Suspended consul general demands answers
...as suspended consul general confronts foreign affairs PS over ‘silence’
Lesotho’s Durban-based Consul General, Lerato tšosane is demanding to know her fate from government following her indefinite suspension in January this year for alleged abuse of office and embezzling public funds.
According to a letter dated 14 April 2015, Ms tšosane is requesting Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) Tebello Metsing for an update on the suspension and the outcome of investigations the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) said had launched in relation to the alleged offences.
In the letter, a copy of which the Lesotho Times has in possession, Ms tšosane gives a background of her case, and how she only knew about her pending suspension through the media.
The decision to suspend Ms Tšosane had resulted from an inspection carried out by the Auditor General, Lucy Liphafa, at the Durban Consulate for the financial years 2009 to May 2014. In her report, Ms Liphafa expressed concern at the many irregularities she had uncovered and asked the relevant authorities to take remedial action.
Reads part of Ms Liphafa’s report: “I would like to draw your attention to the following major weaknesses noted during the course of the audit: Irregular cash withdrawals from the consulate’s bank account whereby a total of R500 000 was withdrawn between November and December 2013. This amount appears to have been deposited into the Consul General’s personal account from which some payments were made.
“In the 2013/14 financial year, the Consul General claimed out-of-pocket expenses amounting to R70 970. 99, while there was a lot of cash withdrawn. There was also unauthorised change of accommodation by the Consul General where the government incurred expenditure amounting to R300 800.00 for the occupancy of the new house, while the former property broker has claimed R210 068.91 which, if not paid, legal action will be instituted against the government.”
Ms tšosane was also noted in the audit as having purchased alcoholic drinks amounting to R9 200.00 using public funds without proving there was any need to have any function warranting the expenditure.
Concludes Ms Liphafa’s damning report: “There is a very serious laxity in the management of public funds at the Durban Consulate, resulting in non-compliance with the laws and regulations and other government accounting procedures.”
It was after this report that Ms tšosane was suspended on 7 January 2015 “pending the outcome of the DCEO’S investigations”. however, Ms tšosane says failure to update her on the investigation had become cause for concern.
Ms Tšosane writes: “On the morning of 4 January 2015, I was alerted through Harvest FM in Lesotho that I had been suspended from duty, and three days later, the Deputy Principal Secretary (in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) delivered a letter to me personally in Durban to confirm what was already known to me.
“In the letter, you stated that I was suspended from duty ‘with immediate effect pending finalisation of investigations that are being conducted by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences regarding alleged misconduct in the handling of government finances at the Lesotho Consulate in Durban’.
“In the letter, you clearly specified that the suspension was on full pay and spelled out the following conditions: (a) that I should stay away from the office and that (b), I should avoid communication with the staff, which you referred to as potential witnesses. You further instructed me to remain at my duty station and cooperate with investigators and or officials from the Ministry ‘whenever called upon’.
“three months have gone by and I have not heard from the investigators or officials from the Ministry. The word finalisation of investigations gave me the impression that the process was at an advanced stage and although the letter did not specify the duration of my suspension, I find it unusual that no developments have been communicated to me concerning the matter.
“During the suspension, a follow-up letter came that stripped me of signing powers on the office finances and the Consular Attaché was assigned to replace me. I wish to advise the PS that since the suspension, most of the bills that form part of my privileges were not paid (utility bills, school bus, garden and pool service, security, per diem on authorised trip, and flights on official duties carried out before suspension).
“For two months, I have footed the bills and I have not been reimbursed. Furthermore, after several warnings by traffic cops that my tyres were worn out, and despite repeatedly requesting the office to replace the tyres, I experienced a puncture on the highway and I was forced to buy two tyres. These are expenses I cannot afford.
“Furtherto, the Consular Attaché has contacted the service-provider to suspend my mobile contract, and this, after she suspended me from accessing fuel for the official car. Over and above all this, I have lost track of the actual date for payment of my FSA (Flexible Spending Account).
“Although your letter stated that I should seek authority from the Ps ‘and leave only after obtaining a written approval’, I got the impression that over and above being removed from being the main signatory on the account, I have also lost my personal rights. This is because I wrote a letter to you seeking authority to travel to Lesotho to vote (on 28 February 2015), and despite follow-up calls, I received no response from you and as a result I failed to vote.
“I would request the Ps to update me on the said investigation and elucidate my fate lest I remain idle for too long and my future cut short.”
Mr Metsing on Tuesday confirmed receiving Ms Tšosane’s letter and said he had since responded but could not into the details of the communiqué.
“Ms tšosane’s issue should be treated with confidentiality because it is about someone’s employment and life. What I can only say is I told her in my response that the investigations are still in progress.”
According to Mr Metsing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not in charge of the investigations, hence he could not say how far they had gone.
“The investigations are not being carried out here in the Ministry but by the Dceo, which is why I am not in a position to say how far they have gone. Hopefully, as soon as they are done, she will be contacted,” said Mr Metsing.
Contacted for comment on Tuesday, Ms Tšosane refused to discuss her suspension with the Lesotho Times.
“I won’t comment on the correspondence between me and the PS; if you want verification or comment, go to him or rather get them from the streets not from me,” Ms Tšosane said before terminating the call.
Consul General of lesotho to Durban lerato Tšosane.