…As govt probes Health PS over alleged abuse of office
Health Ministry Principal Secretary (PS) Lefu Manyokole has been suspended as government probes his professional conduct amid allegations of abuse of office.
Mr Manyokole was handed his suspension letter on Tuesday this week signed by Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka.
The suspension is on full pay and benefits and follows a seven-day ultimatum the PS was given by then Acting Government Secretary Mothabathe Hlalele on 12 May 2015, in which he was asked to “show cause” why he should not be sent home while corruption allegations against him were being probed.
In the letter, Mr Hlalele accused Mr Manyokole of manipulating tender processes when government was looking for companies to provide catering services to hospitals in 2013.
Some of the companies which lost the tender subsequently took Mr Manyokole to court, accusing him of interfering with the selection process to their prejudice.
“The averments on the role you are supposed to have played in that particular tender process are damaging.
“You are virtually accused of corruption and/or abuse of power, and many other unsavoury things were said about your conduct in that matter,” reads Mr Hlalele’s letter.
“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 side-lined 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 Acting GS also accused Mr Manyokole of “masquerading” as Health PS in early 2013 when 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.
He also accused Mr Manyokole of committing the government to increase salaries of striking Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital workers 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 listed 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 wrongdoings.
Mr Manyokole’s vehicle was destroyed in a fire and the PS attributed the incident to unknown arsonists.
The Acting Government Secretary then invited Mr Manyokole, who still has two years to serve on his contract, to justify why he should not be suspended while his alleged crimes are being probed.
However, in response, Mr Manyokole denied all the allegations levelled against him and in a letter dated 13 May 2015, took Mr Hlalele to task over the accusations and ultimatum.
“I am puzzled by the fact that all the cases referred to are still pending before the courts of law which are yet to pronounce upon them. Yet you are now stating your intention to suspend me on the basis of issues that are being contested in court and over which judgement is pending.
“Are you now suspending the jurisdiction of the courts and assuming their role in this matter? If that is the case, as it seems to be here, then that is illegal and unconstitutional. Yes, averments and allegations were made against me by losing bidders in the tender process. They petitioned the courts and I indeed responded, including taking the stand before the High Court. But you seem to have selectively picked upon allegations raised against me by the disgruntled litigants and ignored my own responses as detailed in court processes.
“That is grossly unfair. In any event, I don’t expect aggrieved people who lost in tender processes to have given me a pat on the back. They would naturally target me with all kinds of spurious allegations to try to vindicate their interests. That does not make these allegations correct. I thus vehemently and unequivocally deny all the allegations raised as I did in the court process.
“However, I maintain that it is wrong for you to jump the proverbial gun and seek to target me over issues that are being contested in courts of law and over which we await judgement,” Mr Manyokole wrote.
The PS also denied ever masquerading as a principal secretary, or unilaterally agreeing to increase Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital workers’ salaries.
“I deny ever having impersonated or masqueraded as the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Health. Indeed, you fail to substantiate where, why and how I could have masqueraded as such. I was appointed PS of the Ministry of Health by the office of the Prime Minister in January 2013 and directed to promptly move into that office as it was vacant.
“…I did not issue a peremptory directive that the government will pay the demanded wage adjustments. I communicated with the strikers that the government would consider their demands and persuaded them to resume work. This was a responsible thing to do as hospitals and clinics are essential services”.
Regarding his burnt vehicle, Mr Manyokole accused the Acting GS of “embarking on a fishing expedition”.
“It is deeply unfortunate that you again embark on a fishing expedition here without defining a clear case of misconduct over which I can answer. You make a blanket, malicious accusation that I have embarked on a misleading campaign as to what exactly happened without giving any detail about how I have done this.
“You seem to have already made a conclusion and made up your mind over the car issue without stating what I have done wrong. I repeat that my car was attacked and damaged by persons unknown, who may as well have been targeting my life. I find it disturbing that your good office seems to be concerned with the vehicle and not my life.
“I reported this matter to the police for investigations and I still await their report. I deny ever hiding any information. I again want to ask you for an elaboration of information you accuse me of hiding so that I can respond adequately.”
Mr Manyokole also said in the letter that it was against the rules of natural justice and fairness “to seek to oust me from office on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations and suspicions”.
He adds: “I do not see how my continued stay in office would hinder any investigations conducted against me especially when there is nothing in your letter that suggests that I may tamper with any evidence by way of documents or intimidating witnesses. Indeed, you haven’t listed a single matter that warrants my suspension to allow for any unimpeded investigations.
“I therefore do not agree with the suspension or termination of my employment on the basis of the unfounded ‘suspicions’ alluded to which are indeed malicious and unacceptable.
“Indeed, the fact that you now seek to intervene in matters before the courts smacks of a desperate agenda to get me fired at all costs for reasons I cannot fathom.”
