DC youths blast Fi­nance Min­is­ter

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane

IN an un­prece­dented move, the Demo­cratic Congress (DC)’S Youth League has launched a scathing at­tack against the party’s own se­nior mem­ber Fi­nance Min­is­ter Dr ’ Mam­phono Khaketla, ac­cus­ing her of cor­rup­tion for al­legedly so­lic­it­ing a M4 mil­lion bribe in the award­ing of the highly lu­cra­tive ten­der to run the gov­ern­ment’s ve­hi­cle fleet.

The DC is the lead party in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing the bulk of its min­is­ters. It’s un­prece­dented for an im­por­tant or­gan of a party in the cur­rent coali­tion ar­range­ment to at­tack its own min­is­ter in such vit­ri­olic and ran­corous terms.

In a strongly worded state­ment, the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the DC youth league, led by its pres­i­dent Thuso Litjobo, claimed Dr Khaketla had at­tempted to so­licit a M4 mil­lion bribe from a joint ven­ture com­pany, which con­sists of Fleet Ser­vice Le­sotho (Pty) Ltd and Le­be­lonyane (Pty) Ltd (Fleet Ser­vices) which had been short­listed for the mul­ti­mil­lion-mal­oti ten­der.

It called upon the Di­rec­torate of Cor­rup­tion and Eco­nomic Of­fences (DCEO) to in­ves­ti­gate the min­is­ter. How­ever, no hard ev­i­dence was un­veiled by the youth league to back its bribery claims against Dr Khaketla. The DCEO nev­er­the­less con­firmed it was look­ing into the mat­ter.

DCEO spokesper­son ’ Matl­hokomelo Senoko told the Le­sotho Times yes­ter­day the an­ti­cor­rup­tion body had re­ceived “a re­port” from the “com­plain­ing firm” and it was now be­ing “stud­ied ac­cord­ingly”.

The joint ven­ture com­pany was short­listed along­side two other firms, Fleet­mat­ics Ve­hi­cle Man­age­ment So­lu­tions Le­sotho (Pty) Lim­ited (Fleet­mat­ics) and Seahlolo Trans­port Lo­gis­tics (Pty) Lim­ited trad­ing as Avis Fleet Ser­vices (Seahlolo). How­ever, Fleet­mat­ics Ve­hi­cle Man­age­ment So­lu­tions Le­sotho was later dis­qual­i­fied leav­ing the joint ven­ture com­pany and Seahlolo as the only short­listed com­pa­nies

After the gov­ern­ment last month can­celled the ten­der and de­cided to sign a new con­tract with Bid­vest, the joint ven­ture com­pany filed an ur­gent ap­pli­ca­tion in the Com­mer­cial Court seek­ing to block the gov­ern­ment from “award­ing or ex­tend­ing” the con­tract with Bid­vest.

The joint ven­ture com­pany also sought to re­strain the gov­ern­ment from ex­e­cut­ing its new con­tract with Bid­vest pend­ing the fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the case, which is be­fore Jus­tice Tham­sanqa Nom­ng­congo.

Bid­vest had orig­i­nally been awarded a six month con­tract from 1 Oc­to­ber 2015 with its con­tract sched­uled to end on 31 March 2016 after the ex­piry of the gov­ern­ment’s fleet man­age­ment con­tract with Avis.

Be­cause of that short-term deal, the gov­ern­ment had promised to ex­clude Bid­vest from the new ten­der to find a new long-term op­er­a­tor to re­place Avis.

How­ever the gov­ern­ment shocked all and sundry last when Dr Khaketla an­nounced the can­cel­la­tion of the ten­der, pre­fer­ring in­stead to en­ter a new long-term deal with Bid­vest, which did not bid for the ten­der.

An­nounc­ing the new deal with Bid­vest last month, Dr Khaketla said the com­pany would pro­vide com­put­erised fleet man­age­ment ser­vices for the next four years. Un­der the new con­tract, the min­is­ter said, the gov­ern­ment would buy 600 ve­hi­cles and hire an­other 600 from or­di­nary Ba­sotho, with Bid­vest only man­ag­ing the fleet. She also said the gov­ern­ment de­cided to can­cel the ten­der be­cause it did not have enough money to con­tinue with the route en­vis­aged in that ten­der.

A re­vised ten­der eval­u­a­tion re­port which only came to the at­ten­tion of the joint ven­ture com­pany after it had al­ready gone to court to chal­lenge the min­is­ter’s Bid­vest de­ci­sion proved the joint ven­ture com­pany had in­deed been rec­om­mended as the re­cip­i­ent of the ten­der, scor­ing 81.85 points against 68.21 for the other short­listed bid­der, Avis Fleet Ser­vices (Seahlolo).

After it got hold of the re­port, the joint ven­ture com­pany has since with­drawn the ap­pli­ca­tion it had al­ready filed to en­able it to file a new one in­cor­po­rat­ing the re­port to pro­vide the court with more hard facts to prove its claim that it was short-changed by Dr Khaketla’s min­istry.

