Health PS accused of corruption and abuse of power
MINISTRY of Health Principal Secretary (PS), Lefu Manyokole, is on the verge of being fired.
But Mr Manyokele seems determined not to go down without a fight.
Acting Government Secretary (AGS), Mothabathe Hlalele, this week wrote to Mr Manyokele ordering him to show cause, within seven days, why he should not be suspended pending a disciplinary hearing into his conduct or have his contract terminated in terms of the Public Service Act.
Mr Hlalele said he had, over a period of time, been receiving “reliable reports and veritable information” about what he described as Mr Manyokole’s “suspected grave acts of misconduct; in some instances even possibly bordering on criminality.”
The letter then chronicles Mr Manyokole’s alleged misdemeanors. It accuses Mr Manyokole of corruption and abuse of power during a tender process for contracts to provide catering services for government hospitals and health institutions in 2013.
“The averments on the role you (Manyokole) are supposed to have played in that particular tender process are damaging,” reads Mr Hlalele’s letter.
“You are virtually accused of corruption and/or abuse of power, and many other unsavoury things were said about your conduct in that matter.”
The companies which lost the tender, among them Rhythm and Blues Catering, Polas For All which trades as Just In Time and Melting Pot, took Mr Manyokole to court, accusing him of having interfered with the tender process to their prejudice and disadvantage.
Mr Hlalele referred to the allegations raised in court papers by these companies, describing them as very serious.
“It was said (in the court papers) that you had authorised payments to undeserving suppliers (caterers); you interfered with the tender process using the weight of your office (sic), to have new suppliers engaged in the presence of and over already on-job suppliers (sic), thus resulting in a number of existence (sic) of two suppliers for one and the same service.
“In some instances, those deserving payment were simply sidelined and refused the same in favour of undeserving ones. More disturbing is the allegation (apart from averments made in court papers) that in one instance, you had caused to be paid more than one million maloti of taxpayers’ money to a caterer who had barely served for 10 days.”
The letter also accuses Mr Manyokole of “impersonating and masquerading” as the principal secretary of the Ministry of Health during early 2013 yet he had not been officially appointed to the position.
“The suspicion is that it is at this particular time that you had lent your signature to some food-catering agreements, purportedly acting on behalf of the Ministry. Should this be established as a fact, it hinges on the fraudulent,” charged Mr Hlalele.
The acting government secretary also accuses Mr Manyokole of committing the government to increase the salaries of striking workers at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital without cabinet authority.
“If this be established as a fact, it was irresponsible. But as I say, there is need to investigate and establish the veracity, not only of this particular allegation but of the others as well,” wrote Mr Hlalele.
Mr Hlalele also lists the damage of Mr Manyokole’s official vehicle at Marabeng in 2013 “under circumstances best known to you” as being among the principal secretary’s alleged transgressions.
Mr Manyokole’s vehicle was destroyed in a fire and the principal secretary attributed the incident to unknown arsonists.
But Mr Hlalele accuses the principal secretary of suppressing “true information” about the incident and “to generally embark on a misleading campaign as to what exactly happened.”
“This is not how an officer of your standing should comport himself, should it turn out that indeed you engaged in such conduct….,” the letter reads.
“At this stage, as you will appreciate, all is but just allegations and suspicion and nothing as yet is conclusive until thorough investigations can be made in the matter. Still, the allegations are of a serious nature, and I cannot simply sit by and watch.”
Mr Hlalele said there was a definite need to clear the air by speedy investigations which could lead to a disciplinary enquiry or even the termination of Mr Manyokole’s contract of employment.
While investigations are being done, said Mr Hlalele, it would only be proper for the Health principal secretary to be suspended to stop him from interfering with the investigations and to ensure that they are conducted, “smoothly, unimpeded and unhindered”.
The acting government secretary then invites Mr Manyokole to make representations explaining why he should not be suspended from office, on full pay, pending a disciplinary enquiry, if need be, or even termination of his contract of employment which has about two years remaining.
Mr Manyokole confirmed receiving the letter last night and said he was working on his response.
While he would provide his detailed response to the letter, he nevertheless expressed dismay that he had been contacted by journalists for comment long before he had been officially served with the letter.
But even more baffling to him was that he was being asked to respond to matters that were currently in the courts and for which final judgment had not been issued.
“Does this mean that the jurisdiction of the courts is being ousted in favour of a parallel process just because some people are desperate to get rid of me?” asked Mr Manyokole.
“It is common cause that several allegations have been flung at me by those who lost tenders and others who claim to have been aggrieved by my actions… All these matters have been contested in the courts and it’s very curious that we cannot wait for the courts to exercise their constitutional jurisdictions to make final judgments on all matters before them before we embark on any other processes….”
He said the other allegations raised in the letter were ordinary hearsay, making it extremely unfortunate that these were being used as the basis of wanting to oust him.
“Rules of natural justice require that anyone being charged with misconduct be served with clear and lucid charges or allegations of wrongdoing on the basis of which one can formulate a response.
“The letter itself observes as such by clearly stating that ‘all is but just allegations and suspicion, and nothing is as yet conclusive’. Surely if allegations and suspicions flung around senior officials were given this meticulous attention, the business of government would cease to exist as we will all be focused on dealing with these suspicions that are routinely flung around senior government officials who are, in most cases, duty-bound to make decisions that are not popular with everyone.”
But Mr Manyokole was particularly aggrieved with the fact that he had started hearing stories about his “impending suspension or dismissal” long before any correspondence had been served on him. The letter had subsequently been served on him after journalists had already contacted him. He described this as deeply unfortunate.
He said while it was understandable that any new government would necessarily want to appoint its own people to senior governmental positions and replace those it is uncomfortable with, he wished this was done properly without seeking to besmirch any incumbents.
“There should be no reason to seek to besmirch unwanted people as a way of trying to fire them and avoid paying them their perks. My detailed response will be articulated to the authors of the letter as requested.”