First Lady in hot soup
- Mafeteng councillors mull suing her for the return of ‘borrowed’ council diesel,
- accuse her of disrupting council projects to fund her own initiatives.
FIRST Lady ‘Masekoalane Majoro has landed on the wrong side of the Mafeteng District Council. This after her office “borrowed” 600 litres of diesel from the council to fuel trucks to transport building materials for two houses she is building for vulnerable families in Pitseng and Hleoheng, Leribe.
Ms Majoro admits taking the diesel for philanthropic purposes last week. She said the diesel enabled her office to “extend a helping hand” to two vulnerable families in Leribe.
This has however, not sat well with the Mafeteng councillors who accuse her of improperly taking the council diesel and disrupting council projects as a result.
The councillours allege that no documents were ever signed indicating who was responsible for “borrowing” diesel and when it would be replaced.
This is the first public fallout Ms Majoro has had with any institution since she became first lady on 20 May 2020. This after her husband, Moeketsi Majoro, replaced his All Basotho Convention (ABC) party’s leader Thomas Thabane as prime minister.
Former First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, often made headlines for allegedly interfering with government business. She was accused of commandeering ministers, government officials and resources to further her own objectives or those of her trust which was engaged in philanthropic work.
Commenting on Ms Majoro’s run-in with the Mafeteng councillors, Mohau Ntsukunyane, a councillor for Tšana-Talana in the district, this week said they were considering legal action to force the first lady to replace the “borrowed” diesel.
Mr Ntsukunyane said some unnamed individuals went to Mafeteng and collected the 600 litres diesel on behalf of the First Lady. He said the individuals had acted on the instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister.
“We have yellow plant stationed at Tšana-Talana doing construction work and the work is being done in line with the government budget allocations,” Mr Ntsukunyane said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.
“Towards the end of the previous financial year (in March), we bought diesel which we have been using for construction work until now when we realised that we were left with approximately 1500 litres.
“When we held our monthly meeting last Wednesday, the civil servants informed us that the Office of the Prime Minister, through Mme First Lady, had requested 600 litres of diesel which would be taken to Leribe where the First Lady is going to rehabilitate or build a house for families in Pitseng and Hleoheng. The diesel was taken without informing us.
“What surprised us is that the civil servants said there is no document indicating how many litres of diesel had been taken and how it would be reimbursed. It is then that the council decided that we were being taken for granted because we don’t even understand the involvement of the Office of the First Lady in the council which falls under the local government ministry. They left Maseru to come and get our diesel without a directive from our minister (Lehlohonolo Moramotse) or anyone else,” Mr Ntsukunyane said.
He said the Mafeteng councilors were set to meet yesterday to discuss how to get the Office of the First Lady to replace the diesel.
“We have asked our legal advisor to advise us as to who we should sue for the return of our diesel. We need to know which person we can directly approach for the replacement of the diesel. We want to know whether it is the Office of the Prime Minister we should approach.
“The taking of diesel has negatively affected service delivery. For instance, 600 litres of diesel can fuel three trucks to do three days’ work. Right now, that diesel is not there because it has been taken. The vehicles have been parked because of this.
“Each of the councils in the district has its own road construction plans. The trucks were working on our 60 kilometre stretch of road since 2016. We have not even covered half of that 60 kilometres because of the diversion of equipment.”
Mr Ntsukunyane, who is not aligned to any of the political parties, said they would continue to suffer because “elections are nearing and people in power will take our allocated equipment” and give orders that it be taken to the place of their choice for political gain.
Asked if he believed that Ms Majoro’s philanthropic works in Leribe were being done with next year’s elections in mind, Mr Ntsukunyane said he did not know “what type of person she is”. He said he did not know whether she was like some politicians who only undertook philanthropic initiatives as part of a vote-buying gimmick.
He said that all he knew is that “she took our diesel to Leribe and the most painful thing is she took our fuel to another district”.
“We need answers,” Mr Ntsukunyane added.
On her part, Ms Majoro acknowledged “borrowing” the diesel.
“This is my side of the story,” Ms Majoro said in a radio interview this week.
“Last week we had commitments of launching the construction of two houses for two vulnerable families in Pitseng and Hleoheng. When we were preparing for this commitment, one of the donors gave us building stones but said we must organise our own transport. We requested assistance from the Butha-Buthe District Council Secretary’s office. We received a truck but it did not have fuel.
“We investigated which district would be able to assist with fuel. We established that the Mafeteng district had fuel. I asked officers dealing with the issue to request guidance on the processes we must follow for us to get assistance and they did that. We were advised, we wrote letters and did everything that we were told to do.
“How this matter was dealt with, where the diesel was taken and how it should be returned are issues that involve the district that assisted us with fuel,” Ms Majoro said.
She said she understood the frustration of the Mafeteng councillors and pleaded with them to “calm down”.
“I perfectly understand when they say they are worried that their own projects will be halted. But we are all affected by the vulnerability of other people. My office goes everywhere, in all places and we can request for assistance wherever there are materials that we need.
“However, I must repeat that we started by investigating and requested guidance on which steps to follow for us to access that fuel. We did not just show up and demand fuel, we asked for it.
“I am pleading with people from that council to calm down. We are doing work that meets theirs halfway because if we are assisting Lesotho citizens. My office does not discriminate on the basis of districts.”
She also apologised to the Mafeteng District Council for “stepping on their toes”.
“Where they feel that the office (of the First Lady) has stepped on their toes when we requested for fuel from a district after being told it has fuel, we apologise.
“I was talking to some people who had called me about this issue. I said maybe I don’t understand because for instance, a government vehicle from Quthing can be fuelled in Mokhotlong or anywhere else. I understood that we are operating in one system where the one who has something can share with others. We didn’t do anything in bad faith but because I believe that we are all working together towards a common goal,” she said.