. . . as six directors of vehicle fleet firm also skip the country
SEVERAL leaders of the Democratic Congress (DC) youth league, who have alleged massive corruption in the handling of a lucrative government fleet contract, have fled the country fearing for their lives.
Six directors of a local consortium, that claims to have been recommended for the tender during an evaluation process, but was eventually not awarded the project, after allegedly refusing to pay a M4 million bribe to Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla via her proxy, have also fled to South Africa.
Outspoken DC youth league President Thuso Litjobo told the Lesotho Times last night several members of his executive committee had opted to flee the country after getting death threats and receiving a tip off that Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) officials had been given “strict” instructions to torture them into disclosing who gave them a confidential evaluation report of the original fleet tender.
The LMPS has nevertheless vehemently denied the claims.
The firebrand Mr Litjobo said he himself had opted to stay in the country to fight for what he believes is right. He vowed to stand for the truth and never to accede to any forms of intimidation.
“I will not flee even if it means getting killed. I stand for the truth and I am ready to expose more corruption… This (the fleet tender) is just the beginning….,” he said.
But the youth wing leaders said other members of his national executive committee – Secretary-General Letuka Chafotsa, Chairman Lekhotla Matsaba, and youth league spokesperson Maliehe Lemphane — had opted to flee the country in the face of what he described as legitimate fears for the lives.
“All the threats made against us are acts of cowardice. They are meant to silence us because we have made our views very categorical about the corruption by one of our own, who is a minister….This is a desperate bid to shut us up but it won’t succeed…,” charged Mr Litjobo, whose outspokenness has earned him the epithet of ‘Lesotho’s own Julius Malema’ , a reference to the firebrand former ruling African National Congress (ANC) youth league leader who became a thorn in the flesh of his leaders before being expelled from South Africa’s ruling party.
Mr Litjobo also disclosed that six owners of a joint venture company called, Lebelonyane Fleet Services, had also fled after receiving death threats over their resistance to the awarding of the lucrative fleet tender to South Africa’s Bidvest.
The Lebelonyane joint venture company owners had initiated court proceedings to stop the government from proceeding with the awarding of a four-year contract to manage a fleet of 1 200 government vehicles to Bidvest. They argued Bidvest had not submitted a bid when the government floated the fleet management tender in February this year.
The six owners of the Lebelonyane consortium who have skipped the country into South Africa are Letsatsi Mabona, Kereke Moteletsane, Moorosi Rampholo, Rapitso Thabeng, Matsikane Khali and Teboho Mothebesoane.
Two others, Matlalekhotso Mapheso and Moeketsi Shale, are believed to have gone into hiding in Lesotho.
Mr Mabona, who was recently sacked from the Water and Sewage Authority Company (WASCO)’s board of directors by Dr Khaketla, confirmed he and his colleagues had opted to flee the country.
“I was seated at a restaurant when I got a tip-off to run for my life as there were people looking for me and my colleagues. I left immediately without taking anything on me. I have skipped the country to safety in a foreign land,” said Mr Mabona.
He said his colleagues in Lebelonyane had also fled though he would not disclose their destinations. The Lesotho Times understands they are now all in South Africa.
“I spoke to them before their departures. I can confirm that we, as Lebelonyane Fleet services members have therefore fled Lesotho,” he said.
Mr Mabona mentioned key politicians whom he said had started baying for the blood of his consortium’s members to stop them from opposing the Bidvest deal. The Lesotho Times can however not mention the names of those he implicated in a plot to kill him for professional reasons.
DC youth league leaders insist Mr Mabona’s firing from the WASCO board by Dr Khaketla was partly a result of his involvement with Lebelonyane.
The Lebelonyane joint venture had earlier filed a court application seeking to stop the government from proceeding with the contract with Bidvest. But it withdrew the court application to prepare a fresh one, backed by new hard facts, after getting a confidential evaluation report that it had scored the most points at 81.85 against 68.21 for the other short listed bidder, Avis Fleet Services.
