MASERU – The principal secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Ponts’o Lebotsa, was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison for flouting tender regulations.
Lebotsa, 47, was however given the option to pay a fine of M10 000 within the next 30 days in order to escape jail.
The crown had alleged that in February 2007 Lebotsa had unlawfully and intentionally abused her position when she procured a computer network system for the justice ministry without following normal procedures.
She was however acquitted on the main charge of corruption.
Lebotsa’s lawyers immediately appealed against the conviction.
Judge Ts’eliso Monaphathi who presided over the issue said the law under which Lebotsa was charged is an old and technical one but the fine of M10 000 was a lot of money at that time.
“It cannot be for nothing that parliament made that law. There must have been problems in the management of public funds and even today that problem is still (huge),” Monaphathi said.
The judge said the Ministry of Finance seems to be using a small stick when dealing with officers who violate the financial procedures.
He said the court had heard that in some instances some officials who had gone against the regulations to buy vehicles without approval were surcharged.
He said mismanagement of public funds is rampant and offenders must be jailed to show the serious of the offence.
He said Lebotsa had insisted on procuring the information technology equipment without approval.
Monaphathi did not agree with the explanation of the accused that it was end of the financial year and she had acted to prevent the money from being returned to the consolidated fund.
“If it was the end of the financial year all was not lost because this had been so in the previous year,” he said.
Lebotsa’s lawyer Advocate Winston Churchill Maqutu had told the court during the mitigation address that the Ministry of Finance had been applying the law selectively.
He said the ministry was not being consistent because it was surcharging other officials and criminally charging others for the same offence.
He said the equipment had been procured to benefit the ministy’s headquarters and the department of correctional services.
Maqutu said his client was appealing against both the conviction and sentence because the court had disregarded the fact that Lebotsa had not personally benefited from the procurement of the equipment.
By Nat Molomo