Health minister, PS in nasty fight
- after Manyokole removed from post
HEALTH Ministry Principal Secretary (PS), Lefu Manyokole, has been removed from his post.
However, Mr Manyokole is not letting it lying down and has launched a blistering attack on his line minister Nkaku Kabi whom he accuses of corruption.
Mr Manyokole insisted he had been “fired” from his job over his efforts to rid the ministry of graft. But Government Secretary (GS) Moahloli Mphaka, yesterday denied that Mr Manyokole had been fired, saying he had only been transferred to a new post as PS for economic Affairs as part of efforts to “realign our human resources to improve efficiency and performance”.
“The fact is that I have been fired from Health. Finish and Klaar,” declared Mr Manyokole. The corruption of the Indians has brought me down but the truth will never be defeated. The truth will always set you free. It shall set me free.”
Minister Kabi has nonetheless rubbished Mr Manyokole’s claims, saying his former PS had made the proper functioning of the ministry impossible via his abrasive approach and refusal to sign documents for efficient service delivery. Mr Manyokole, the minister charged, would not sign critical documents, including payment vouchers to suppliers, unless officials knelt to beg him. The minister said there had been no bad blood between him and his former PS. The later had just made the efficient running of the ministry impossible.
Mr Manyokole, who was only six months into his job as health PS after being transferred from the Prime Minister’s office where he had worked as Dr Thomas Thabane’s Principal Private Secretary (PPS), indeed conceded that he had refused to sign certain payment vouchers to suppliers but insisted he had valid reasons for doing so.
He said he had refused to be stampeded by Minister Kabi into authorising “corrupt” payments that would have prejudiced Basotho of millions. Mr Manyokole also accused Minister Kabi of seeking to abuse money that has been paid for cannabis licences after Lesotho became the first African country to allow the commercial production of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“Government revenue is not for personal use and it should be deposited into the consolidated fund,” said Mr Manyokole.
“These are some of the things that have made me a leper. There is no way an official can demand government revenue through a phone call, I will not allow that. They wanted that money to buy (Toyota) Fortuners and afterwards claim that they will use those cars to go and inspect cannabis fields.”
Mr Manyokole said the main bone of contention between him and Mr Kabi was a multi-million dollar contract he said had been irregularly awarded to an Indian company called Verobien Healthcare for the supply of an assortment of medical equipment to Lesotho.
Mr Manyokole said the contract between Verobien Healthcare and the ministry did not provide for the ministry to bear the costs of travel, accommodation and meals for that company’s staff members to come and install the equipment in Lesotho.
Mr Manyokole said he had also informed Mr Kabi that while the contract allowed for price escalation of a maximum 17 percent, the actual increase claimed by Verobien Healthcare was in fact more than 20 percent, with a potential prejudice to Lesotho of more than four million maloti.
He said he had written to Minister Kabi highlighting the irregularity in the price escalation from an initial M33, 4 million to a higher figure of about M40.1 million including some M2 million cost for “inland logistics” from Maseru to the delivery destinations which had not been properly tabulated to indicate how it had been arrived at.
Even though the Ministry had already paid about M25, 1 million to Verobian Healthcare, Mr Kabi said he had refused to sign all the remaining payments which he said had been “corruptly inflated”.
“I asked Kabi that if he wants me to sign, then he should instruct me to do so with a letter but he refused. Why? Because he knows it’s illegal. He understands that very well, but he wanted me to perform an illegal act and I refused. That is our main bone of contention.”
“He (Kabi) also says people had to kneel before me to make me sign. I say hard luck for those who had to kneel because I am accountable and responsible. I just don’t sign things. I have to make thorough checks of everything brought before me for signing, especially anything related to many millions. Ntsu Mokhehle used to say ‘government does not hurry because government must not make mistakes’. I live by that Mokhehle dictum,” declared the former Health PS.
“This project involved M40 million of public funds. So how was I expected to just sign things like that? Hell no.”
