STAKES are expected to be high when the National Assembly reopens on Friday next week in light of escalating internecine fights in the coalition government’s biggest party, Democratic Congress (DC).
The DC National Executive Committee (NEC) last Friday broke ranks with the government over its decision to award a vehicle fleet contract to Bidvest Fleet Company, calling for its termination so it can be awarded to a joint venture company fighting the deal. The NEC has also distanced itself from a protest march organised by outspoken politician Bokang Ramatšella on 18 September 2016 and meant to show solidarity with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and the coalition government.
Analysts posit the rift between two factions in the DC — Lithope (loosely translated to girlfriends) linked to Dr Mosisili and Lirurubele (butterflies) linked to his deputy Monyane Moleleki – was finally coming to a head with the likelihood of a split when parliament opens.
In this wide ranging interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane speaks to DC Deputy Secretary-General, Refiloe Litjobo, on this and other related issues.
LT: As the DC NEC, you have pronounced your stance on allegations of corruption in your government. Do you have a strategy to express your concerns to government when parliament reopens next week?
Litjobo: You have to understand that we gave the media our position as the Democratic Congress National Executive Committee. Our position is dictated by the party constitution. That means everybody who is a DC member is bound by the very same constitution. It forms the purpose, vision or pillars that we really have to observe. We are against corruption whether we are in government or not. This means we don’t even need a particular strategy when parliament reopens next month. What we have in parliament is the party MPs’ (members of parliament) caucus. That’s where we discuss issues. I think as parliament reopens, this is where we are going to raise issues within the caucus. But then you have to understand the caucus is a different forum from the NEC. The caucus is led by different people, though it is part of the party structures. We don’t need to plan beyond what the caucus will discuss when parliament reopens next month.
LT: What do you say to claims that when the National Assembly reopens, the DC will split into two entities led by Dr Mosisili and Mr Moleleki, thereby collapsing the coalition government?
Litjobo: Ntate Mosisili is the leader of the party. He is leading every one of us, including the deputy leader Ntate Moleleki. Whether you are in the Lirurubele or Lithope camp, Ntate Mosisili is our leader. He is the last person to take sides. I don’t agree with the notion he will take a side between Lirurubele or Lithope. I don’t believe that unless there is something in the horizon I don’t see at the moment. But until then, I don’t see how Ntate Mosisili would take one side come 7 October 2016. But for the deputy leader, yes it’s permissible that he can lead a faction. People have been calling us Lirurubele and Lithope. Ntate Moleleki might be in one of the two; I don’t know. But what has to be understood is that I don’t see DC splitting because of the principles.
Remember we are talking about corruption here. If the DC can split because of a principle to fight corruption as enshrined in the party constitution, which would mean we already had some people within our party who didn’t subscribe to the party principle and therefore were not truly members of the DC. They don’t understand the nature of the organisation; what it stands for; the shared visions and norms. Here we are talking about one of the pillars – to fight corruption and all its forms. If people will decide to split because we are addressing the fundamental issue here that affects people’s lives, then it means there is something wrong with the DC; we have wrong people in the party. I don’t expect our leaders to be leading factions. What the NEC did was to remind everyone the DC doesn’t subscribe to any form of corruption. It is even worse when corruption takes place in the government we lead. People are expecting us to deliver.
LT: During a rally Mr Moleleki held in Machache constituency on Sunday, he mentioned a rumour going round he intended to topple the government. Can you elaborate on this?
Litjobo: He definitely said that. It is true some people are engaging in a smear campaign against the DC deputy leader. People also fear he is going to cause this government to collapse. I don’t see how. Ntate Moleleki is part of the same government. He is one of the senior ministers in this government. It is bad for people to always hide behind the leader when we are addressing serious issues like corruption. It is equally bad for people to assume Ntate Moleleki is on a mission to topple the government when he is actually pronouncing himself and taking a stance against corruption. I don’t see how Ntate Moleleki can revolt against a government he is part of.
Those people claiming Ntate Moleleki is on a mission to topple Ntate Mosisili are very new in politics. We have a problem of politics of the belly or hunger in the party. Such people peddle propaganda to destabilise the party. All they want are positions they don’t deserve. These people have been busy with their propaganda since the inception of this government. They just keep changing topics to destabilise the party. They do nothing else other than to distract the leadership of the party. There are people who believe they are a parallel structure within the party and can decide on certain issues affecting the party. So for them to survive or gain power they have to engage in smear campaigns. They can even walk on blood to get to where they want to go.
