Veteran administrator and electrical engineer Futho Hoohlo was this month appointed Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) chief executive officer. He is entrusted, among others, with leading the development of the water utility’s five-year corporate strategic plan and monitoring its implementation. This entails overseeing the development of costed Annual Business Plans to execute the Wasco strategy; assessing, evaluating and prioritising corporate risks, and assessing the options for minimising such risks to ensure achievement of strategic objectives; overseeing development of corporate budgets and ensuring the Board’s approval; and ensuring that initiatives are implemented in line with best programme and project management practices to ensure intended strategic outcomes. In this wide-ranging interview with theReporter (TR), he tells us about his background and plans for the urban water supplier.
TR: Tell us about yourself. Who is Futho Hoohlo?
Hoohlo: Futho is an electrical power engineer with 25 years’ postgraduate experience in various industrial working environments in the Engineering field. I studied at the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) where I received my BSc. (Eng.) Electronics and Electrical Engineering degree, in 1993. I further studied at the University of Strathclyde (United Kingdom) where I received my MSc. Electrical Power Engineering degree, in 1995.
I worked on various projects with Lesotho Highlands Development Authority and Lesotho Brewing Company (SABMiller Africa & Asia) especially in the field of Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Planning and Management, Project Management, Erection and Commissioning of Hydro Electric Generation Power Systems at ‘Muela Hydropower Station. I also worked as a Consultant with Dynacon (PTY) Ltd, and currently LHE Engineers and Contractors, also specialising in O&M Planning & Management as well as Project Management. I am also a post graduate external examiner (Masters Level) at Pretoria University, in the Department of Engineering & Technology Management. In 2012 I was appointed by His Majesty King Letsie III, to be a Member of The Senate in the 8th Parliament, of The Kingdom of Lesotho. As an Honourable Member of The Senate, I served in a number of Parliamentary Committees namely: Senate Business Committee, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Committee (Chairman), Committee on Standing Orders and Staff and Parliamentary Reforms Committee (PRC).
In March 2015, I was elected by Members of The Senate in the 9th Parliament of The Kingdom of Lesotho, as the Vice-President of The Senate. I served in the following Senate Parliamentary Committees: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Committee (Chairman), Committee on Standing Orders and Staff, Business Committee and Parliamentary Reforms Committee (PRC). Futho continued to represent the Senate (The Upper Chamber) of The Parliament of The Kingdom of Lesotho in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU – “The United Nations” of Parliaments) and was a member of the IPU Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade. I was also a member of the IPU Standing Committee on United Nation Affairs and involved with the IPU Advisory Group on HIV/AIDS and Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
I continue to be a Director in LHE Engineers and contractors, an Engineering consulting and contracting company. I was appointed, by the Minister of Mining, as a Government Director, in the Board of Directors of Liqhobong Mining Development Company (LMDC) in August 2017. In September 2018, I was appointed, by the Minister of Finance, as an Independent Trustee of the Specified Offices & Public Officers Defined Contribution Pension Fund Board of Trustees.
TR: What are your major responsibilities as WASCO CEO?
Hoohlo: First of all, I have to provide leadership. This means I am expected to provide leadership on all WASCO core business and operations; coordinate and integrate Corporate plans in order to achieve synergies and efficiencies of departmental activities; provide leadership and management by setting clear goals and providing direction to the company, and provide sound advice to the Board of Directors and Donor community and other relevant Authorities on management of WASCO finances and assets
In addition, I have to set and clarify goals for the achievement of strategic and operational objectives by instilling accountability throughout the organization; develop and implement succession plan for executive roles; provide coaching and mentoring to direct reports; attend and present accountability reports and proposals for better management of WASCO to the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board; as well as proactively identify, plan for and implement change strategies across the business.
The risk, governance and compliance component of my job means I must develop systems, policies and procedures to enhance effective management of operations; develop WASCO’s Risk Register and Mitigation Plan; develop standards of performance and monitor their implementation for all areas of work; and set performance indicators and standards in compliance to regulatory requirements.
Then there is the stakeholder involvement and engagement component, under which I am to develop stakeholder involvement and engagement programmes; develop staff engagement and reward programmes to improve staff morale and performance culture; identify new opportunities to enhance WASCO’s corporate image and brand; and implement Corporate Social responsibility programmes.
TR: You are in your second week as WASCO CEO. What would you say are your immediate tasks?
Hoohlo: I would say my to-do list involves development of 2020-2025 Company Strategic Plan, addressing of revenue losses – Non-Revenue Water (NRW) as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI), addressing of long lead times for new customer connections and correcting billing of customers. And then of course there is the issue of heightened debt collection from our debtors to enable payment of our creditors, quick response to emergencies and customer queries, addressing of bad workmanship where public infrastructure (such as roads) was affected during repairs, as well as internal stakeholder focus – staff motivation in other words.
TR: Please expound on your vision for WASCO?
Hoohlo: I would like to see Wasco providing reliable, water and sanitation services and becoming an efficient, customer-oriented company. I also want to instilling the culture of accountability through performance management, adherence to standards; professional, ethical and well-trained staff and aggressive female leadership empowerment.
My vision is to growing the Wasco brand with well-motivated staff, who are proud of WASCO, and WASCO brand ambassadors. I want WASCO to become the employer of choice, while diversifying into other commercial spaces with a view to growing WASCO’s revenue base.
TR: WASCO has in the past few years has been under the spotlight for mismanagement (as exposed by the Public Accounts Committee last year) and tender irregularities. How do you intend to change that?
Hoohlo: Through proper controls through well-defined business processes is the answer. This instils a culture of feedback and accountability
TR: Questions have been raised about the quality of water supplied by WASCO, the physical and microbiological quality to be precise, triggered by sightings of red worms in water, and discoloured (yellowish) water. How do you plan to improve the quality of water supplied by WASCO?
Hoohlo: Every business has risks associated with it. The key is to have a robust, elaborate risk management strategies and plans in place (risk identification and mitigation) and adherence to standards as alluded to previously.
TR: Coming to reticulation. In recent times we have seen WASCO replacing the old metal pipes with fragile UPVC. The explanation among others was that metal pipes a prone to corrosion, which is not convincing because the department of public health has no records of corrosion being a health issue. How do you plan to address this, given that the UPVC pipes are constantly broken, resulting in loss of huge amounts of valuable water?
Hoohlo: It is a fact that steel piping does corrode with time. The World Health Organisation Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality promote the protection of public health by advocating for the development of locally relevant standards and regulations (health-based targets). These guidelines address many aspects including acceptability aspects: taste, odour and appearance. Water should be free of tastes, odours and aesthetically acceptable. Corroded pipework produces “rust water”: the red or brown colour of rust in water is unattractive and makes the water look dirty and therefore non-adherent to WHO quality standards and guidelines. Corroded pipework also cracks and becomes brittle, which makes it susceptible to pipe bursts, resulting in water loss and interruption of supply.
Therefore, the current standards and practices, worldwide, has seen a move towards the use of PVC piping for reticulation. The issue here is again adherence to standards during construction. This speaks to proper supervision of works, whether done internally or by external contractors: supervision and adherence to installation standards and correct material specification.
TR: What are your plans to raise the profile of WASCO as a company on one hand, and a water supplier Basotho can be proud of on the other?
Hoohlo: I have touched on these issues above. What is important is to engage on an extensive public relations exercise through continuous internal and external stakeholder engagement. This brings all stakeholders on board to begin to understand and appreciate WASCO business and be part of the turnaround strategy and make WASCO a company we can be proud of, that delivers on its vision: to be a sustainable provider of quality and reliable water and sanitation services