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Covidgate: DCEO freezes payments to suppliers

  • Manyokole says health authorities “have a case to answer”, graft probe is underway

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole, says the Ministry of Health officials have a case to answer over alleged corruption and violations of procurement regulations in the awarding of tenders for the procurement of goods and services for the fight against Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Adv Manyokole has since ordered the ministry to stop paying suppliers until after the anti-graft body has concluded its investigations into the alleged violations of procurement procedures in the awarding of the tenders.

He gave the directive on 18 September 2020. This after the cabinet principal secretary, Kabelo Lehora, had turned to the DCEO to probe the Covid-19 tenders after being bombarded by the health ministry to expediate payments to service providers last month.

Mr Lehora asked the DCEO to investigate after he noticed that payment advices submitted to him by the health ministry on behalf of suppliers reflected huge discrepancies with those supplied to the ministry by the service providers themselves.

Part of documents indicated that a food supplier had billed the government M29 000 yet a payment transfer letter prepared by the health ministry requested Mr Lehora to approve a whooping M7, 1 million payment to the same supplier. It is not clear whether the ministry officials intended to share the loot with the suppliers once the payments had been made.

In another case, a cleaning material supplier billed the health ministry M97 000 but in its payment transfer letter, the health ministry asked Mr Lehora to approve M7, 9 million for the same supplier.

But Adv Manyokole ordered the health ministry not to make any payments to suppliers, saying the DCEO had noted serious anomalies and had begun full investigations into the awarding of Covid-19 tenders.

“Having analysed the evidence from the interviews we had with interviewees and our informants and having analysed the evidence from the documents submitted to DCEO, we have come to the conclusion that there is a case to answer for tender manipulations and violations of procurement procedures for the award of the tender to some preferred bidders,” Adv Manyokole states in his 18 September 2020 letter to the health ministry’s principal secretary, Khothatso Tšooana.

“Therefore, the DCEO has instituted investigations on the aforesaid allegations of procurement fraud and corruption involving the above tender.

“We therefore instruct you…to refrain from processing or paying any of the suppliers involved in the Covid-19 procurement until advised otherwise. Your cooperation in matters of this nature will be highly appreciated,” Adv Manyokole states in the letter titled: ‘Directive to stop processing payments in favour of all Covid-19 tenders’.

Mr Tšooana’s mobile phone rang unanswered on several occasions when the Lesotho Times contacted him for comment yesterday.

Lesotho’s Covid-19 response has been dogged by allegations of serious looting and corruption during the short-lived tenure of the now disbanded National Emergency Command Centre (NECC).

Last month, this publication reported that the NECC had already gobbled M161 million out of the M698 million budget set aside by the government to fight Covid-19 by the time it was disbanded in June 2020 by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

The NECC had been set up in March 2020 by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane as an inter-ministerial committee to spearhead the fight against Covid-19.

It later emerged that it spent more than M10 782 618 of the Covid-19 funds on food for its staffers and millions more on other items bought at highly inflated prices.

It has since been replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) which is headed by Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Commissioner General Thabo Khasipe.

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