Mr Manyokole said he had also suspected that Verobien Healthcare had improper ties with the ministry’s procurement manager Tsietsi Mosae, who had visited India twice, and had to scrutinise the deal for that reason.
“The fact remains that what came between me and the minister is this company called Verobien. We did not see eye to eye after we fought over my signature. Those Indians had escalated their prices outside of the agreement that they signed with the Ministry of Health.
“These Indians thus brought corruption to our officials and I was trying to fight that. I was unhappy with our procurement manager being at the centre of everything. He is the secretary for the tender panel but he had travelled to India twice for this deal…..I again ask, to do what? It’s prohibited by law that any member of the tender panel have any direct or indirect relationship with the offer companies,” charged Manyokole.
He said Verobien Healthcare had totally failed to justify the price escalations which would have prejudiced Lesotho of millions.
“They kept coming up with (flimsy) excuses in an attempt to justify the ballooning of the tender price. Some of the reasons were that this was due to transportation costs but these had been factored into the initial agreement. I don’t know why the minister insisted that I pay those people.
“I told him that it was wrong of us to pay those people because they had wrongfully increased the prices. At the centre of it all is our procurement manager (Mr Mosae). He and Dr Nyane Letsie (Director General of Health Services) went to India twice but my understanding is that they never went to the Verobien factory, not even once, to establish the company’s bonafides and inspect and check on the equipment before delivery…Why? What was the procurement manager’s interests with this company…These are all questions I had to ask.
“We dispatched them to India to make sure that everything was in order but they came back with nothing. The only thing that surprisingly happened after their return was the increase in the prices of the tender. The suppliers now wanted the ministry to pay for the visas, accommodation, food and so many other things that were supposed to be taken care of by Verobien as per the contract.
“Again, I want you to state in your story that the truth always wins and the truth of the matter is that that deal to buy equipment from India is the bone of contention between me and Kabi…This deal should never have happened ,” charged Mr Manyokole.
He said although he did not know if Mr Kabi was involved in any way with Verobien Healthcare, he was worried by the persistent pressure the minister consistently put on him to get that company paid notwithstanding all the concerns he had raised.
“In the final analysis and in a nutshell he (Mr Kabi) and Dr Letsie wanted me to sign what were clearly fraudulent over inflated payment vouchers to Verobien. I could not do that. I would be jailed if I did.
“Thomas Thabane’s agenda is to fight white collar crime, which has been partly brought here by the Indians, via this Verobien Health Care deal.
“That very agenda is what I was trying to implement by ensuring that these Indians did not corrupt officials of Lesotho. This company had an agenda to rob the Basotho millions. I was merely trying to stop that.
Mr Manyokole denied allegations in some quarters that he was reshuffled from the health ministry for soliciting a cut in a M16 million project for the demolition of Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru. The hospital is supposed to be demolished to pave way for the construction of a new, bigger hospital.
“What type of nonsense is that? The minister (Kabi) knows very well that Hlalele (Public Works principal secretary Mothabathe Hlalele) wanted the ministry to pay his people M29 million for the demolition of Queen Elizabeth II Hospital and I refused. I made it clear that the demolition will cost the budgeted M16 million.
“I am clean, I am not corrupt at all. They are corrupt. Mosae from procurement, the Director General (Letsie) and the minister (Kabi) are corrupt and they know very well that I didn’t award the tender for the Queen II demolition to anyone. Ask them to show you any proof that I awarded the tender and demanded a share and they will not do that. There is no one who can stand and claim that I awarded them contracts for corrupt gains.”
He said instead of acknowledging his efforts to fight corruption in the ministry, he was instead being victimised.
“I am telling you that I have been fired from the ministry for fighting corruption. Why are you telling me that I was transferred when I am telling you that I was fired and I don’t even have an office now? I am a victim of my efforts to root out corruption in the Ministry of Health. I have evidence that I will release not only to you but to the whole world.”
On his part, Mr Kabi told the Lesotho Times that there was no bad blood between him and his former PS. He however, accused Mr Manyokole of frustrating the efficient administration of the ministry by flatly refusing to sign documents unless people kneeled before him.