However, despite Mr Manyokole’s spirited defence, government has decided to suspend him indefinitely.
Reads Mr Mphaka’s letter dated 12 June, but only delivered to the PS this week: “I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 13 May 2015, and would wish to comment thereon as follows. Now, let us deal with each of the cases in question, which all had impugned the validity of the tender process in the Ministry of Health, on the basis of widespread irregularities by, particularly, yourself.
“CIV/APN/135/13 – Rhythm and Blues Caterers vs Ministry of Health (Mokhotlong Hospital). The court ordered that the tender process was to be reviewed by an independent body other than the Ministry of Health, and recommendations made as to the way forward.
“CCA/0021/2014 – Polas for All t/a Just in Time vs Ministry of Health & Others (Berea Hospital). The same order as above was made; that is, review of the tender process by an independent body other than the Ministry of Health.
“CCA/441/2013 – Gill’s Integrated Catering Service t/a Lindy’s vs Ministry of Health (Butha-Buthe Hospital). The same order as in the aforegoing was made.
“CIV/ APN/140/2013 – Motšo Mak t/a Motšo vs Ministry of Health & others (Mohale’s Hoek hospital). The same order was made.
“CCA/47/2013 – Melting Pot vs Ministry of Health & others (Maseru National Health Training Centre, NHTC). The same order as in the aforegoing was made.
“It is true that you denied any wrongdoing but the fact that in one of the cases, even successful bidders did not find it necessary to oppose the challenge against the process, and, further, that the court made the kind of order it did, as shown in all the aforegoing, tells a story that possibly there was something not right with the way the tender process had been originally conducted. And that is exactly what is intended to go deeper into by way of investigations to establish the true position in the matter.
“Thus your assertion that the courts are yet to decide on the applications is misinformed. They have decided that there be a review by an independent body. The question is why would the courts order in the manner they did? The answer is obvious. In point of fact, after much quibbling and uncertainty between the Ministry of Health and that of Finance as to who should undertake the task to ensure compliance with the order of the court, the Ministry of Finance’s Public Procurement Advisory Division (PPAD) finally undertook the task. They have produced a report, of which you are fully aware of, or ought to be, in which they recommend re-tendering. And why should they so recommend? It is more than clear from the report that they found the integrity of the original tender process compromised.”
Mr Mphaka gives Mr Manyokole the benefit of the doubt regarding accusations that he once “masqueraded as a PS”, but adds: “It may or may not be so that you impersonated and masqueraded as a PS. That needs to be investigated. The allegation is serious enough that it cannot be ignored. But proper investigations to establish its veracity can only, in my view, be smoothly undertaken with your temporary absence.”
The GS reinforces why the PS should be suspended.
“While investigations are continuing, you should be out of office, not to have even a slightest chance to influence them in any way, using the weight of your office,” he notes.
“Indeed, it may be so that you reported the damage of your official car to the police, but you miss the point. The suspicion which needs to be established, with you out of office for the time being, is that you have done all that you could to hide the true facts behind the damage and/or circumstances thereof. But the matter, as I said in my earlier letter to you dated 12 May 2015, needs to be investigated to establish the true state of affairs. And that can only be done smoothly with your absence from office.
“You are certainly not being ousted from office. Allegations and suspicions are flying around with gay abundance regarding your conduct in office. Some of these are real serious and on the face of it, bear substance.
“Meantime, it is the requirement of the law that you cannot be suspended from office without a hearing. It is a bit surprising that you appear to be adverse to the idea of being given a hearing before a decision can be made to suspend you from office. Your attitude is hard to understand.
“Besides apprehension that out of sheer fragility of human nature you may be tempted to interfere with investigations, there is an important matter of public perception regarding the integrity of the investigations in that with them being undertaken whilst you remain in office, they are likely to be conceived as a farce and façade.
“You allege malice, but there is simply no basis for that. My office cannot simply sit by and watch when such serious allegations are being made against such a high office, and which appear to have a foundation. Should it turn out to be true, you can hardly call that ‘serving the Basotho nation with diligence, honour, integrity and the best of your ability. On the contrary, it would amount to having let the nation down.
“In consequence, please be informed that after careful consideration of your said representations, government has taken a decision to suspend you from office with immediate effect, on full pay and benefits of office, pending disciplinary inquiry or if need be, the termination of your contract of employment in terms of Clause 7 thereof. You are to hand over your duties of office to the deputy Principal Secretary”.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Mphaka confirmed writing the suspension letter to Mr Manyokole but denied allegations that this was government’s ploy to eventually get rid of him.
“I can’t say Mr Manyokole’s suspension is government’s strategy to fire him because the facts are clear as to why he has been suspended,” he said.
Mr Manyokole, on the other hand, last night told the Lesotho Times he had indeed been suspended but refused to discuss the issue.