Durban embassy probed

 

…as staff makes sensational allegations against Consul General Lerato Tšosane

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

THE Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) has launched an investigation into Lesotho’s Durban Consulate following a damning draft audit report suggesting massive abuse of public funds and poor management by Consul General, Lerato Tšosane.

The report, released in June this year by the Office of the Auditor General, covered 2009 to May 2014, and chronicled a host of alleged abuse of power and funds by Ms Tšosane.

Following the evaluation, Auditor General Lucy Liphafa wrote a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Principal Secretary, expressing concern over the alleged irregularities, which she feared could have cost government millions of maloti.  In the letter dated 17 June 2014, Ms Liphafa, summarised the findings of her audit team and implored the relevant authorities to remedy the situation and if possible, recover the misappropriated funds.

DCEO Spokesperson, ’Matlhokomelo Senoko, confirmed Ms Tšosane was being probed following the report, but would not go into details.

“We are currently conducting investigations at the Lesotho Durban Consulate following the Auditor General’s report. Unfortunately, we cannot say more regarding the issue, suffice to only confirm that indeed, the DCEO is investigating the Durban office as well as the Consul General herself.”

But while Ms Senoko could not disclose how far the DCEO had gone with the investigations, a source privy to the matter has told the Lesotho Times that the anti-corruption body had asked staff to explain, in writing, how they were employed by the embassy and what could have contributed to the alleged rot at the consulate.

The Lesotho Times is in possession of a copy of one such report written by a certain Raynel Ramdhani, who is a receptionist at the consulate. Ms Ramdhani’s report, dated 9 September 2014, makes sensational allegations against Ms Tšosane.

The report reads: “I am Raynel Ramdhani and have been employed at the Lesotho Consulate (Durban) since February 2014 as a receptionist. I also take on cleaning duties and personal assistant responsibilities.

“The first time I met Lerato (Tšosane) was at the Loads of Living Gateway Store during the early second half of 2013. I was employed as a Cashier and Sales Assistant. After attending to her during her shopping at the store, she handed me her business card stating that she was very impressed with my service, and that she was the Consul General of Lesotho and that she would be shopping there often, and from that day onwards, we became friends.”

Ms Ramdhani further explains a few weeks later (September 2014) Loads of Living received an invitation “asking that I attend the Consul General’s birthday party.”

She continues: “I did attend the party, taking it as a great opportunity to increase company sales and personal growth. I had a great time and was even asked to give a speech on behalf of the store. I felt that my friendship with Lerato was going great because after the party, she used to call me frequently asking me to visit her at home. She would send the driver to pick me up and often, we would consume alcohol.”

Ms Ramdhani noted during the visits, she was introduced to Ms Tšosane’s daughter.

“I was introduced to her daughter (name withheld). I became very close to the child because during Lerato’s absence on business trips, I used to be asked to babysit her quite often. One day, while having drinks at her house, Lerato told me that her daughter’s father was the Prime Minister of Lesotho and that nobody could do anything to her because of that.”

Ms Ramdhani further notes in her report that she was promised by Ms Tšosane that “if I’m always by her side, she would take care of me and my family. I told Lerato that my family was very poor as she used to ask me about my personal life.”

Ms Ramdhani claims she was subsequently offered employment by Ms Tšosane as her Personal Assistant (PA).

“I was ecstatic as I was offered better benefits by Consul General Lerato Tšosane and didn’t even have to move away from home. The position and benefits offered to me by Ms Tšosane were as follows: Personal Assistant; R7000 monthly salary with an increase after three months; housing allowance, travelling allowance, 13th cheque, M500 towards my medical aid and a yearly increase. It was an informal meeting at Lerato’s house in Hillcrest. Lerato had nothing written on paper and I trusted her because of our close relationship.”

However, while Ms Ramdhani was supposed to join the Consulate in February 2014 as PA, she was made a receptionist instead—much to her disappointment.

“I started employment at the Consulate in February 2014, but not as Lerato’s Personal Assistant as promised but as the receptionist. I was disappointed but accepted my fate. During my first month, I noticed another side of Lerato. One morning, I was called into the accounts room and asked to stand and watch as Lerato humiliated Kerry (also employed at the office). I felt hurt as I watched helplessly.

“I was summoned into her office soon after and told we were no longer friends and that I was just an employee. Lerato’s bevaviour and attitude started to change as she became worse towards the staff, including myself. Name-calling increased daily, such as stupid, dump, not smart, need pills.  Threats were continuous, and I quote: I’m the Consul General and what I say is final. All of you will do as I say or you will be fired. There is nobody who can do anything to me as the Prime Minister will never make me suffer because of the child I have with him.

