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Chronicles of the water war –Drama at WASCO

As Hoohlo is iced for reporting ‘crime’

Mohloai Mpesi

The merry-go-round and turf war at the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) between Chief Executive Officer Futho Hoohlo and the Board of Directors headed by Chabeli Ramolise is far from over. The tussle is for the latter to see the former out of the water utility, while the former rigid on same being done within the precincts of law or left alone.

In the latest episode of the protracted melodramatic offing, Hoohlo has been slapped with a third consecutive suspension letter as Ramolise and the board heighten intent to unseat him at the helm of WASCO.

Hoohlo is in the second of a three-year contract with the company whose servicing he is, if at all, yet to enjoy. This is because barely into the first year, the CEO was already negotiating his exit package for rubbing off his employer the wrong way thus being shown the door.

In all the escapades, he has been accused of some misconduct or the other.

This time around, his sin is telling on the board for a suspected possible corruption to the law enforcement agencies.

According to a correspondence between the two, sighted by Newsday, Hoohlo reported a suspected fraud and corruption move initiated by his employer, Board of the company against the very company.

The move irked the board which nit-picked at his running to the police without seeking any legal advice from the company first, hence gave him a two-weeks-long suspension with full pay pending disciplinary investigations over allegations for misconduct.

The beginning…

The tussle and endeavour of Wasco Board of Directors to overthrow Hoohlo germinated when the latter was put on ice following a litany of allegations levelled against him, which among others included a misconduct dating back to August last year, only one year into his three-year contract with the water utility. Hoohlo was appointed to helm of WASCO for the period spanning August 5, 2019 to August 4, 2022. 

Hoohlo was censured for breaching his employment contract by not committing his time to WASCO and its Board and purportedly backing the Director of Corporate Services, Litsebe Jimson, to National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) which is said to be conflicting with WASCO secondment policy in or around July last year among others.  

The Board of the company also charged that WASCO suspended applications for new water connections during the calendar year 2020 until January 2021 under his leadership. Thus, questioning his competency as the company subsequently lost revenues.

Although Hoohlo countered all the allegations directed to him, the Board was not swayed, and rather authored a letter that put him on ice last November, but he was quick to block the move by seeking the court’s intervention which arbitrated to his favour and saw him restored behind his desk.    

The turn of events…

As the war raged on, the relentless Board pinned a multiple of charges on Hoohlo, accusing him for barricading another plot tailored to have him ousted.

This time the Board roped-in a private investigation company; Quantum Advisory Services, a financial advisor and Consultant Company based in Cape Town, Republic of South Africa to probe Hoohlo.

Ramolise in his suspension letter outlined that Hoohlo disturbed and obstructed their on-going investigation staged against him by the private company.

Show cause

Apparently, Hoohlo hurried to report the police after observing a fraudulent activity in the process of investigations. According to him, there was procurement irregularities in the appointment of the investigation company hired to probe him. It was upon this development that the board gave him an opportunity to show cause if any why he would not be suspended to which he had defended his actions.

“…I get direct report from WASCO’s divisional directors of enterprise projects management; operations and maintenance; finance as well as Corporate Services. My office also liaises internally with Board of Directors, Board Committees down to all staff members, and then externally liaises with other companies, service providers and WASCO customers.

“… additional responsibilities are to provide leadership on all WASCO core business and operations, coordination and integration corporate plans in order to achieve synergies and efficiencies of departmental activities, provide sound advice to the Board of Director and Donor Community and other Relevant Authority on management of WASCO finances and assets, set and clarify goals for the achievement of strategic and operational objectives by instilling accountability through the organisation, attend and present the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board, proactively identify, plan for, and implement change strategic across the business,” he said.

“… My generic competencies are honesty, integrity and work ethic and customer focus excellence,” he said.

He added that, “In March 9, 2021 I have received a letter (attached) from the chairman of the Board Mr. Chabeli Ramolise informing me of the appointment of Quantum Advisory Services to undertake investigations against myself, and one Mr Dominic Metlae which was introduced as the lead investigator of the same, and I was requested to cooperate with. I then called Director Finance (DF) Tsikinyane to my office to discuss the letter and to give him instructions regarding working with the investigator.

“During our discussion I gave the Director Finance the letter but he looked surprised that he gets the letter from me (Chief Executive) as he thought the issue was confidential and the private investigator was still being procured by his office with the help of the Chief Internal Auditor (CIA). In the conversation with Director Finance, I enquired further into the matter with regards to the procurement process followed. Director Finance made enquiries with the Acting Supply Chain manager, Motlatsi Mohobela whether the procurement has been completed to which the manager replied that the purchase requisition was still in his office. I immediately requested to see the requisition which the manager sent to the Director Finance immediately via email. The director gave the requisition to me hence I observed the requisition (attached) was signed by CIA Mrs ‘Mafumane Kubu, as the requesting Officer, and authorised by chairman of Finance Risk Audit Committee (FRAC) Mr. Pusetso Matekane, as the Authorising Officer. The requisition had no figures and or quotations. Having questioned the Director of Finance, I found the whole transaction highly irregular and suspicious and consequently reported the whole matter to the police,” he said.

Suspension

Despite his response, the board still went ahead to side-line him in favour of the Director Operations and Maintenance, Thelejane Thelejane who was appointed as Acting CEO in his absence.

In his decisive letter, the board chair pointed to their receipt of his responses although the board was not sold.

“Notwithstanding your articulation of factors which are aimed at resisting the suspension, the Board made a resolution to suspend you with full pay and contractual benefits for the following reasons;

“You will recall that you are summoned by the Board in a meeting on or about March 25, 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.

