DC youths accuse Finance minister of graft
IN an unprecedented move, the Democratic Congress (DC)’s Youth League has launched a scathing attack against the party’s own senior member Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla, accusing her of corruption for allegedly soliciting a M4 million bribe in the awarding of the highly lucrative tender to run the government’s vehicle fleet.
The DC is the lead party in the coalition government providing the bulk of its ministers. It’s unprecedented for an important organ of a party in the current coalition arrangement to attack its own minister in such vitriolic and rancorous terms.
In a strongly worded statement, the national executive committee of the DC youth league, led by its president Thuso Litjobo, claimed Dr Khaketla had attempted to solicit a M4 million bribe from a joint venture company, which consists of Fleet Service Lesotho (Pty) Ltd and Lebelonyane (Pty) Ltd (Fleet Services) which had been shortlisted for the multimillion-maloti tender.
It called upon the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to investigate the minister. However, no hard evidence was unveiled by the youth league to back its bribery claims against Dr Khaketla. The DCEO nevertheless confirmed it was looking into the matter.
DCEO spokesperson ’Matlhokomelo Senoko told the Lesotho Times yesterday the anticorruption body had received “a report” from the “complaining firm” and it was now being “studied accordingly”.
The joint venture company was shortlisted alongside two other firms, Fleetmatics Vehicle Management Solutions Lesotho (Pty) Limited (Fleetmatics) and Seahlolo Transport Logistics (Pty) Limited trading as Avis Fleet Services (Seahlolo). However, Fleetmatics Vehicle Management Solutions Lesotho was later disqualified leaving the joint venture company and Seahlolo as the only shortlisted companies.
After the government last month cancelled the tender and decided to sign a new contract with Bidvest, the joint venture company filed an urgent application in the Commercial Court seeking to block the government from “awarding or extending” the contract with Bidvest.
The joint venture company also sought to restrain the government from executing its new contract with Bidvest pending the finalisation of the case, which is before Justice Thamsanqa Nomngcongo.
Bidvest had originally been awarded a six month contract from 1 October 2015 with its contract scheduled to end on 31 March 2016 after the expiry of the government’s fleet management contract with Avis.
Because of that short-term deal, the government had promised to exclude Bidvest from the new tender to find a new long-term operator to replace Avis.
However the government shocked all and sundry last when Dr Khaketla announced the cancellation of the tender, preferring instead to enter a new long-term deal with Bidvest, which did not bid for the tender.
Announcing the new deal with Bidvest last month, Dr Khaketla said the company would provide computerised fleet management services for the next four years. Under the new contract, the minister said, the government would buy 600 vehicles and hire another 600 from ordinary Basotho, with Bidvest only managing the fleet. She also said the government decided to cancel the tender because it did not have enough money to continue with the route envisaged in that tender.
A revised tender evaluation report which only came to the attention of the joint venture company after it had already gone to court to challenge the minister’s Bidvest decision proved the joint venture company had indeed been recommended as the recipient of the tender, scoring 81.85 points against 68.21 for the other shortlisted bidder, Avis Fleet Services (Seahlolo).
After it got hold of the report, the joint venture company has since withdrawn the application it had already filed to enable it to file a new one incorporating the report to provide the court with more hard facts to prove its claim that it was short-changed by Dr Khaketla’s ministry.
At a press briefing this week, the entire executive committee of the DC Youth League, led by its leader Thuso Litjobo, claimed the joint venture company had suffered after failing to provide Dr Khaketla with the claimed “M4 million bribe”.
Reading from a prepared text, youth league Secretary-General Letuka Chafotsa chronicled how the government had entered into an agreement with Bidvest in September 2015 after the expiry of its long running contract with Avis.
Mr Chafotsa said the DC youth league had supported the government’s short-term deal with Bidvest because of the urgent need of vehicles for service delivery. He said the youth league had also supported the government when it sought a transactional advisor at a “whooping M3 million” to advise it on how best to manage the fleet contract in a way that would best empower Basotho.
Mr Chafotsa said the league was also happy with the government’s decision to exclude Bidvest from the new tender in light of the six month contract it had already enjoyed.
“Again, we supported this decision as it was in the best interest of Basotho, in particular the local businesspeople who wanted to be given a chance to bid for the tender. We thought the government had advised itself so well and in a fair and transparent manner,” Mr Chafotsa said.
He said the league had then been shocked by the decision to cancel the tender process during adjudication in favour of continuing with Bidvest which Dr Khatleka claimed would provide the “computerised fleet management system”.
“This decision came as a shock to us because the government had made an unshakable promise to the entire Basotho nation that Bidvest was not going to be given a chance to bid for the tender and indeed the company had not tendered its bid (sic) for the project. There was also no explanation from the minister in terms of why the tender process was being cancelled.
“The only explanation we get is that the decision was reached by cabinet, and our point of argument against this is that it is a violation of procurement laws for cabinet to be interfering in procurement processes. This obviously calls for high suspicions (sic) that there could be a few government officials benefiting from this arrangement,” charged Mr Chafotsa.
