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‘Cabinet must stay away from tender and procurement processes’

DEVELOPMENT Planning minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, recently toured 20 government projects across the country and made shocking findings most of the projects remained incomplete despite that the government had paid out at least M2, 8 billion to the contractors.

Some of the projects have remained unfinished since 2013 despite that the government had fully paid the contractors who won the tenders to implement the projects. This points to corruption and negligence on the part of successive governments that have ruled the country since 2013.

But it will no longer be business as usual after Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro ordered ministers and principal secretaries (PSs) to follow up on the projects, ensure their full implementation and report to him within given time frames.

Lesotho Times’ (LT) reporter Ntsebeng Motsoeli this week sat down with Mr Mochoboroane and he spoke about the role of his ministry in coordinating efforts to ensure full implementation.

He said that corruption by government officials was behind the delays in the implementation of some government projects.

He also said ministers should leave tendering processes to civil servants whom they must monitor to curb corruption. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

LT: What is your general view on the performance of government’s ongoing projects? 

Mochoboroane: We have a serious challenge when it comes to the management of state resources. For instance, about M2, 8 billion has been spent in 20 capital projects since 2013. Some of the projects have been extremely costly to implement because they have taken longer that they had initially been hoped to take.

For instance, the Koranta to Makopela rural electrification project which had initially been hoped to cost M9, 3 million but ended up attracting an extra cost of M4, 5 million… This problem is caused by the lack of poor supervision, monitoring and evaluation of government projects.

LT: Some water supply projects have been affected by design flaws. What does this mean about the expertise of those who are entrusted with designing government projects? 

Mochoboroane: There is a serious challenge with designs for public projects. There are two water projects where this problem was evident. One is in Ha-Sekheke in Matelile, which is meant to supply water to five villages. The project is completed and infrastructure is in place but the problem is that there is no water. The reason is that the project was poorly designed.

The pipes are placed upslope; hence the water cannot flow. There is neither a plan to pump the water to a reservoir from which gravity would enable it to flow for supply. The budget has already been exhausted but the project does not give the anticipated results.

The second project is a M123 million water project in Matukeng, Leribe. The project has also been completed but the beneficiaries still do not have access to water. The plan was that the Rural Water Supply would draw water from the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) reservoirs.

However, the equipment used by the two entities was not compatible for water flow. An additional M40 million was spent in rectifying the problems and building larger reservoirs for uninterrupted water supply. The extra M40 million was not even budgeted initially.

LT: What must the government do to ensure that such challenges are minimised? 

Mochoboroane: All government projects must be fully implemented… Projects must firstly be introduced to the public. Their progress must be monitored closely so that any challenges may be identified and addressed immediately. Then they should be evaluated upon completion to determine whether or not they have served the purpose for which they were intended.

Concept notes must be developed at the initiation stages of the projects. These must be presented to the Ministry of Development Planning. If such concepts get the greenlight, they should be developed into proposals which will be accompanied by environmental impact assessments. Feasibility studies should show the viability of the projects and their anticipated social and economic benefits.

LT: How much has been lost in these botched projects? 

Mochoboroane: Although I cannot call it a loss because it is simply money that is not benefitting the people, the amount is about M2, 8 billion.

LT: Dr Majoro recently identified corruption by government officials as one of the factors behind the failure to fully implement government projects. What are your thoughts regarding this sentiment?

 Mochoboroane: I agree with the Prime Minister that corruption is one of the biggest problems. For example, M7, 8 million has been paid to the contractor in the ‘Melikane park homes project but the park homes have not been built. The question is, how do you initiate a payment and issue a (recognition) certificate where work has not been done? How do you pay a claim where the work was not done? How do chief accounting officers (principal secretaries) authorise payment where work has not been done? It says that people must be held accountable.

There was a time when civil servants were inducted at the Institute of Development Management (IDM) to teach them their responsibilities. Corruption is rampant now because such trainings are no longer provided to impart to them the values or professionalism. It should be instilled in them that they cannot process payments without full demonstration that the work that they are paying for has been done.

Civil servants are untroubled (by corruption) because of the laxity of law enforcement agencies. Our law enforcement agencies are very weak when it comes to enforcing the law.

LT: There has been rampant corruption in tendering and implementing projects. How best do you think tendering should be handled with fair competition and do you think ministers should be part of tendering processes?

Mochoboroane: Tendering processes pose a serious challenge. This is seen where ministries cannot produce procurement plans and cannot be held accountable in implementing the plans as intended.

This encourages them to deliberately delay tendering processes if the tenders are not rewarded to their preferred contractors. They delay the process until selective tendering is applied because this is a process that they can manipulate… thereby picking their preferred contractors.