“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 Lesotho Mounted Police Services stationed at the precincts of Water Sewage Company Pty Ltd, a Public Enterprise which you head in your capacity as the Chief Executive Officer. 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 Sewage Company and Lesotho Mounted Police Services,” he said.

“The said agents were originally under the administration supervision of Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary but you elected to unilaterally assume supervision control over them for reasons which now become abundantly clear as borne out by your response and conduct.

“You staged a criminal complaint under circumstances above-described and insisted on this approach without seeking any legal advice from any competent personnel of the company and this was done notwithstanding a glaring conflict of interest on your part.

“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. Again, the magnitude of your actions renders in the best interest of the company not to have you present at WASCO while your investigations are continuing,” he said.

“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 Offenses and to steer a criminal investigation into your abuse of public offence 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.

“Further afield, your irregular report of the purported crime staged by the Board and or its authorised 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 yourself 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.  

“With this letter, we emphasise 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 this mindful that in your previous litigation with the company you acquired an interim order revoking the suspension without service to the company (ex parte). That was both legally reprehensible and uncalled for- any measure which follows that well precedence approach will attract the pursuit of punitive costs orders being sought against you by the Water and Sewage Company.

“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.

“You must further do proper handover to Thelejane who have been appointed as the Acting Chief Executive Officer, to ensure the smooth transition during your suspension,” he said.

“During this period of suspension, you shall not attend your place of work, other than for the purpose of assisting in the investigation in your conduct. Please, therefore, remain available to meet with any persons assigned to investigate this matter. You shall not contact other employee of the company during this period of suspension.

“Your suspension will be for a period of two weeks with effect from April 9, 2021 as we hope that investigations against you would have been finalised by then.

“I conclude this letter by reiterating that the Board had authorised the procurement of the private investigator to investigate you and it is convinced that the procurement was above board,” he said.

Relentless

Hoohlo responded that the matter of reporting to the police was done in line with the company’s regulations which state the mandate of LMPS in law is to investigate any potential criminal activity.

He continued that the company 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 policies and regulations did not specify or outline the estimated value of the services requested.

 “I confirm that on March 9, 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 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 regulation enunciated and provided in the WASCO procurement policies and regulations. The implications being that the transections leading up to the appointment of the aforesaid investigating company were potentially unlawful and illegal.

“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 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,” he said.

“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 for 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 policies and regulations did not specify and or outline the estimated value of the services requested.

“The significance of outlining the estimated value and cost of service required is to enable the budget and procurement functionaries to determine whether there are funds in the company to cater for the proposed services. 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.

“The omission of and or the failure to estimate the value of services requested in the requisition from 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.”

He continued that, “The approval of such requisition without confirmation and committal of the company’s funds by the budgeting functionary in terms of regulation 52 of the regulations was unlawful. It follows that the process was illegal in circumstances where someone committed the funds of the company and approved the engagement of Quantum Advisory Services without following proper channels set by the procurement legal framework of the company.”

“I confirm, therefore, that I did not set the police on investigators to obstruct investigations against me 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 the LMPS and WASCO.

“In terms of article 2 of the Memorandum of Understanding between WASCO and LMPS, the parties agree that the purpose and objective of the Memorandum is to set out a framework for the parties to facilitate co-ordination, co-operation and assistance within the framework vandalism, illegal water connections and or any criminal activities against WASCO.

“The parties further agree that the LMPS will provide to WASCO, the fullest assistance within the framework of the MOU and as authorised by law in relation to the co-ordination, co-operation and assistance in enforcement actions and investigations that are aimed at fighting vandalism, illegal connections and or any crime against WASCO, whether perpetrated by members of the public or WASCO’s own staff.

“I confirm, therefore, that I did not ‘use’ the police as suggested by the Board. The LMPS has their mandate in law to investigate any potential criminal activity and the Board cannot suggest that their mandate can be restricted in this respect simply because Quantum Advisory Services was engaged to investigate me.

“I confirm, for the forgoing, that there is no misconduct in reporting a potential criminal activity to the LPMS. In terms of regulation 62 read with regulation 63 of the WASCO Human Resources and Regulations 2017, an employee of WASCO can be suspended when investigations are being conducted into his alleged misconduct.

“It cannot be suggested that reporting a potential fraudulent activity to the LMPS was misconduct.

“For the forgoing, I confirm that I should not be suspended as suggested by the Board. I trust the Board would not consider reporting a potentially fraudulent activity to the police a misconduct,” he said.               

Meanwhile, contacted for a comment on the forgoing, Hoohlo confirmed to Newsday to both reporting a possible crime as well as receiving the letter which he subsequently answered.

“Indeed I received a letter of suspension on Friday 09/04/2021, following my reporting possible criminality, by the Board to the police in case number; Maseru Central RCI: 74/03/21,” he said.

Quizzed about the possibility of a personal vendetta with the board members, Hoohlo said that could be anyone’s guess.

“After the second “show cause” letter, there was a third one which led to this suspension. All of the letters are on three different issues. Remember the first suspension has just been nullified by the court. Is it a coincidence that soon after the nullification something else start? You draw your conclusion,” he said.

“Whilst in the middle of a mutual separation negotiation they issue another show cause letter, totally unprovoked,” he said  

The chairman of the Board of Directors, Ramolise, however, could not be drawn into commenting on the matter, putting on an air of self-importance as he refused to answer, telling this reporter where to get off.

“Go and finish the issue with your sources. Bye-bye,” he said as he haughtily slammed the phone shut.  

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