Coop Lesotho audit unearths rot

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Ministry of Trade & Industry ,Cooperative& Marketing ‘Maphamoli Lekoetje

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

A GOVERNMENT-INITIATED forensic audit of the Lesotho Cooperatives Limited (Coop Lesotho) has implicated Cooperatives Commissioner ’Maphamoli Lekoetje in cases of nepotism, corruption and misappropriation of funds and assets, recommending criminal investigations against her.

Coop Lesotho is an arm of the Ministry of Small Business Development Cooperatives and Marketing charged with the responsibility of being the “apex body” over all national cooperative societies.

Established through the Cooperatives Societies Act No.6 of 2000, as amended in 2014, Coop Lesotho functions include “providing information, education, training and advisory services on cooperative principles and on the management of cooperative enterprises.”

Former Small Business Development minister, Thabiso Litšiba engaged local consulting company Letuka Accounting Firm, trading as LETACC Firm of Chartered Accountants on 8 August 2016 to conduct a forensic audit on the operations of Coop Lesotho for the period 2007 to 2016.

This, according to the report, came after Ms Lekoetje and Coop Lesotho manager, Thabo Shale traded accusations of maladministration and corruption before Mr Litšiba. The latter was relieved of his ministerial duties by Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili in a cabinet reshuffle in November 2016.

The report states that Ms Lekoetje had alluded to the fact that she had been informed by the banks that there were “suspicious transactions” made by Mr Shale.

She further accused Mr Shale of appointing “his own people that he considered to be the Management Committee (MC or Board of Directors) of the society contrary to the constitutional procedures of electing the MC at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).”

For his part, Mr Shale had submitted before the minister that Ms Lekoetje had suspended the MC and was interested in controlling the affairs of Coop Lesotho.

Given this context of counter-accusations, the report states that “it was therefore felt a forensic audit would be a solution focusing on the operations of the apex body since 2007 to 2016” to determine whether the operations of Coop Lesotho had been conducted in accordance with statutory requirements and good corporate governance.

In addition, the audit would establish whether “there was in place a sound system of internal controls that enhanced protection and sale keeping of the assets at its disposal and spending only through approved channels by the legally appointed authorities”.

In its findings, the audit report concluded there were several instances of improper conduct on the part of Ms Lekoetje in the discharge of her official duties.

According to the report, Coop Lesotho was put into liquidation from 2002 to 2006 “but upon completion of the liquidation process the office of the commissioner, representing the government, did not have the hand over notes”.

The report noted that the work of the liquidator was terminated by the commissioner through her letter of 14 September 2006, addressed to the former liquidator.

“We could not get the handover notes where the liquidator handed over assets of the society he has been running after so long to the commissioner who terminated his employment. Upon inquiring about the handover notes further from the liquidator, he provided us a list that he had as his copy that was never agreed upon with the person he was handing over to – the commissioner.

“It is therefore not clear whether what the liquidator had on his list as assets of Coop Lesotho represents the true picture of assets on the ground he left with the commissioner. It is also not clear whether this list was all inclusive and did not omit some of the assets of Coop Lesotho.

“We find it not normal that the commissioner would terminate the work of the liquidator without satisfying herself on the assets and liabilities left behind by the liquidator. We conclude that no proper handover was carried out unless fresh evidence can be provided to the contrary,” the report states.

The report also found that Ms Lekoetje had unduly interfered in the affairs of Coop Lesotho through various means, including influencing staff appointments and making critical decisions without consulting the AGM and the MC.

She was also found to have unduly interfered through suspending the MC and the manager and “through instructing tenants to divert rental income and deposit it in a bank account controlled by her and dismissed staff members”.

The report says she colluded with dismissed staff members to “illegally individually and jointly benefit from the funds of the society, through enjoying societies’ funds by paying out of the bank account dismissed staff.”

She was also found to have put “the industry into disrepute by commuting funds to travel outside of the country without the approval of both the minister in her case and that of the MC and AGM for the manager”.

She was also found to have made unilateral staff appointments but failed to act where such staff exposed Coop Lesotho’s assets to misuse- “an example being the purchase of a truck that turned out to be illicit”.

She is also accused of “practising nepotism through recruiting staff at the society both from her own home and according financial sponsorship to children that come from the same place as her.”

LETACC also observed in its findings that with respect to the current management and staff of Coop Lesotho, “none of them holds even a junior degree but are expected to manage assets in excess of ten million (maloti) and handle monthly income in excess of one hundred thousand. This is a clear mismatch, and failure is bound to be the order of the day”.

LETACC recommended that a disciplinary process should be instituted against Ms Lekoetje. The society has to be reimbursed for this loss in the illegal purchase of the truck.

It also recommended that, “based on the magnitude of the above in totality in monetary terms; it may be considered to submit the case to the police or Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences dealing with illegal acts by civil servants”.

However, Ms Lekoetje this week dismissed the report as “unfounded and biased” in an interview with the Lesotho Times, adding she was being framed by authorities in the ministry.

“I am not surprised that this report came out the way it did because even during their investigations, LETACC kept rejecting my side of the story. They said my story is not convincing. LETACC also didn’t use documents including receipts I gave them to prove I accounted for the money we used on a study tour to Kenya and Tanzania in 2015.”

Ms Lekoetje produced to this reporter copies of the receipts she said LETACC did not use in their report “intentionally.”

She added there had been a ploy involving the former Minister Litšiba to dismiss her “because he had interests in the assets of Coop Lesotho.”

Ms Lekoetje said she suspected Mr Litšiba, “had a big influence in the outcome of this report because he wanted to get rid of me after I blocked him when he wanted to lease out one plot that belongs to the Mohale’s Hoek Marketing to a certain businessman of Indian origin”.

“I stood in his way because that was illegal. Ntate Litšiba had actually instructed me to confiscate that lease from the Mohale’s Hoek Marketing and give it that Indian man. I suspect this report is revenge because of the way it is unfounded and biased.

“It was hoped that when this report comes out Ntate Litšiba would still be in charge of the ministry and they were going to dismiss me so that he can continue to benefit from assets of Coop Lesotho. They framed me,” she said.

She however, agreed with the recommendation that the DCEO should investigate the matter “because I am sure it will not be bribed and biased the way this report is”.

For his part, Mr Litšiba yesterday denied Ms Lekoetje’s suggestions of impropriety on his part, saying: “Before I left the ministry we commissioned a forensic audit from a credible company because we were concerned about reports of mismanagement of Coop Lesotho”.

“When I left the ministry, the report had not been finalised. If now the report has been finalised and points fingers at the commissioner, she should stand up and account for what is appearing in the report. She should not shift the blame to me because I have left.

“She is telling lies about a site I sold to an Indian. How do I sell a land that does not belong to me? We spent a lot of money to engage those forensic auditors through a bidding process. They are called forensic investigators because they work independently and they can stand before the courts and testify on their findings. She should stop telling you rubbish and account for her actions,” Mr Litšiba said.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s principal secretary, Motseki Mofammere wrote to Ms Lekoetje on Tuesday requesting her to “study the report and provide your comments on issues relating to you and the Department of Cooperatives”.

Dr Mofammere gave Ms Lekoetje a seven-day ultimatum to respond to the matter.

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