When the tendering processes are not monitored, civil servants are easily lured into corrupt practices in the absence of that watchful eye. The monitors should be the chief accounting officers and the political heads of ministries. Ministers should be conversant with strategic plans for their respective ministries.

They should be up-to-date with developments in individual ministries’ plans of action. If the plans of work do not meet the set timelines, then they will know something is wrong.

Ministers should not be part of the tendering process. Their roles are to provide policy directions. Unfortunately, with the advent of the coalition governments since 2012, there has been a bad tendency where ministers are involved in the procurement processes.

This is seen where there are cabinet decisions on procurement. There is always a serious problem whenever a procurement decision is influenced by cabinet. Cabinet would have misdirected itself by influencing a procurement decision.

Procurement must be a bottom-up and not a top-down approach where cabinet imposes decisions on government officers. Cabinet decisions must stop with government policies and leave the tendering and procurement to civil servants.

LT: What motivated your tour of government projects? Could it be your experience chairing the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC)? 

Mochoboroane: The tour was not motivated by the PAC findings. It was informed by the mandate of the Ministry of Development Planning which has a department of project cycle management.

There is also a monitoring and evaluation department. This means that I am dutybound to ensure that the mandate is fulfilled. That is why I had to draw plan with my officers to go onto the ground to monitor the projects.

LT: There is a significant delay in finalising projects like the construction of the Maseru Hospital and Eye Clinic, the Ramarothole Energy Plant and the Mpilo Boulevard project. What is delaying the implementation of these projects?

Mochoboroane: The Queen II (Maseru Eye Clinic) and Ramarothole projects have been included in the past three fiscal budgets now. I have realised that some of these projects were conceived as political decisions hence they take longer to be implemented because of their top-down approach.

In some of these projects, funding is sourced prematurely without following proper procedure. These two are some of the many overdue projects but I am hoping that they will soon be implemented.

I am hoping that in less than five months, there will be movement on the ground as far as implementation is concerned. We have already secured engineers from China for the Ramarothole project and we are already working on their visas.

The expectation is that the Queen II contractors will soon send their list so that we can also prepare their visas. Once international traveling is allowed, the work will begin.

LT: How are these delays impacting on plans such as the National Vision 2020 and the National Development Strategic Plan?

 Mochoboroane: Top of the priorities of the NSDP II is building infrastructure to enable economic activity. The delays cost us such infrastructure. For example, the hospital will provide social services.

The Ramarothole Power Project will boost our economy because generating our own electricity will help us save the M500 million that we spend on purchasing power from South Africa. That is a positive impact on our economy.

LT: What is your vision for the Ministry of Development Planning? What are your priorities and how do you hope to achieve them by 2022 when we go for elections?

 Mochoboroane: Our aim is to reach a point where the vision, plans and policies of the government are attained despite who is in power. We can translate that vision into reality by establishing a national planning commission whose work will be to supervise the implementation of public projects. That will ensure the sustainability and continuity of projects regardless of who is in power.

From 2012 to date, public programmes have been frustrated as a result of ever-changing governments. Projects are implemented and ditched as soon as governments change. This happens despite the NSDP which guides government priorities. I have realised that some politicians do not understand national priorities and they tend to implement their individual priorities at the expense of those of the nation.

For example, government budgets a human development programme to capacitate its human resource. Instead of capacitating the human resource, the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing takes the budgeted money to purchase defunct toothpick-making machines.

LT: Your ministry tends to overlap into other portfolios, does this not create friction between you and your cabinet colleagues?

 Mochoboroane: Mine is a coordinating portfolio along with those of Finance and Public Service. We oversee the functions of other ministries. My understanding is that all ministers and government officials understand the role of these three ministries. So far, I have not met any challenges from colleagues who may think that I am overstepping.

However, I appreciate that unlike in the past, ministers seem to understand that at the end of the day, they will be held accountable for what they did during their tenure in the office. I am happy that each minister wants to achieve greatness in their respective portfolio. We can ultimately collectively claim the success of the government. I toured the projects, compiled a report and presented it to the Prime Minister who in turn, instructed ministers and principal secretaries to see the full implementation of projects.

LT: Dr Majoro has spoken about attempts to bring down his government and this could be exacerbated by ongoing power struggles within his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party. How do you see this playing out? 

Mochoboroane: I cannot comment of the ABC issues. We will wait and see what happens. But what I can tell from my experience in the opposition is that we spent three years trying to over through the four parties’ coalition led by former prime minister Thomas Thabane. I think that those who are in opposition will try to do the same and that is their job. But it will take some time.

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