Mr Chabeli Ramolise, in terms of which the Board indicated that Quantum Advisory Services Pty Ltd had been appointed to undertake and commence investigations against me.

“It transpired, however, that the appointment of Quantum Advisory Services by WASCO, failed to follow and adhere to the procurement guidelines and regulations enunciated and provided for in the WASCO procurement policies and regulations. The implications being that the transactions leading up to the appointment of the aforesaid investigating company was potentially unlawful and illegal,” Hoohlo says in his letter of response.

“I say so because in terms of Regulation 7 of the WASCO Procurement Policy and Regulations, the procurement processes in WASCO and the award of contracts shall be free of fraud, corruption and conflict of interest.

“In terms of regulation 52, all procurement processes at WASCO must follow the stipulated procurement processes outlined in regulation 52 of the WASCO Procurement Policy and Regulations. There shall be a requisition function in the procurement process, the purpose of which shall be to identify the services needed by the company and to estimate the costs of such services through the requisition process.

“The proceeding step in the regulation process is the confirmation by the budget functionary in the procurement process to determine whether the company has funds to procure the services requested in the requisition form.

“It follows, therefore, that in terms of the regulations, the requisition form shall outline and indicate the estimated value of the services requested and procured in order to determine whether there is a budget in the company to cater for the requested services.

“The engagement of Quantum Advisory Services by WASCO failed to adhere to the procurement regulations and was therefore, unlawful. The requisition form submitted to request the funds for procurement in terms of regulation 52 of the Procurement Regulations did not specify and/or outline the estimated value of the services requested.”

Hoohlo’s response further states that the significance of outlining the estimated value and cost of services required is to enable the budget and procurement functionaries to determine whether there are funds in the company to cater for the proposed services; and in terms of the regulations, a requisition form can only be approved once it is determined that the company has enough funds to cater for the proposed and/or requested services.

He says the omission and/or failure to estimate the value of services requested in the requisition form was fatal to the procurement process, “it means that this process was carried out unlawfully in circumstances where the requisition for these services was not properly approved by the relevant functionaries in the company.”

The approval of such requisition without conformation and committal of the company’s funds by the budgeting functionary in terms of Regulation 52 of the regulations is unlawful.

“It follows that the process was illegal in circumstances where someone committed the funds of the company and approved the engagement of the Quantum Advisory Services without following proper channels set by the legal framework of the company.”

He argues that he did not set the police on investigators to obstruct investigations against him as suggested.

“The police were called to investigate a potentially unlawful and illegal procurement process undertaken at WASCO as is the police’s mandate in terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between LMPS and WASCO,” he adds.

He notes he did not “use” the police as suggested by the Board, indicating that the LMPS has a legal mandate to investigate any potential criminal activity and the Board cannot suggest that their mandate should be restricted in this respect simply because Quantum Advisory Services was engaged to investigate him.

Speaking to Public Eye Hoohlo confirmed receipt of the letter of suspension on Friday March 9 following his reporting of possible criminality by the Board to the police.

The suspension comes right in the middle of a bi-annual World Bank Implementation Support Mission of the Lowlands Water Development Project II (LWDP II) which began on April 6.

Hlooho continued that he received the suspension letter while at a funeral, to mourn the death of a work colleague, who had succumbed to a long battle with breast cancer.

The WASCO boss has been suspended again immediately after the Labour Court nullified his earlier suspension on November 15, 2020, on the grounds that he had not been accorded a hearing prior to suspension.

He had been removed from office on various allegations of misconduct, gross negligence and of sitting on the boards of other companies during his working hours at WASCO.

 

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