DCEO boss Manyokole defies board on Thibeli’s reinstatement

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Pascalinah Kabi

A DISPUTE has erupted between the director general of the Directorate on Corruption and   Economic Offences (DCEO), Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole, and the DCEO’s board of directors after the former defied the board’s directive to reinstate suspended Chief Investigations Officer, Thabiso Thibeli.

A defiant Adv Manyokole has since asked new Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao to intervene in the dispute.

Adv Manyokole succeeded Borotho Matsoso as DCEO boss on 8 July 2019. One of his first actions was to suspend the highly regarded Mr Thibeli for allegedly disobeying an order to hand over files of cases he was investigating as well as firearms and an inventory of all exhibits in his custody to Adv Manyokole himself at 9am on 19 July 2019.

Adv Manyokole did not explain why he needed everything he had demanded.

While Adv Manyokole’s suspension letter to Mr Thibeli stated that the move to suspend the latter was prompted by allegations of misconduct, some sources within the DCEO insisted the real reason was to stop Mr Thibeli from continuing with investigations into high profile cases which involve senior politicians and other connected individuals suspected of impropriety in the procurement of vehicles for the government’s fleet services. Advocate Manyokole’s actions also opened him to widespread allegations on social media that he had been an appointee of the now fallen ex-first Lady “Maesaiah Thabane, catapulted into that post, without any prior prosecutorial experience to protect the interests of the First Lady and her corrupt cabal. It was also alleged Mr Manyokole had been deployed to frustrate the prosecution of former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who had been caught in a corrupt multi-million maloti road construction project, but was at that time being courted by ex-premier  Thabane for political expediency.  Nothing has been heard of that case since Mr Manyokole took over.

Adv Manyokole had, however, rubbished all those allegations against him, insisting that he had no ulterior motives in seeking to suspend Mr Thibeli. He said allegations that he had been strategically appointed to the DCEO to take instructions from Mr Thabane and his then powerful wife regarding who should be investigated or shielded from scrutiny were grossly unfounded and unfair.

But almost a year on from the suspension, Mr Thibeli has not been charged with any misconduct, raising serious motives about how the corruption busting Mr Thibeli had been suspended in the first place.  This, according to DCEO board chairperson Moshoeshoe Sehloho, led to the DCEO board convening a meeting on 27 May 2020 to discuss Mr Thibeli’s fate.

He said Adv Manyokole was summoned to that meeting to explain his position on Mr Thibeli but allegedly declined to attend.

Never-the-less, the board discussed the issue on their own and resolved that Mr Thibeli should be reinstated with effect from 28 May 2020.

“As the chairperson of the DCEO, I instructed the DCEO director general (Adv Manyokole) to call a board meeting whose agenda was for the director general to brief the board about the circumstances surrounding the suspension of Thabiso Thibeli,” Mr Sehloho said.

“It has been 10 months now since Thibeli was suspended and he is still earning his salary. The director general did not show up at the (27 May 2020) meeting for reasons which were not advanced to the board. We (DCEO board) discussed the matter and decided that Mr Thibeli’s suspension must be lifted.

“We then directed the director general to write to Mr Thibeli informing him to report to work on 28 May 2020 but that has not happened.” Mr Sehloho said.

Adv Manyokole refused to comment on the matter, saying he had already sought the intervention of Prof Mahao.

“I cannot comment because I have escalated the matter to the Minister of Justice (Prof Mahao) and he is handling it. There is a whole lot of things I would like to tell you but I do not want to disrespect him (Prof Mahao),” Adv Manyokole said.

Prof Mahao this week confirmed that he was dealing with the “disagreements” between Adv Manyokole and his board.

“It is true that I am handling the matter of the disagreement between him (Adv Manyokole) and the board.

“We had a meeting with the board and the director general sometime last week and I asked them for certain documents. As I speak to you, I am going through the documents concerning the matter and it would be premature for me to comment whilst I am still studying the issue,” Prof Mahao said on Tuesday.

Some sources at the DCEO told the Lesotho Times that Mr Thibeli’s troubles began after he summoned and interrogated a well-known businessman, Teboho Tlokotsi, in relation to a fraud case involving the procurement of vehicles for the government fleet from locals.

The then Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro first announced in March 2018 that cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who include taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women’s groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.

Others who were excluded from tendering are senior government officials such as directors in the ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers.

The Finance ministry however, received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as “fronts” when the tender bids were submitted last September.

The DCEO was subsequently roped in to investigate these allegations and sources said it discovered that some desperate vehicle owners were made to pay as much as M40 000 to have their vehicles leased to the government.

Mr Tlokotsi was later charged by the DCEO alongside Tumo Ramonaheng, with corruption in the procurement of the government vehicle fleet in November 2019.

Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng appeared before Maseru Magistrate, Senekale Qobolo, who released them on M2000 bail each.

According to the charge sheet, the two are charged with contravening the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act after allegedly “accepting or attempting to accept” bribes totalling M234 000 from the Democratic Congress’ Senqu legislator, Likeleli Tampane, and several others to facilitate the hiring of their vehicles for the government fleet.

The case is still pending before the courts.

 

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