Business forum wants Moosa booted out

MASERU — Pressure is mounting on Osman Moosa a prominent businessman convicted of tax dodging, to step down as chairman of the Private Sector Foundation (PSF), the Lesotho Times can reveal.

The PSF was formed in October 2009 to facilitate dialogue between the government and the private sector.

Moosa was elected as its second chairman because of his prominence and reputation as a clean businessman.

But that reputation vanished into thin air in August this year when he admitted in the High Court that he had dodged tax for several years.

He was convicted for tax evasion together with his son Shameen Moosa and their company Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd.

They however avoided jail after they cut a deal with the prosecution to settle their tax obligations and pay hefty fines.

After the embarrassing debacle Moosa said he was relieved that the “worst was over” but insisted that he had no intention of relinquishing the chairmanship of the foundation because his out-of-court settlement deal did not mean he now has a criminal record.

But the Lesotho Times can this week reveal that his position in the foundation has come under intense threat.

Sources say the PSF’s 21-member board is deeply divided between those that want Moosa to stay on and those that want him to leave immediately.

The divisions, a highly placed source says, played themselves out at a board meeting in late September.

The source who also happens to be a board member described that meeting as “hot”, adding that there was genuine hostility towards Moosa’s continued stay as chairman.

One of those against Moosa’s stay was former trade minister Mpho Malie, who now runs several businesses in Lesotho.

The source says he was supported by ’Mamakamane Makamane, a retired civil servant who is now into business and is the deputy secretary of the Mohloli Chamber of Business.

The source said Malie and others were arguing that Moosa should resign on “the basis of morality”.

“They said his integrity was so tarnished that he could not possibly represent the business community,” the source said.

They said there were however some who thought that Moosa “had not acquired a criminal record when he admitted to dodging tax”.

“In the end the board just could not agree on what to do with Moosa”.

Another source said after a deadlock it was decided that the board should form a special commission to deal with the matter.

This paper was told that some of the members of the commission include Malie, ’Mantšuoe Lethoba, a director of EV Products, and Matjaka Molefe who owns BM retail shops.

Malie confirmed that he was a member of the commission but refused to comment further.

Makamane who is said to have been “quite vocal” during the meeting refused to confirm whether or not she was one of the people pushing for Moosa’s ouster.

She was however prepared to talk about what she called her standpoint “with regards to such issues”.

“The Private Sector Foundation was established to negotiate with the government to level the playing field and hence the participation of business in the economy,” Makamane said.

“The idea is to remove obstacles that hinder business growth. So business must comply with the laws of the country and tax regulations.

“Business people must pay their taxes. It is only then that they can effectively contribute to the economic development of this country.”

“If we do not pay taxes as business then what kind of contribution are we making? The private sector must do its part,” she added.

“How do we approach the government to level the playing field when we as the private sector have dirty hands, violating the tax regulations of this country?”

However Moosa told this paper yesterday that although a few people in PSF wanted to see his back the majority want him to continue as chairperson.

“I know that the forum is planning for a successful shift of leadership that is meant to be beneficial to the business community,” Moosa said.

“I called the meeting even before you wrote the first story about me facing charges at the High Court and we have been discussing these things,” he said.

“Even before the out of court settlement with the LRA we were already discussing these matters at the forum.”

Moosa said he regarded his participation in the forum as his social responsibility which he will still continue with even if he is not the chairperson.

“I value the Private Sector Foundation Lesotho very much that I cannot muddy what it stands for with petty politics,” he said.

“I am willing to step down but not because of three or four misguided people who bring their hidden agenda to the business forum.”

Moosa, his son Shameen Moosa and their company Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd were convicted of 198 counts of tax evasion in August.

The High Court ordered the company and its directors to pay a total of M6.1 million in fines and taxes owed to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).

High Court judge, Justice ’Maseforo Mahase, sentenced Osman to six years imprisonment or pay a fine of M500 000 for 51 counts.

Osman was also sentenced to a further six years in jail which was suspended for five years on condition that he shall not be convicted of fraud involving taxation or contravening the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act.

Shameen was sentenced to payment of a fine of M100 000 or three years in jail for 90 counts of tax evasion while the company, Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd has been ordered to pay a fine of M1.5 million for 57 counts.

Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd will also pay M4 million to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).

The Moosas and Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd faced 316 charges in the High Court and were convicted for 198 of them while the company pleaded guilty to 57 of them.

The sentences followed a plea bargaining agreement entered into between the defence counsel, Barry Roux SC, and the crown counsel, Guido Penzhorn SC.

The Moosas were given four months to pay, from the end of November to February next year.

However, last week the Moosas approached the High Court seeking an extension of the grace period to 54 months claiming that they are unable to pay as the court had ordered.

They proposed to pay M74 000 per month over 54 months for the M4 million payment and M125 000 per month over 12 months for the M1.5 million fine.

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