MASERU – Members of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)’s board of directors backtracked on their decision to keep the authority’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), ’Mamarame Matela, on her job while probing her alleged misconduct, Public Eye can reveal. Instead of sticking to its guns, the board somersaulted and decided to withdraw support for the embattled CEO who is now on paid suspension, documents obtained by Public Eye last week show.
On May 25 this year, according to a board resolution, the board resolved that Matela should be given emotional support. “She should be given counselling and Chairman of the Board to accompany her needs. She should report to the Board if she needs security at home and close protection by private security,” reads the board document. It reveals that after hearing Matela’s side and having considered all the evidence against her, the board was of the view that there was a prima facie case that must be investigated.
“Due to the sensitivity of the matter and lack of capacity on the part of the Board, technical expertise is needed in the investigation and the board resolves there should be forensic investigation into the matter before her disciplinary hearing,” the document reads. It adds: “The board resolved not to suspend the CEO.” The board resolution was signed by the then board chairperson, Motanyane Makara.
Matela faces allegations of corruption and/or irregular involvement in the tendering process and award of a tender to an international company, Global Voice Group. The board also resolved that “based on the well-known shortage of staff especially at executive committee (Exco) level and considering the interests of the organisation”, it should meet on June 2, 2021, “to decide on how the investigations will be carried out while CEO is still in office”.
The board would also decide “whether to evaluate Matela’s possible suspension in order to facilitate the investigation if such need arises.” Two days later, on May 27, 2021, Makara was suspended from the board and subsequently slapped with a “show-cause” letter dated May 29, 2021, asking him to justify why he could not be removed from the board.
Makara’s membership and chairmanship of the board was eventually terminated on May 31, 2021, principally on three grounds – alleged incompetence to act as chairman of the board, irretrievable breakdown of the working relationship with then Minister of Communications, Keketso Sello, and a suspicious relationship with Matela.
When the board held a meeting on June 2, it resolved that an investigation into the award of the tender should be conducted and that Matela’s presence in the workplace during the period of investigation would not be viable, deviating from its earlier stance.
The board, therefore, allegedly resolved that Matela be placed under precautionary suspension pending the outcome of the investigation. “Based on the findings of the Board and resolutions of the Board to recommend your suspension as the CEO on the 2nd June 2021, which resolution was made on the 25th May 2021, and confirmed by you in your court case. “And based on the spirit of Section 14 of the Communications Act No 18 of 2012, I take a decision to suspend you from office as the CEO and from all activities of the LCA pending an investigation into the allegations of your involvement in the award of the Tender of C-MART system to GVG,” Sello wrote to Matela on June 3.
“As you are aware, the ministry has also reported this to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) for its investigation. You are suspended from today, 3rd June, 2021, upon receipt of this letter. Your suspension shall be on full pay with all the benefits attached to the office of the CEO of the LCA,” he added.
Consequent upon Makara’s removal from the board and Matela’s suspension as CEO, Sello appointed Keneuoe Mohale as acting board chairperson and Nizan Goolam as acting CEO. Puleng Lebitsa was appointed board chairperson with effect from July 1, 2021. Lebitsa last week declined to speak to Public Eye. “I cannot talk to a person I do not know and have never seen his face about matters concerning LCA,” she said.
Sello was removed from the ministry of communications on June 4, and transferred to the Ministry of Public Service. He was replaced with Tšoinyane Rapapa. Matela told Public Eye this week that she was not part of the May 25 sitting. Section 6(3) of the Communications Act of 2012 states that “the Chief Executive Officer shall be an ex-officio member” of the board of directors.
“I recused myself from participating in that meeting. When a conflict of interest exists, like when the board is going to make a decision that might benefit your own interest, you have to recuse yourself from participating in that particular meeting,” Matela said on Monday.
“On May 25 the board met to discuss my fate, so I could not be part of such sitting,” she added. According to Section 11(5) of the Communications Act, a member of the board should not participate in any discussion or decision regarding any matter in which such a member or any immediate relative has a direct or substantial interest. If a member does so, such member commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a fine of M50 000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both.
The May 25 resolutions were confirmed by Makara yesterday. “I was the chairperson at that time and I know those resolutions,” he said. He, however, could not explain how the board backtracked on its decisions as he was sacked before the next sitting which was on June 2. Last month the Labour Appeal Court dismissed Matela and Makara’s urgent application challenging the former’s suspension and the latter’s dismissal.
They wanted, among others, the court to review and set aside the decision of Sello to suspend Matela based on the grounds set out in the letter dated June 3, 2021. They also wanted the court to review and set aside Sello’s decision to remove Makara from the position of chairman and director of LCA.