“Lerato turned my view of her from an angel into a heartless monster. I used to enjoy coming to work but can’t stand looking at her anymore or even listening to her speak as it makes me sick. She is always shouting at everyone.”

Ms Ramdhani further claims in August this year, Consulate staff wrote a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) complaining about Ms Tšosane’s alleged abuse. The Lesotho Times could not immediately verify this claim with the PS.

“We stated our issues and unhappiness and when Lerato found out, she went ballistic. The abuse increased. I was summoned to her office and told because I had signed the letter of complaint, I was going to suffer. She also told me the police were coming to the office to do a security clearance on me and that I should also bring along all my qualifications pertaining to my position. I found it weird that she should ask for a police clearance on me now after many months of being employed there but I did not object. I felt threatened that she should also ask for my qualifications at that time as she had clearly known I did not have any when she approached me with a job offer.”

Contacted for comment last Saturday, Ms Tšosane angrily told the Lesotho Times: “I don’t work at the DCEO; why don’t you go and ask them why they are investigating me? I am not going to waste my time talking to the media about this issue. You have never heard me talking to reporters before, so why don’t just publish what you want to publish?”

Meanwhile, the Auditor General, Ms Liphafa, had noted in her letter of 17 June 2014: “The audit of the Lesotho Durban Consulate for the financial years 2009/10 to May 2014 has been completed, and the Draft Audit Inspection Report accompanying this letter summarises matters arising from the audit.

“I would like to draw your attention to the following major weaknesses noted during the course of the audit:

  • Irregular cash withdrawals from the Consulate bank account whereby a total of R500 000 was withdrawn between November and December 2013. This amount appears to have been deposited into the Consul General’s personal account from which some payments were made.
  • In the 2013/14 financial year, the Consul General claimed out-of-pocket expenses amounting to R70,970.99.
  • Unauthorised change of accommodation by the Consul General where the government has incurred expenditure amounting to R300,800.00 for the occupancy of the new house, while the former property broker has claimed R210,068.91 which, if it is not paid, legal action will be instituted against the government.
  • There were purchases of furniture and other items made for the Consul General amounting to R216,388.86, which the auditors were not able to verify their physical existence as the Consul General was never available throughout the time of the audit. Of this amount, R87,056.00 was for items which had been purchased in Lesotho, of which the auditors noted that the concept value for money was not observed as the said items could have been purchased in Durban.”

The draft audit further gives a grim picture of accounting procedures at the Consulate, while the Auditor General continually questions payments to the Consular General, which include per-diems during unauthorised trips outside South Africa, refunds for goods purchased for the office, and out-of-pocket allowances.

“Most payments of the Consulate Office were effected on the basis of quotations and invoices which were not signed by the supplier as proof of ownership.

“Therefore, the authenticity of such payments by the Consul General was doubtful as to whether they were genuine payments for which goods or services were beneficial to the office.”

Due to the magnitude of the alleged rot, the Auditor General recommended a thorough forensic audit to determine the extent to which funds could have been abused at the Consulate, hence the current DCEO probe.

“As indicated that public funds of the Durban Consul are subjected to fraud, management is advised to make further investigations as the Office of the Auditor General is not mandated to make further verifications with third parties to confirm the occurrence of the transactions and reliability and existence of suppliers whose invoices and quotations were not signed and find out whether they are authorised suppliers.”

The Auditor General also recommended that the Consul General’s personal bank accounts be scrutinised to determine the source of her funds.

“Management should make a follow-up and forensic investigations on the sources of income and inflow of deposits in the Consul General’s account, to find out whether she was actually in possession of such huge amounts she says she sometimes spends on government business.

“For instance, there were instances where disbursements amounting to R75,555.67 for goods and services in respect of the Consulate were paid from the Consul General’s personal account, instead of the authorised government account.”

The Auditor General has also questioned the payment of R235 000 for a vacant flat by the Consular General.

“The audit revealed that Flat 23, Umhlanga Ridge, was vacant from March 2013 to February 2014, yet monthly rentals totalling R235 000 were paid during the period in question. This implied that public funds have been wasted on what the government of Lesotho did not benefit from and there was no explanation given.”

Concludes the audit: “There is a very serious laxity in management of public funds at the Durban Consulate, resulting in non-compliance with the laws and regulations and other government accounting procedures.”

Meanwhile, repeated attempts by the Lesotho Times to get a comment from Dr Thabane regarding Ms Ramdhani’s claim that Ms Tšosane’s daughter was his, were not successful. Ms Ramdhani was also not immediately available to further discuss her sensational allegations.

 

 

 

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