At a press brief­ing this week, the en­tire ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the DC Youth League, led by its leader Thuso Litjobo, claimed the joint ven­ture com­pany had suf­fered after fail­ing to pro­vide Dr Khaketla with the claimed “M4 mil­lion bribe”.

Read­ing from a pre­pared text, youth league Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Le­tuka Chafotsa chron- icled how the gov­ern­ment had en­tered into an agree­ment with Bid­vest in Septem­ber 2015 after the ex­piry of its long run­ning con­tract with Avis.

Mr Chafotsa said the DC youth league had sup­ported the gov­ern­ment’s short-term deal with Bid­vest be­cause of the ur­gent need of ve­hi­cles for ser­vice de­liv­ery. He said the youth league had also sup­ported the gov­ern­ment when it sought a trans­ac­tional ad­vi­sor at a “whoop­ing M3 mil­lion” to ad­vise it on how best to man­age the fleet con­tract in a way that would best em­power Ba­sotho.

Mr Chafotsa said the league was also happy with the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to ex­clude Bid­vest from the new ten­der in light of the six month con­tract it had al­ready en­joyed.

“Again, we sup­ported this de­ci­sion as it was in the best in­ter­est of Ba­sotho, in par­tic­u­lar the lo­cal busi­ness­peo­ple who wanted to be given a chance to bid for the ten­der. We thought the gov­ern­ment had ad­vised it­self so well and in a fair and trans­par­ent man­ner,” Mr Chafotsa said.

He said the league had then been shocked by the de­ci­sion to can­cel the ten­der process dur­ing ad­ju­di­ca­tion in favour of con­tin­u­ing with Bid­vest which Dr Khatleka claimed would pro­vide the “com­put­erised fleet man­age­ment sys­tem”.

“This de­ci­sion came as a shock to us be­cause the gov­ern­ment had made an un­shak­able prom­ise to the en­tire Ba­sotho na­tion that Bid­vest was not go­ing to be given a chance to bid for the ten­der and in­deed the com­pany had not ten­dered its bid (sic) for the project. There was also no ex­pla­na­tion from the min­is­ter in terms of why the ten­der process was be­ing can­celled.

“The only ex­pla­na­tion we get is that the de­ci­sion was reached by cab­i­net, and our point of ar­gu­ment against this is that it is a vi­o­la­tion of pro­cure­ment laws for cab­i­net to be in­ter­fer­ing in pro­cure­ment pro­cesses. This ob­vi­ously calls for high sus­pi­cions (sic) that there could be a few gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials ben­e­fit­ing from this ar­range­ment,” charged Mr Chafotsa.

He said the youth league’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tions had proved be­yond doubt and “with tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence” that the joint ven­ture com­pany won the ten­der.

“The big­gest ques­tion both­er­ing our­selves is what in­ter­est does the gov­ern­ment have so much on Bid­vest that it can de­cide to deny a Ba­sotho com­pany to sat­isfy it­self (sic)?....”

The youth league then went on to claim there was ev­i­dence that Dr Khaketla’s “per­sonal friend”, Thabo Napo, had ap­proached mem­bers of the joint ven­ture com­pany to so­licit M4 mil­lion on be­half of the Fi­nance min­is­ter. The ev­i­dence was nev­er­the­less not de­tailed at the press con­fer­ence.

Mr Chafotsa claimed Dr Khatleka had been heard claim­ing the joint ven­ture com­pany would get the ten­der “at Nyenye’s Cross” (a com­mon Se­sotho phrase mean­ing you will not get any­thing eas­ily) un­less the com­pany ac­ceded to Mr Napo’s re­quest.

“In his words Mr Napo said: ‘M’e (Dr Khaketla) can give us her Mer­cedes Benz car now so that we can im­me­di­ately go to Gaut­eng and get the money and put it in the car boot on our drive back home. We won’t just make peo­ple bil­lion­aires at our ex­pense here,’” claimed Mr Chafotsa, with­out pro­vid­ing any au­dio record­ings to prove that th­ese words were in­deed ut­tered.

But based on this in­for­ma­tion above, Mr Chafotsa said it was clear that Bid­vest had been awarded a lu­cra­tive deal through “highly du­bi­ous means”.

Con­tacted for com­ment by the Le­sotho Times yes­ter­day, an irate Mr Napo dis­missed this re­porter say­ing “you must stop call­ing me over th­ese is­sues.”

Mr Chafotsa also claimed that an­other min­is­ter, he did not name, had told a mem­ber of the joint ven­ture com­pany it could get the con­tract eas­ily if it gave the money to Dr Khatleka.

“At this junc­ture, we want to ap­plaud one of the prin­ci­pal sec­re­taries (PS) who was sum­moned to one of the min­is­ters’ res­i­dence where she was lured with a large sum of money so that she can vi­o­late some of the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures, the PS re­fused to take up the of­fer,” Mr Chafotsa said.

Al­though he re­fused to men­tion the PS by name the Le­sotho Times has since es­tab­lished that he was re­fer­ring to ’ Ma­palesa Ra­papa, who was reshuf­fled from the Fi­nance min­istry to the po­lice min­istry ear­lier this month.

