Wasco ordered to restore suspended CEO’s salary

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The Labour Court has ordered the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) to immediately restore suspended Chief Executive officer (CEO) Futho Hoohlo’s monthly salary. Hoohlo was first suspended in November 2020 on various misconduct allegations.

Delivering the ruling on Wednesday this week, the Labour Court also gave WASCO board of directors until July 12, 2021, to show cause, if any, why it cannot be interdicted and/or restrained from suspending Hoohlo from the position as CEO.

The ruling is a culmination of a long running tussle between Hoohlo and the board. The court also wants the WASCO board to explain why it cannot be “interdicted and/or restrained from harassing” Hoohlo by issuing letters of suspension.

This follows extension of Hoohlo’s suspension from duty with full pay by the WASCO earlier this month, on June 17.

“The Board of Water and Sewage Company PTY. Ltd. in its sitting of the 24th Special Board meeting held on the 17th June 2021, resolved to extend your suspension from duty pending the completion of your disciplinary hearing,” board chairman, Chabeli Ramolise, wrote to Hoohlo on June 20.

“The decision is based on the reasons that you were advised of at the time you were suspended and when the said suspension was extended. As a result, you are not expected to report back to work when your suspension expires on the 21st June 2021,” Ramolise added.

Again, following Hoohlo’s submission of sick leaves, Ramolise said WASCO board had resolved pursuant to Section 27.7(b) of WASCO human resources regulations 2017, “that you must be re-examined by a medical practitioner of WASCO’s choosing to determine the authenticity of your infirmity or illness”.

He said the decision had been actuated by the timing of the sick-leaves vis-à-vis the dates of the disciplinary proceedings. “You will receive further communication from the company in this regard,” Ramolise said.

He added: “Please be advised that the subject heading regarding full pay does not detract from the provisions of section 27.7(c) of WASCO human resources regulations 2017, on how an employee who is on sick leave should be paid. Consequently, the provisions remain applicable and your remuneration shall be computed accordingly.”

Hoohlo was first suspended with effect from November 14, 2020 to December 12, 2020, “to facilitate internal disciplinary investigations,” as WASCO put it in a statement then.

He filed a Labour Court application on November 20, 2020 for the nullification of his suspension on the grounds that it had been done without affording him a hearing.

He also petitioned the court to reinstate him to his post. On November 23, the court granted him an interim interdict to remain in office pending finalisation of his application.

On January 26, 2021, WASCO board reportedly offered to pay him out of the remainder of his contract. It had allegedly offered to pay him his 12 months’ salary and benefits for him to leave his job.

At that time, Hoohlo still had 18 months left on his contract.  He apparently made a counter-proposal on January 28, 2021, insisting he would only go if the company paid him 18 months’ salary and benefits.

The board then on February 3, 2021, wrote a letter to Hoohlo demanding that he explain why he could not be hauled before a disciplinary committee to answer misconduct charges.

“While in terms of your employment contract and WASCO policies you are required to devote all your time and commitment to WASCO during working hours, you are a board member of other entities and participate in board meetings of those entities during WASCO’s working hours, thus contravening not only your employment contract, but WASCO’s policies and regulations as well,” Ramolise wrote in the letter.

“During July 2020 you seconded the director of corporate services, Litsebe Jimson, to NACOSEC contrary to the WASCO Secondment Policy.

“In August 2020 you made a false statement during the Human Resources and Remuneration Committee (HRRC) meeting to the effect that Mr Jimson was not seconded to NACOSEC while you knew that you had seconded him to NACOSEC,” he added.

He further indicated that during the calendar year 2020 until January 2021, under Hoohlo’s leadership, WASCO suspended applications for new water connections.

“You did not exercise proper care and attention in taking this decision which led or was likely to lead to WASCO losing revenue. As a result, you are alleged to have acted in a grossly negligent manner in taking the decision in issue,” he said.

Hoohlo responded on February 5, and denied all the allegations levelled against him by the board. In March this year, the Labour Court nullified his suspension on the grounds that he was not given a hearing before being suspended.

But the board did not relent in its quest to get rid of him. In April, Ramolise slapped Hoohlo with suspension following the latter’s response to a March 29 letter, in which the board had requested him to “Show cause why you may not be suspended from work”.

Hoohlo was 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.

He was placed on a salaried suspension, but instructed to return all company property in his possession such as “laptops, keys and any other material”, except for his assigned official motor vehicle.

In turn, Hoohlo rubbished 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 said was tantamount to criminal activity “qualifying to be investigated by the police.”

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

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