LT: Are these people you are referring to members of the DC?
Litjobo: Yes they are. They are even ministers though I won’t mention their names for now. They are the ones telling Basotho that something dramatic is going to happen when parliament reopens. They are just merchants of doom.
LT: On the press conference you held on Friday, did other members of the DC NEC, particularly Dr Mosisili and Dr Khaketla, endorse your gathering and the agenda?
Litjobo: We have about five cabinet ministers who are members of the DC NEC. These are party leader Ntate Mosisili, deputy leader Ntate Moleleki, secretary-general Ntate Ralechate ’Mokose, the editor Ntate Tsukutlane Au, treasurer Dr Khaketla and the women’s league leader Dr Pontšo Sekatle. You will realise all the ministers were not present at the NEC’s press conference on Friday. What is important is that we made a resolution on 26 August 2016. According to the party constitution, all the resolutions of the NEC are binding to all members of the party. Whether you were part of the meeting that made the resolution or not, you are bound to comply with the resolution. Every sitting is competent to make a decision as long as the composition is okay. The resolutions made by the NEC under the circumstances mentioned above are binding, not only to other members of the NEC who might not have been present in the meeting, but to every other structure in the party.
Coming to their availability at the press conference, it would really be abnormal for ministers to be available at a press conference which was clearly speaking against one of them. The press conference discussed an issue that concerned cabinet ministers. They are privy to certain information that we don’t even know. It was better to have the press conference without the ministers because it would not be proper.
LT: How serious are allegations about “some people” you mentioned in the press conference that they are conspiring to “eliminate” Mr Moleleki?
Litjobo: That one is fundamentally true. I cannot elaborate on it because there are a number of sensitivities around it, but it’s true. It is only proper to say we were not just making an allegation. There are other people who see Ntate Moleleki as a stumbling block and want to deal with him. For them to get the premiership, they want him eliminated.
LT: You accuse Dr Khaketla of canceling the fleet management tender. As DC MPs, what was your reaction when the minister made a presentation on this issue in the National Assembly on 13 July 2016?
Litjobo: Let’s look at it this way; the minister comes in parliament and announces cabinet has decided to cancel the tender because there is just too much to do regarding the tender. She says time is not on their side for all those processes. She tells us the government needs to take a new direction and give some work to Bidvest for some technical management of the fleet – computerised management of the fleet. Mind you she was saying that while not telling us the job was not advertised. She didn’t give details to that effect. We were not aware at the time Bidvest was just handpicked and catapulted to provide the government with a range of fleet services. It sounded like a good initiative when the minister mentioned how the deal was going to benefit ordinary Basotho through leasing of their vehicles under the new arrangement. We realised later that the stage at which this deal was made compromised the integrity of our government because they cancelled the tender at the stage where it had already been awarded to another local company (Lebelonyane). It was awarded; what was left was just for the minister to issue a letter of award to Lebelonyane because the evaluation team had finalised its task to identify the preferred bidder. If we had these details at the time the minister made her presentation in parliament in July, we could have had so many questions to ask her.
LT: Are you are aware that as much as the government announced it was going to buy 600 vehicles and source the other 600 cars from Basotho, according to the contract they signed with Bidvest on 10 August 2016, the cars were not bought but rented from Bidvest until the contract lapses in 2020? In fact, even after the contract lapses, the cars will go back to Bidvest, as per the contract?
Litjobo: In the first place, the government of Lesotho is not supposed to have signed any contract with Bidvest post the six-month period in which the company was previously awarded the tender. Remember the public was told that Bidvest was not going to bid for the next tender after the lapsing of its six-month short-term contract. However, Bidvest did not even tender for the fleet management contract yet it was awarded the long-term contract without competition. What is it that our government owes so much to Bidvest? Whatever contract in place between the government and Bidvest is not supposed to be there, to be fair and honest. If we are running a responsive and transparent government which does not entertain any corruption and is sensitive to the economy of this country, we should not be having any contract with Bidvest at the moment. Remember the same contract the government had signed with Avis before Bidvest cost the government around M30 million per month, but the new Bidvest contract is costing us over M60 million a month – a whopping 100 percent increase! What happened within such a short space of time? What is even more disturbing over this Bidvest deal is that we have even established that some ministers and parliamentarians have already bought many cars to lease them to the government under this deal. It doesn’t look like ordinary Basotho are going to benefit from this deal the way the Finance minister put it.