Airport tender above board, PS claims

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. . . blames unnamed cabinet ministers for spreading “falsehoods” about tender award to SA company

Bereng Mpaki

THE Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Transport, Maile Masoebe, insists that everything is above board and there is nothing amiss about the awarding of the controversial Moshoeshoe I Airport rehabilitation tender to a liquidated South African company.

In June 2021 the transport ministry awarded controversial South African businessman Thulani Majola’s LTE Consulting a M38 million contract to oversee the refurbishment of Lesotho’s dilapidated airport as the Mountain Kingdom races against time to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)’s standards, following the latter’s threats to shut it down.

But already on 18 March 2021, a provisional liquidation application had been launched by a creditor of LTE Consulting in the Johannesburg High Court. The application was granted on 9 June 2021, a day before unsuccessful bidders were informed the contract had been awarded to LTE Consulting.

South Africa’s famed AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism published a story about Mr Majola’s alleged use of his political connections in Lesotho to land the multi-million maloti tender.

The article also stated that the airport tender was awarded to LTE four months after its liquidation.

The liquidation, the article stated, was as a result of LTE being accused of failing to honour a M23 million debt to its South African sub-contractor, Kontinental Engineering Consulting, for a bus station construction project for the City of Ekurhuleni in 2020.

LTE had initially entered into talks regarding a settlement with Kontinental after the latter had filed a liquidation application in the Johannesburg High Court.

However, the parties failed to reach an agreement and Kontinental went back to court, arguing that LTE had paid M14 million but still owed M8, 9 million. This led to the eventual liquidation of LTE, according to AmaBhungane.

But despite these seemingly uncontested facts in South Africa, PS Masoebe claims that everything was above board.

Addressing journalists at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport this week, he claimed it was not true that LTE Consulting had been liquidated.

He alleged that two cabinet ministers were spreading false information just to discredit the tender.

“I have made an important finding that there are two politicians behind this whole airport nonsense,” Mr Masoebe said.

“I will not disclose their names for now. They are cabinet ministers, and I am going to talk to them about this issue. I will tell them this isn’t the proper way to get themselves favours. I might even reveal their names, depending on how they respond to me. They are just using the poor kid (Mohalenyane Phakela) to write a story in furtherance of their dirty activities,” Mr Masoebe added.

Mr Phakela is the chief reporter of the Lesotho Times and the Sunday Express. He is currently attending an investigative journalism training course at AmaBhungane in South Africa.  He originally authored the story for AmaBhungane before it was widely picked up by South African media outlets.

Mr Masoebe said even intelligence operatives had also approached him for information relating to the tender.

He claimed that their line of questioning was similar to that of Mr Phakela and this suggested that they had obtained their information from the same source.

“What upsets me is it that the National Security Service (NSS) is asking the same set of questions as those asked by the journalist. This suggests they are from one source.

“It is a lie that LTE Consulting is liquidated. In fact, it will never be liquidated because Kontinental has confirmed to us that they have resolved their dispute with LTE.

“I am in possession of correspondence from Kontinental lawyers showing that their dispute with LTE has been amicably resolved after the payment of an undisclosed amount of money by LTE,” Mr Masoebe said.  He however, did not produce any evidence to support his claims.

He also defended the ministry’s decision to award the tender to LTE through a selective tendering process.

This after one of the LTE competitors in the tender, WSSL Joint Venture, had disputed the inclusion of LTE in the tendering process.

Mophato Monyake, the WSSL’s co-owner, had unsuccessfully hauled the ministry before the Public Procurement Advisory Division (PPAD) complaining that LTE was parachuted into the tendering process without invitation.

He said LTE was only invited to tender after some companies that had initially been invited failed to submit tender bids.

He said LTE was the best qualified as it had the requisite airport construction management experience.

“A key requirement for the airport tender was for a tendering company to have prior experience of managing and overseeing airport construction or rehabilitation projects. Only LTE met this requirement. The company has done consulting work in seven different airport projects,” Mr Masoebe said.

The issue of airport rehabilitation comes against the background of threats by the ICAO to close the country’s only international airport if it is not refurbished.

ICAO first issued the threats to close down the airport in December 2020. It said several years of neglect had left the airport facilities in a state of disrepair.

The Director of Civil Aviation Department, Motsoale Lesupi, is on record saying that the government is in a race against time to refurbish the “collapsing” airport, failing which it would be closed or downgraded to a domestic airport catering only for local flights.

Mr Lesupi said the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) had now been awarded a tender to refurbish the airport at an estimated cost of M500 million.

Should the work not be finished on time for an inspection on a date to be determined by the ICAO, the airport could be forcibly closed by the international body tasked with regulating all international aviation activities, he said.

Its closure will create a massive crisis as new travel arrangements would have to be made for His Majesty King Letsie III, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, ministers, government officials, diplomats, captains of industry and other ordinary travellers who rely on the airport for international travel.

State officials could alternatively resort to using military planes, which in itself would be a logistical nightmare, because special permits to fly such planes into South Africa would have to be obtained to avoid conflict with that country’s defence force.

More likely, they will be forced to travel long distances by road to international airports in South Africa.

The ailing tourism sector, which is already reeling from the Covid-19 induced slowdown in business activities, would be thrown into further turmoil by the closure of the airport.

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