FORMER ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Principal Secretary, Makalo Theko, this week appeared before the Maseru Magistrate Court to face corruption charges in relation to the awarding of a 2015 fertiliser supply tender in 2015.
Mr Theko, who served as the ministry’s chief accounting officer until July 2016 when the then government of former premier Pakalitha Mosisili reshuffled Principal Secretaries, stands accused of being involved in corrupt deals.
He was hauled before the courts by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) on Monday.
Mr Theko was charged alongside Hippo Transport director Isaac Monokoane and the company, cited respectively as accused one to three. Both Messers Theko and Monokoane were released on M1000 bail each with a further M10 000 surety. They are due in court again on the 18th of this month.
The DCEO accused Mr Theko of abusing his functions or the position of his office, as PS and chairperson of the tender panel, by assisting Hippo Transport in violating the Public Procurement Regulations as well as the Treasury Regulations 2014 for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for the latter.
The charge sheet says that Mr Theko “is guilty of contravening section 21 (3) (b) of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act of 1999” during the months of August and September 2015.
“The accused being the Principal Secretary and Chief Accounting Officer of the ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and as such chairperson of the tender panel and a public officer intentionally abused the functions or position of his office in the performance or failure to perform to act; to wit; by assisting third accused in violation of the Public Procurement Regulations 2007 as well as Treasury Regulations 2014 for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for 3rd accused. Thus, committing the crime of corruption,” the charge sheet reads.
The DCEO also accuses Hippo Transport, Messers Theko and Monokoane of committing fraud in that they allegedly acted jointly, sharing a common goal, to pursue an unlawful purpose of deliberately making a false representation to the ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
The anti-graft body further accuses the three of working in cahoots to conceal from the ministry’s tender panel that the tender documents were used for a tender of supply of fertilisers “were correct and in order with intention that the ministry should act upon such representation to its detriment and thereby causing the ministry to so act”.
The accusations come hardly three months after Mr Monokoane hauled the DCEO to court, demanding a M11 million compensation for defamation and financial losses suffered by his company after the DCEO allegedly leaked a letter it wrote to him in July this year.
Mr Monokoane wants M11 million in damages which has been broken down as M10 million for loss of business and M1 million for the public ridicule he suffered as a result of the DCEO’s “unlawful and wrongful” leakage of the confidential letter.
The letter in question was written by the DCEO to Mr Monokoane requesting that he makes submissions in relation to a 2015 tender that Hippo Transport was awarded by the ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
The DCEO said it needed the information as part of its investigations into the same case that was brought against Messers Theko and Monokoane on Monday.
Hippo Transport’s core business is the provision of transport solutions and according to its website, it is one of the largest transport companies in Lesotho with a fleet of 92 heavy duty trucks and 21 small trucks. It also has interests in plant hire, property, tourism and brick manufacturing.
On the 10th of July this year, the DCEO wrote to Mr Monokoane requesting him to make a full disclosure of all his assets in and outside Lesotho as well as his sources of income within 21 days.
Among other things, the DCEO demanded his bank account details including the name of the bank, the year in which the account was opened, the opening balance, the current balance and any offshore accounts.
In terms of motor vehicles and other movable properties, Mr Monokoa was requested to furnish the DCEO with the registration numbers, engine and vehicle identification numbers. The DCEO also wanted information relating to when the vehicles and movable properties were acquired and how much Hippo Transport paid for them.
Mr Monokoane submitted a handwritten response on 16 July this year informing the DCEO that he did not understand English and asked the anti-corruption body to write to him in Sesotho.
A week later, Mr Monokoane’s response was leaked on social media and he alleges that the leakage resulted in him being subjected to public ridicule. He further alleges that the leakage cost him at least M10 million in lost earnings.
“The second plaintiff further pleads that the leakage of the confidential letter was and remains a malicious endeavour aimed at lowering him in esteem and for that reason he is compromised in the business circles and seen as a person who does not abide by the laws of the land in spite of the fact that no criminal charges have been laid against him.
“The said wrongful, unlawful and or utter breach of the law by the defendant and or its authorised agents occasioned substantial commercial damages to the first plaintiff and that adversely affected the company’s reputation and business dealings which attracted loss of business and prospective contracts to the tune of M10 million. The mentioned monies could have been secured through the business dealings of first plaintiff if it was not for the wrongful and or unlawful acts of the defendant through its agents.
“On the same note, the said wrongful, unlawful and or utter breach of the law by the defendant and or its authorised necessitated and attracted damages to the tune of M1 million owing to the damage caused to the personal reputation of the second plaintiff. The damage could have been avoided if it was not for the wrongful and or unlawful acts of the defendant through its agents,” Mr Monokoane said.
He said he was forced to approach the courts after the DCEO refused to pay the damages as communicated in a letter of demand to the anti-graft body on 27 July this year.