WE have never for a second ever thought that new Prime Minister Sam Matekane is under any illusions about the difficult task that lies ahead of him to pull this country out of the giant abyss of corruption, decay and consequent penury.
But if ever he needed any reminders, the latest missive from Frazer Solar to his government and the nation at large would be enough to jolt him out of any election victory-induced hangover.
As we report elsewhere in this edition, the German company is pulling out all the stops to punish Lesotho for what it says is the former Thomas Thabane-led government’s breach of a M1, 7 billion deal for the supply of solar power to Lesotho.
In its statement to the government, Frazer Solar says it has been granted an order by the Belgian courts which allows it to seize Lesotho’s assets to settle a £50 million (M856 million) damages claim it was awarded in 2019 by a South African arbitrator for the government’s alleged breach of the two parties’ solar power deal.
There have been accusations and counter-accusations regarding how this deal came about but it appears former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Temeki Tšolo, was the main instigator of the current mess Lesotho finds itself. Mr Tšolo allegedly appended his signature to the deal even though this ought to have been done by the relevant Ministries of Energy and Meteorology as well as that of finance.
In his Lesotho High Court papers, former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro accuses Mr Tšolo of “corruptly and fraudulently” signing the agreement without the knowledge and approval of parliament, cabinet and himself as the finance minister at the time.
We will not retell the entire story of how this alleged deal happened here, save to say that it shows just how unscrupulous and selfish politicians can create costly problems which affect the nation long after those leaders have exited the political stage.
Partly as a consequence of such shady dealings while in government, Dr Majoro and Mr Tšolo’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party was annihilated by Mr Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) at the 7 October 2022 polls. Had it not been for the controversial proportional representation (PR) system which resurrects rejected parties and gives them a few seats, there would have been completely no trace of the ABC on the political landscape after its failure to obtain a single constituency seat.
But as the Frazer Solar debacle amply proves, the mess that the ABC left is still very much with us. It is a mess that Mr Matekane must now clean. This is not the only mess that the new premier and his government must fix. As we report elsewhere, even South Africa’s Netcare wants a piece of the action. It has launched its own arbitration proceedings to make Lesotho pay for the premature termination of its contract to operate Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) on behalf of the state.
Netcare had a 40 percent stake in the Tšepong Consortium which had an 18 year public-private-partnership (PPP) agreement with the government to manage QMMH. It had run QMMH since October 2011.
However, that contract was prematurely terminated in August 2021 with then Health Minister, Semano Sekatle, accusing Netcare of breaching the terms of the contract over several years.
Former Finance Minister, Thabo Sophonea, had said the government would have to fork out at least M3 billion for the premature termination of the contract but Netcare wants much more than that.
The South African hospital group alleges the government owes other sums in unpaid fees hence the demand for much more than just the termination fee. It says the final amount will be determined by the arbitration.
Even if we were to work with the M3 billion figure mentioned by the former government, this is still way too much an amount to pay.
That figure represents an eighth of the M24, 8 billion national budget for the current fiscal year. When the Frazer Solar claim is factored, it becomes clear that corruption and malfeasance by the politicians continues to cost this country big time.
This is all in addition to the M6 billion looted from state coffers during Dr Majoro’s traumatic tenure as reported by the Auditor-General.
All of these problems; all this mess has been inherited by Mr Matekane and he must now fix the problem while the perpetrators have ridden off into the sunset.
It surely is a baptism of fire for the new government. It’s a mess they should now fix. But the culprits must not be allowed to go scot-free.
While the idea of an amnesty for criminals is not wholly bad, it is always controversial and depends on the conditions attendant.
If those who have plundered the state are willing to come forward and surrender their loot with all the details of their plunder and all their accomplices without costly and prolonged criminal legal processes, then that’s all fine and good. It might be a worthy price to pay. Imagine what for instance the M6 billion could do if it were to be expeditiously recovered from the relevant thieves in exchange of granting them amnesty. But amnesties of this kind are also always problematic. The tendency of criminals is to always proffer half-truths in the hope they can get away without full disclosure of their misdemeanors. There is also always hesitance to surrender all the loot. Much of it would have been dissipated anyway. In those circumstances, the full might of the law must be brought to bear.