The government had nevertheless opted to cancel the entire tender process, saying it could no longer afford the terms envisaged in that process. It opted instead to extend a six month deal with Bidvest into a new four-year contract without an open tender. The original six month deal had excluded Bidvest from the main tender.
It’s not clear what will now become of the Lebelonyane court bid to thwart the government’s deal with Bidvest, after the flight of most of the joint venture’s owners fearing for their lives.
The leakage of the secret adjudication report showing that Lebelonyane had scored the most points is now at the centre of the latest controversy over the fleet contract which DC youth league leaders estimate to be worth in excess of R70 million monthly.
The DC youth league president claimed that all the tips-off he and his colleagues had been receiving had turned out to be correct. So other youth leagues leaders had opted to flee as they could not take issues for granted anymore.
“We got a tip-off that we would be called to the police and that proved true…….Now why should we not believe it after being warned that we could be tortured to death…?” asked Mr Litjobo, justifying the decision of his colleagues to flee but insisting that he himself would remain to face whatever consequences.
“I am prepared to die for the truth. I am prepared to die for my country…,” he thundered.
Mr Litjobo said him and Mr Chafotsa, had been summoned to the police on Monday but were told they would be interrogated last as some other person, believed to be from Lebelonyane, was already being interrogated. They were then asked to return on Tuesday only to be told that the person handling their case was unavailable and they should avail themselves before the police again yesterday. But Mr Litjobo said he had opted not to return after being warned that severe trouble awaited him at the police station. He had also warned Mr Chafotsa not to go with the SG opting to flee the country.
The two youth league leaders, alongside other members of their executive, held a press conference on 27 July 2016 in which they publicly accused Dr Khaketla of deliberately thwarting the awarding of the tender to Lebelonyane because the consortium had refused to pay her a M4 million bribe through a man described by the youth league leaders as her personal friend, Thabo Napo.
Mr Napo has since threatened to sue the DC unless it reins-in the youth league while Dr Khaketla had demanded M6 million in defamatory compensation from Mr Litjobo and his colleagues.
Mr Litjobo is nonetheless standing his ground.
“We are not going to shut up…We have a duty to promote the national interests. To that end, we will continue blowing the whistle on corrupt activities no matter who is involved….”
He said it was not necessary to report the details of any threats they received to the police as they were being hunted down by the very same police.
“How on earth can we be expected to seek refuge from the very oppressors?” he asked. “The best way to expose corruption was going public.”
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Clifford Molefe, slated Mr Litjobo and his colleagues, accusing them of lying.
“As police, we take no orders from anyone. We do our work professionally. We don’t torture people and it’s simply false that we have been given orders to torture people. That’s all fallacious. We however have a constitutional right to question anyone accused of committing a crime,” he said.
“We have only called one person for interrogation over this tender document matter. As for the rest of the other people who claim to have been called for questioning, that’s not true. We have never called them nor did we ever arrest them,” Supt Molefe said, adding that he was not aware that youth leaders and owners of the Lebelonyane consortium had fled the country.
DC spokesperson Serialong Qoo said he was in South Africa and had no knowledge of the fleeing of his party’s youth league leaders.
The government’s chief spokesperson, Communications Minister Khotso Letsatsi, who is also a senior member of the DC, and was heard reprimanding youth league leaders in a recent leaked audio conversation, said he was not aware that his party’s youth league leaders had fled.
“I am not aware that there are people who have fled and so I will not even comment on that,” said Mr Letsatsi
Last week, Mr Letsatsi said the government would not go back on the Bidvest deal and was now in the process of implementing it.
Meanwhile, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a mainstream civic group, has weighed in the tender fleet controversy urging the government to intensify investigations into alleged corruption instead of targeting whistle blowers, the DC youth league leaders and others. TRC programmes manager, Mabusetsa Lenka Thamae, said it was encouraging that for the first time ever, a group of people “connected to the government of the day” were at the forefront of exposing and condemning corruption (See story on Page 4).