He said the youth league’s own investigations had proved beyond doubt and “with tangible evidence” that the joint venture company won the tender.
“The biggest question bothering ourselves is what interest does the government have so much on Bidvest that it can decide to deny a Basotho company to satisfy itself (sic)?….”
The youth league then went on to claim there was evidence that Dr Khaketla’s “personal friend”, Thabo Napo, had approached members of the joint venture company to solicit M4 million on behalf of the Finance minister. The evidence was nevertheless not detailed at the press conference.
Mr Chafotsa claimed Dr Khatleka had been heard claiming the joint venture company would get the tender “at Nyenye’s Cross” (a common Sesotho phrase meaning you will not get anything easily) unless the company acceded to Mr Napo’s request.
“In his words Mr Napo said: ‘M’e (Dr Khaketla) can give us her Mercedes Benz car now so that we can immediately go to Gauteng and get the money and put it in the car boot on our drive back home. We won’t just make people billionaires at our expense here,’” claimed Mr Chafotsa, without providing any audio recordings to prove that these words were indeed uttered.
But based on this information above, Mr Chafotsa said it was clear that Bidvest had been awarded a lucrative deal through “highly dubious means”.
Contacted for comment by the Lesotho Times yesterday, an irate Mr Napo dismissed this reporter saying “you must stop calling me over these issues.”
Mr Chafotsa also claimed that another minister, he did not name, had told a member of the joint venture company it could get the contract easily if it gave the money to Dr Khatleka.
“At this juncture, we want to applaud one of the principal secretaries (PS) who was summoned to one of the ministers’ residence where she was lured with a large sum of money so that she can violate some of the procurement procedures, the PS refused to take up the offer,” Mr Chafotsa said.
Although he refused to mention the PS by name the Lesotho Times has since established that he was referring to ’Mapalesa Rapapa, who was reshuffled from the Finance ministry to the police ministry earlier this month.
But Ms Rapapa declined comments when contacted by the Lesotho Times yesterday, saying “I am really unable to comment on the allegations by the youths at the moment.”
The youths stressed it was clear the joint venture company had been sabotaged over its refusal to acquiesce to ministers abusing their powers in attempts to enrich themselves.
The government, the youths alleged, had awarded the contract to Bidvest “under false justification” that the South African company is the only one that can provide “computerised fleet management system.”
“The big question and indeed a shock to us is how come the finance minister got to know about Bidvest so much that she even knew that the company is the only one that can provide this service when it did not even bid for the tender? Doesn’t this imply that the finance minister has been holding secret meetings with Bidvest?” queried Mr Chafotsa.
The youth league further accused the government of hoodwinking Basotho into believing they would benefit through the arrangement to hire 600 cars from ordinary Basotho across the country to fall under the management of Bidvest.
This, he said, was not a justifiable reason to favour Bidvest as the joint venture company could have easily done the same. But Mr Chafotsa also dismissed the promise to hire the 600 vehicles from ordinary Basotho as a pink lie, claiming that “some ministers” were already making preparations “with their friends” to buy cars through the banks “so that their cars are hired, instead those of the ordinary Basotho,” as had been promised.
“Our investigations further revealed that the 600 cars that the government says it is buying are actually going to be bought by a South African-based bank, Bidvest Bank, again without any proper tender processes followed….” Mr Chafotsa charged.
“To further justify that indeed some ministers have interests in Bidvest, every person who condemns this controversial and corrupt deal (which has come) at the expense of Basotho taxpayers is subjected to intimidation. For instance, some of the PSs who refused to be engaged in this deal were suspended from duty and subsequently reshuffled. As the DC youth league, we are condemning this in the strongest terms possible.”
He described the Bidvest deal as “most unfortunate and cruel as it sabotaged the country’s economy”, further claiming that the previous deal with Avis cost the government only M34 million monthly while the one with Bidvest would gobble M65 million a month, a development that would “bankrupt” the government.
“We suspect that soon the government will run out of funds. At the moment, and we have proof, the government is already using the “contingencies fund” to pay Bidvest….”
“We also have tangible evidence that the government is already requesting other ministries to divert their funds, which were otherwise intended for other developments, to payout Bidvest…” Mr Chafotsa said, adding the fact that Bidvest was a foreign-owned company would be costly to Lesotho.
“For instance, all Bidvest vehicles are serviced in South Africa; even their tyres are fitted in South Africa and other related services. This means ordinary Basotho are not benefiting at all from Bidvest’s services in Lesotho. Bidvest has even employed its drivers from South Africa to drive its cars as they go for services in that country, yet Basotho drivers are there.”
The DC youth league said it wholly blamed this “entire morass” on Dr Khaketla, whom it said must be promptly probed by the DCEO. It urged Basotho not to blame the prime minister, his coalition government or the DC for this corruption, “but solely the Finance minister.”
Dr Khaketla flatly refused to comment telling the Lesotho Times through her secretary, Ntseliseng Letsoela, that she “is not in a position to talk to the Lesotho Times.”