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Businessmen want fleet tender corruption charges dropped

by Lesotho Times
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Pascalinah Kabi/Nat Molomo

TWO local businessmen, Teboho Tlokotsi and Tumo Ramonaheng, have filed a Constitutional Court application to stop their trial for corruption in connection with the government vehicle fleet tender. The Constitutional Court is expected to hear the duo’s application today.

Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng filed an urgent application for an order to stop Maseru Magistrate, Senekale Qobolo, from trying them. The duo want the trial stopped on the grounds that they were prejudiced by a pre-trial conducted by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

The two businessman, who were formally charged with corruption in the procurement of the government vehicle fleet last week, also want the Constitutional Court to issue an interim order excusing them from attending remands until the finalisation of their application.

According to the charge sheet, the two are charged with contravening the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act after allegedly “accepting or attempting to accept” bribes totalling M234 000 from Democratic Congress legislator, Likeleli Tampane, and several others to facilitate the hiring of their vehicles  for the government fleet.

The tender process for the procurement of the government fleet, which was held in September 2018, failed to yield the required 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were disqualified for failing to meet the requirements.

Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro first announced in March 2018 that cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who include taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women’s groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.

Others who were excluded from tendering were senior government officials such as directors in ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers.

The finance ministry however, received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as “fronts” when the tender bids were submitted last September.

The DCEO was then roped in to investigate these allegations and according to sources, it discovered that some desperate vehicle owners were made to pay as much as M40 000 to have their vehicles leased to government.

The DCEO subsequently came under fire a fortnight ago from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, who told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that she was surprised that the anti-corruption body had not prosecuted high profile suspects for corruption in the fleet tender almost four months after she had directed it to prosecute.

In terms of the DCEO Act, the anti-corruption body only prosecutes cases after getting then consent to do so from the DPP.

Adv Motinyane made the remarks a week after the DCEO’s suspended Chief Investigations Officer, Thabiso Thibeli, told PAC that the DCEO’s investigations pointed to the Finance ministry’s principal secretary Motena Tšolo, Senqu legislator Likeleli Tampane, Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng and one ‘Mafusi as the suspects in the alleged fleet tender corruption.

Mr Thibeli accused DCEO Director General, Mahlomola Manyokole, of ordering his suspension to punish him for investigating some individuals who could be his (Adv Manyokole) friends for corruption in the procurement of the government fleet. Mr Tlokotsi had been particularly cited as an ally of Mr Manyokole.

However, Adv Manyokole vehemently denied allegations that he sought to block any high profile cases from being prosecuted. He told PAC that he had forwarded all the case files to the office of the DPP for prosecution and recommended that all suspects be prosecuted except for PS Tšolo because there was no substantial evidence against her.

Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng were subsequently charged with corruption last week and they are now fighting to have criminal charges permanently dropped from the roll.

The DPP, the DCEO, the Director General of the DCEO, Maseru Magistrate Senekale Qobolo, the Maseru Magistrate Court Clerk, the Attorney General, the PAC, PAC Chairperson Selibe Mochoboroane, National Assembly Clerk and suspended DCEO chief investigation officer Thabiso Thibeli are cited as 1st to 10th respondents respectively in the case.

In their Constitutional Court papers, Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng ask the court to order “that a criminal trial scheduled for hearing on the 20th and 21st January 2020 in the Maseru Magistrate Court before the 4th respondent (Magistrate Qobolo) be permanently stayed on account of the pre-trial prejudice occasioned by the illegal and or unconstitutional overtures of the PAC, the DPP and the DCEO”.

“The decision to prosecute the applicants by 1st respondent (DPP) be reviewed, corrected and or set aside on grounds of being irrational and or unlawful.

“That it be declared that the conduct of the 7th (the PAC) and or 8th respondent (PAC Chairperson) of probing issues that have to do with criminal investigation involving applicants was both illegal and or unlawful,” the duo state in their court papers.

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