“We never had any bad blood at all just that he (Mr Manyokole) was afraid to sign anything and that literally stalled everything. He would tell people that he wouldn’t sign anything unless they physically knelt before him,” Mr Kabi said.
He rubbished allegations that he was part of a syndicate to defraud the ministry. He said efforts to install equipment by the Indian firm’s employees had been frustrated by Mr Manyokole’s refusal to sign paperwork for the renewal of their work permits.
“Those people could not complete the processes of mounting the beds in different hospitals around the country because he refused to sign documents for the renewal of their work permits. He wanted to be begged to do his job and those Indians left the country without completing the processes of mounting the beds.
“As we speak, some of the equipment that was procured from the India has not been mounted because of his refusal to sign documents. He literally frustrated the ministry and he enjoyed it.”
Mr Manyokole said he had questioned the poor quality of the beds and the paid to Verobien Healthcare.
Mr Kabi also accused Mr Manyokole of refusing to issue contracts to caterers engaged by the ministry last year.
“He went to the extent of refusing to give people contracts after they won catering tenders. It is almost a year now and those people have not signed their contracts. He has done many things (to frustrate the ministry),” Mr Kabi said.
He said Mr Manyokole was delusional to think that the cannabis vehicles were not bought because he had refused to append his signature.
“The vehicles could have been bought without or without his involvement. The cannabis revenue could have been used to buy those cars because that revenue has nothing to do with the government consolidated fund as per standards set by the International Narcotics Board (ICBN).
“The ICBN indicated that the cannabis supervision should be independent from the ministry and that we should have our own equipment to effectively execute our mandate hence why we wanted to buy the cars for this project. But we did not go ahead with the purchase after Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro offered to assist us with vehicles,” Mr Kabi said.
“It is wrong of him (Manyokole) to think that the funds would not be released without him. He is just one of the three signatories to the cannabis fund. I made him a signatory out of my own volition, the law does not say I should and I am telling the funds could have been released to buy those cars had Minister Majoro not asked us to put the spending on hold and offered to assist us with cars.”
He said that Mr Manyokole was dragging him to a place where he had chosen not to go to, accusing Mr Manyokole of flatly refusing to sign payment vouchers for people’s gratuities.
“The ministry was dysfunctional when he was there. I have never seen such an embarrassing situation, he would tell me that he is untouchable because he is Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s favourite. He couldn’t do anything except to tell me that he is Tom’s favourite.”
He said Mr Manyokole should be blamed for the delays in mounting beds in hospitals across the country because he had refused to sign paperwork that would lead to the renewal of the Indians’ work permits. He said the Indian engineers ended up leaving the country for fear of being jailed for illegal staying in the country.
“He would politicise everything single issue in the ministry and for your own information, there were four different tender prices set – one company demanded M120million, another M90million, yet another M70 million but the Indians charged us M46 million. The tender was awarded in July 2018 and I wanted the work to begin in September 2018 but that could not happen because of procurement processes that lasted until June this year.
“The Indians therefore asked that the tender price be increased to accommodate the inflation rate. It is unfortunate that he has decided to drag Mosae in this whole debacle because he (Mosae) has not dealt with those Indians. He (Manyokole) decided to transfer Dr Letsie to Queen II after realising that she was working hard to deliver. She might be a congress member but unlike other people who keep on giving excuses, Dr Letsie delivers even when given assignment under stressing conditions,” Mr Kabi said.
He said that Mr Manyokole transferred Dr Letsie to Queen II Hospital to spite him. He added: “Working with him was not easy at all but I compromised a lot. I turned a blind eye on a lot of things. Queen II could have been demolished a long time had it not be of Manyokole’s delaying tactics. It is sad that he dragged me into this controversy because I had chosen to keep quiet,” Mr Kabi said.
Dr Letsie, Mr Hlalele and Mr Mosae were not reachable on their mobile phones for comment yesterday.