TENDER ROW DEEPENS
. . . as businessman accused of soliciting bribe threatens to lodge M 1.5m lawsuit against DC
AN unprecedented feud in the Democratic Congress (DC) over a lucrative government tender has escalated dramatically with a businessman accused by the party’s youth league of soliciting for a M4 million bribe on behalf of Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla demanding an immediate public apology from the party’s national leadership or M1.5 million in compensatory damages for defamation of his character.
In a strongly-worded letter to DC secretary-general Ralechate ’Mokose this week, the businessman, Thabo Napo, who is also a staunch DC supporter, demanded to know whether the youth league convened its press conference last week, at which it made the sensational claims, with the blessings of the party’s national leadership.
Mr Napo then demands that the party convenes a press conference to retract the statements made by its youth league, take disciplinary action against youth league leaders or pay him M1,5 million in damages, failing which he would take his own party to court.
Mr Napo issued his demands as chief government spokesman, Communications, Science and Technology Minister Khotso Letsatsi, vowed this week there was no going back on the decision by the government to award the fleet tender to a South African company, Bidvest Fleet Services.
The minister said the government had already signed a contract with Bidvest and was now in the process of taking delivery of the first batch of 300 vehicles envisaged under the deal that will involve about 1 200 vehicles. The government’s stance, as pronounced by Mr Letsatsi, seems to have dealt a severe blow to a joint venture company comprising of Fleet Service Lesotho (Pty) Ltd and Lebelonyane (Pty) Ltd (Fleet Services), which is claiming the right to operate the fleet contract and has been unrelenting in staking its claim.
In an extraordinary move last week, the DC youth league convened a press conference to denounce one of the party’s senior members, Dr Khaketla, accusing her of ditching a tender process that should have been awarded to the joint venture company because the company allegedly refused to pay her a M4 million bribe through Mr Napo.
The claim has now stirred a hornet’s nest in the DC with Mr Napo demanding that the party’s leadership take equally extra-ordinary measures to come to his defence and rebuke the youth league.
Mr ‘Mokose declined to comment on Mr Napo’s demands when contacted this week. But DC executive secretary, Tsie Sekoere, confirmed to the Lesotho Times he had received the letter and forwarded it to Mr ’Mokose, “because it was addressed to him”.
The DC youth league, led by its president Thuso Litjobo and secretary-general Chafotsa Letuka, launched a blistering attack on Dr Khaketla at last week’s press conference, effectively accusing her of gross corruption in the manner in which she handled the government fleet management tender.
The government had since cancelled the tender process, opting to instead extend its original six month contract with Bidvest into a new four-year contract for the South African company to manage the fleet. The joint venture company is now seeking a reversal of the government’s decision in the courts, arguing that it should have been awarded the tender.
The firm claims it had been shortlisted for the tender after scoring the highest number of points, 81.85 against 68.21 for the other shortlisted bidder, Avis Fleet Services, trading as Seahlolo.
The DC youth league was adamant during the press conference that Dr Khaketla had short-circuited the tender process to award a four-year deal to Bidvest because the joint venture company had refused to accede to her request for a M4 million bribe which the league claimed was made on the minister’s behalf by Mr Napo, who was described by the DC youths as the minister’s “personal friend”.
Mr Letuka claimed that Dr Khaketla had been heard claiming the joint venture company would get the tender “at Nyenye’s Cross” (a common Sesotho phrase meaning that one never gets anything easily) unless the company acceded to Mr Napo’s request. Mr Letuka said the decision not to award the contract to the joint venture company had severely prejudiced Basotho as awarding the contract to Bidvest would result in capital flight to South Africa, an allegation denied by Mr Letsatsi who insisted that Basotho would still benefit under the terms agreed with Bidvest.
Among Mr Napo’s demands is for the party to take disciplinary action against Messrs Litjobo and Letuka.
Mr Napo has also demanded the DC leadership holds a press conference to retract all statements made by its youth league and apologise to him within seven days from 28 July 2016, the date on which his lawyer, Advocate Lepeli Molapo, dispatched a letter of demand to DC secretary-general Mr ’Mokose.
Signed by Advocate Molapo, the letter to the DC partly reads: “We are the legal representatives of Thabo Napo, a well-known and established businessman currently employed as Managing Director of a company called Seithati Cleaning Services and Matsoatlareng Car Wash, and also their shareholder. Our client is further a very active member in politics and, through his activism, has garnered a lot of support in the community as an affiliate for the political party, Democratic Congress, and these supporters have a lot of faith and trust in our client.”
The letter then explains how as a staunch supporter of the DC, Mr Napo’s reputation had been badly wounded by the claims that he tried to solicit a bribe for himself and the Minister.
“When this statement was made by these members of the Executive Youth League Committee (sic) of the Democratic Congress, they knew very well that this statement was not true because our client is not a member of government nor does he hold any influence over the honourable Minister of Finance, and neither did such a meeting take place.
“Our instructions are to demand, as we hereby do, that you should confirm whether indeed the two members of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Congress Youth League, being answerable to the National Executive Committee of the Democratic Congress, were acting under your directive to hold the said press conference, prepare and distribute the said defamatory press release which depicted our client as a corrupt person who solicits bribes on behalf of honourable ministers of government of the day is ostensibly corrupt through its members (sic) of cabinet.
“We humbly request for this clarification because in a press interview held on 27 July 2016 at Radio Lesotho, the Public Relations and Media Officer of the National Executive Committee of the Democratic Congress did not refute or distance the National Executive Committee from the contents of the press release by the Executive Committee of the Democratic Congress Youth League but merely showed the displeasure (sic) that the National Executive Committee will address in a coming meeting without coming out forthright to condemn the ill-discipline by the youth league members and refuting contents of the press release.
“On this basis, pursuant to the response or non-response to this our letter (sic), our instructions through the principle of vicarious liability are to demand, as we hereby do, that you immediately call another press briefing wherein you are required to retract the contents of the press release issued on 26 July 2016 by the Executive Committee of the Youth League of the Democratic Congress and you accordingly publicly apologise to our client over and above taking disciplinary measures against these youths, Thuso Litjobo and Chafotsa Letuka, and further reimburse him for the legal fees incurred thus far.
“In the event that our first demand is not acceded to within seven day of this our letter, we are instructed to demand that our client be compensated M1.5 million as damages for defamation of character, failing which our further instructions are to institute a civil action to claim compensation and in that event we shall also claim for a costs order.” The letter is also copied to Mr Litjobo and Mr Letuka.
Minister Khaketla has persistently refused to comment.