Govt should man­age pub­lic fi­nances well

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

WE are wor­ried by the lat­est claims by al­liance of Democrats (ad) leader monyane moleleki that the gov­ern­ment paid a stag­ger­ing a stag­ger­ing m600 mil­lion in a sin­gle fi­nan­cial year to Bid­vest Bank Lim­ited and re­cently fol­lowed this up with another m73 mil­lion in penal­ties after pre­ma­turely and uni­lat­er­ally ter­mi­nat­ing the con­tro­ver­sial fleet ser­vice con­tract it signed with the south african com­pany last year.

if any­thing, the al­le­ga­tions merely re­in­force our long-held view that gov­ern­ment should learn to prop­erly man­age pub­lic funds.

last Wed­nes­day, Fi­nance min­is­ter Tlo­hang sekhamane an­nounced the can­cel­la­tion of the con­tro­ver­sial ve­hi­cle fleet ser­vices con­tract with ef­fect from yes­ter­day and he ad­mit­ted that Bid­vest had milked the gov­ern­ment of mil­lions of mal­oti and the bills were spi­ral­ing to a point where it was dif­fi­cult to pay them off.

How­ever, mr sekhamane’s re­marks were only a par­tial ad­mis­sion of cul­pa­bil­ity as the min­is­ter did not make full dis­clo­sure of how much the gov­ern­ment owed or what it had al­ready paid to Bid­vest.

and so it was left to op­po­si­tion leader mr moleleki to pro­vide the pub­lic with a picture of what is in­volved in the ter­mi­na­tion of the deal.

as we re­port else­where in this edi­tion, mr moleleki made the m73 mil­lion claim while ad­dress­ing party sup­port­ers in Ha-marak­abei in the Buth a-but he dis­trict this week. Dis­clo­sure of how pub­lic fi­nances are ex­pended and for what rea­sons is not only a moral im­per­a­tive, it is a le­gal obli­ga­tion. Yet with this gov­ern­ment, in­for­ma­tion that must be dis­closed to the pub­lic, as a mat­ter of rou­tine, to foster trans­parency is wrapped un­der a veil of se­crecy. such be­hav­ior only height­ens sus­pi­cions. mr moleleki is hardly the ap­pro­pri­ate source of dis­clo­sures over the par­a­sitic fleet ten­der. But since he was part of the sys­tem un­til very re­cently, we can take his word for it.

While some will query mr moleleki’s claims, in the ab­sence of the gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial fig­ures, the essence of his ar­gu­ment is rooted in fact and re­al­ity for it is al­ways the case that pre­ma­ture ter­mi­na­tion of bind­ing con­tracts at­tracts mone­tary penal­ties. it is in­deed a sad de­vel­op­ment and yet it is one that could have been avoided if gov­ern­ment had cho­sen the trans­par­ent, ef­fi­cient and cost-sav­ing path af­forded by ob­serv­ing the dic­tates of pru­dent pub­lic fi­nance man­age­ment.

Un­less of course, there are self­ish mo­tives of self­en­rich­ment, there is ab­so­lutely no rea­son why gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials must es­chew trans­parency and due dili­gence be­fore en­ter­ing con­tracts that in­volve a mas­sive out­lay of scarce pub­lic re­sources.

But what­ever the rea­sons, we need to move for­ward as a coun­try and em­bark on a new path of fol­low­ing due process to not only con­serve scare re­sources but to also en­gen­der pub­lic trust and confidence in gov­ern­ment. Had it been just the Bid­vest deal then one could say it was prob­a­bly a rare over­sight or act of omis­sion. But there is clearly a trend of con­tro­ver­sial and du­bi­ous deal mak­ing. a case in point is the deal with nikuv, an is­raeli com­pany which was orig­i­nally awarded a m300 mil­lion ten­der in 2012 to com­put­erise the coun­try’s bor­der-con­trol sys­tem and pro­duce elec­tronic pass­ports birth and death cer­tifi­cates and na­tional iden­tity Doc­u­ments (ids).

Just like the Bid­vest deal, nikuv was awarded the lu­cra­tive con­tract with­out an open pub­lic ten­der. gov­ern­ment was sub­se­quently left with egg on its face in De­cem­ber 2016 when an is­raeli court con­victed nikuv of brib­ing le­sotho’s former Home af­fairs prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary (PS) Retšelisit­soe Khetsi to in­flu­ence the award­ing of the ten­der. The court fined Nikuv NIS 4.5 mil­lion (about M16.4 mil­lion) for brib­ing Mr Khetsi.

and this could have been avoided by fol­low­ing the due process of open pub­lic ten­der and also due dili­gence on the is­raeli com­pany.

sim­ple desk­top in­ter­net re­search would show that nikuv has at­tracted con­tro­versy over its deal­ings with gov­ern­ments in other african coun­tries in­clud­ing Zam­bia and Zim­babwe. The dam­age has been done but it is not too late for any in­com­ing gov­ern­ment after the June elec­tions to start on a fresh slate and foster a cul­ture of good gov­er­nance and pru­dent ad­min­is­tra­tion of pub­lic funds.

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