But Ms Ra­papa de­clined com­ments when con­tacted by the Le­sotho Times yes­ter­day, say­ing “I am re­ally un­able to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions by the youths at the mo­ment.”

The youths stressed it was clear the joint ven­ture com­pany had been sab­o­taged over its re­fusal to ac­qui­esce to min­is­ters abus­ing their pow­ers in at­tempts to en­rich them­selves.

The gov­ern­ment, the youths al­leged, had awarded the con­tract to Bid­vest “un­der false jus­ti­fi­ca­tion” that the South African com­pany is the only one that can pro­vide “com­put­erised fleet man­age­ment sys­tem.”

“The big ques­tion and in­deed a shock to us is how come the fi­nance min­is­ter got to know about Bid­vest so much that she even knew that the com­pany is the only one that can pro­vide this ser­vice when it did not even bid for the ten­der? Doesn’t this im­ply that the fi­nance min­is­ter has been hold­ing se­cret meet­ings with Bid­vest?” queried Mr Cha- fotsa.

The youth league fur­ther ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of hood­wink­ing Ba­sotho into be­liev­ing they would ben­e­fit through the ar­range­ment to hire 600 cars from or­di­nary Ba­sotho across the coun­try to fall un­der the man­age­ment of Bid­vest.

This, he said, was not a jus­ti­fi­able rea­son to favour Bid­vest as the joint ven­ture com­pany could have eas­ily done the same. But Mr Chafotsa also dis­missed the prom­ise to hire the 600 ve­hi­cles from or­di­nary Ba­sotho as a pink lie, claim­ing that “some min­is­ters” were al­ready mak­ing prepa­ra­tions “with their friends” to buy cars through the banks “so that their cars are hired, in­stead those of the or­di­nary Ba­sotho,” as had been promised.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tions fur­ther re­vealed that the 600 cars that the gov­ern­ment says it is buy­ing are ac­tu­ally go­ing to be bought by a South African-based bank, Bid­vest Bank, again with­out any proper ten­der pro­cesses fol­lowed….” Mr Chafotsa charged.

“To fur­ther jus­tify that in­deed some min­is­ters have in­ter­ests in Bid­vest, ev­ery per­son who con­demns this con­tro­ver­sial and cor­rupt deal (which has come) at the ex­pense of Ba­sotho tax­pay­ers is sub­jected to in­tim­i­da­tion. For in­stance, some of the PSS who re­fused to be en­gaged in this deal were sus­pended from duty and sub­se­quently reshuf­fled. As the DC youth league, we are con­demn­ing this in the strong­est terms pos­si­ble.”

He de­scribed the Bid­vest deal as “most un­for­tu­nate and cruel as it sab­o­taged the coun­try’s econ­omy”, fur­ther claim­ing that the pre­vi­ous deal with Avis cost the gov­ern­ment only M34 mil­lion monthly while the one with Bid­vest would gob­ble M65 mil­lion a month, a de­vel­op­ment that would “bank­rupt” the gov­ern­ment.

“We sus­pect that soon the gov­ern­ment will run out of funds. At the mo­ment, and we have proof, the gov­ern­ment is al­ready us­ing the “con­tin­gen­cies fund” to pay Bid­vest….”

“We also have tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence that the gov­ern­ment is al­ready re­quest­ing other min­istries to di­vert their funds, which were oth­er­wise in­tended for other de­vel­op­ments, to pay­out Bid­vest…” Mr Chafotsa said, ad­ding the fact that Bid­vest was a for­eign-owned com­pany would be costly to Le­sotho.

“For in­stance, all Bid­vest ve­hi­cles are ser­viced in South Africa; even their tyres are fit­ted in South Africa and other re­lated ser­vices.

“This means or­di­nary Ba­sotho are not ben­e­fit­ing at all from Bid­vest’s ser­vices in Le­sotho. Bid­vest has even em­ployed its driv­ers from South Africa to drive its cars as they go for ser­vices in that coun­try, yet Ba­sotho driv­ers are there.”

The DC youth league said it wholly blamed this “en­tire morass” on Dr Khaketla, whom it said must be promptly probed by the DCEO. It urged Ba­sotho not to blame the prime min­is­ter, his coali­tion gov­ern­ment or the DC for this cor­rup­tion, “but solely the Fi­nance min­is­ter.”

Dr Khaketla flatly re­fused to com­ment telling the Le­sotho Times through her sec­re­tary, Nt­seliseng Let­soela, that she “is not in a po­si­tion to talk to the Le­sotho Times.”

Our in­ves­ti­ga­tions fur­ther re­vealed that the 600 cars that the gov­ern­ment says it is buy­ing are ac­tu­ally go­ing to be bought by a South African-based bank, Bid­vest Bank, again with­out any proper ten­der pro­cesses fol­lowed….

FI­NANCE Min­is­ter Dr ‘Mam­phono Khaketla DCYL Pres­i­dent Thuso Litjobo and Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Le­tuka Chafotsa

DC Youth League leader Thuso Litjobo (left) and sec­re­tary-gen­eral Le­tuka Chafotsa. FI­NANCE Min­is­ter Dr ‘Mam­phono Khaketla

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