…. gets free bail alongside co-accused
….as magistrate laments delays in prosecuting cases
The water ministry’s former principal secretary (PS), Malefetsane Nchaka, and two co-accused businessmen, have been released on free bail after appearing before Maseru magistrate, Lerato Ntelane, facing seven counts of corruption, theft and fraud.
Most of the charges arise from allegations that Mr Nchaka illegally used government vehicles and fuel to aid the campaign of All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Nkaku Kabi ahead of the October 2022 general elections.
Mr Nchaka was hauled before court around mid-day on Tuesday, alongside businessmen Leboelo Molefe and Lebohang Tumahole. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is accusing the three men of defrauding the government of M293 050. 97 from May to October last year as they sought to assist Mr Kabi in his electoral campaign. Mr Nchaka allegedly misrepresented that the vehicles were for use by the water ministry, which has now been merged into the natural resources ministry, when in fact he needed them for Mr Kabi’s campaign.
Messrs Molefe and Tumahole had leased their vehicles to the government while two others were sourced from the then Ministry of Finance.
Even though the Crown and the accused’s lawyers had agreed on M10 000 bail each and surety of immovable property worth M1.4 million for all the three, Magistrate Ntelane opted to release them on free bail, citing the failure of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to expeditiously prosecute cases.
Magistrate Ntelane released the three accused on the free bail but with conditions they attend remands, do not interfere with Crown witnesses, stand trial to finality. She ordered them to report back to court on 28 August 2023 for their case to be allocated trial dates.
DCEO prosecutor, ‘Mamongonyo Bassie, informed the court that investigations into the case had been concluded and the DPP, Hlalefang Motinyane, had issued a directive for the accused trio to be prosecuted.
According to the charge-sheet, in count one, Mr Nchaka is charged with fraud for allegedly lying to the government secretary in a savingram dated 13 June 2022 that the Ministry of Water was in dire need of vehicles.
“…whereas at the time of the representation, the accused person knew or ought to have known that there was no need for extra vehicles to be allocated to the ministry and as a result, two vehicles were allocated to the Ministry of Water and the government suffered potential prejudice to the amount of M148 520.00. Thus, the accused persons committed the offence of fraud,” reads part of the charge sheet.
In count two, Mr Nchaka is charged with fraud for making a false representation on 13 July 2022 that the Ministry of Water needed cars to carry out its mandate of shrub-removal in the highlands. Two cars were then allocated to his ministry and the government suffered prejudice to the amount of M148 520. 00 in fuelling the vehicles. The vehicles were allegedly diverted for Mr Kabi’s campaign use.
The trio is further charged with corruption in count three where, acting in common purpose, they allegedly acquired government vehicles from the Ministry of Finance and used them for the same purpose of aiding Mr Kabi’s campaign ahead of the 7 October 2022 general elections.
Furthermore, it is alleged that Mr Nchaka had, in September and October 2022, continued to use government vehicles for two months for his personal commitments even though he had already resigned as Ministry of Water PS. He is charged with corruption for that offence.
Mr Nchaka is further facing a charge of theft for unlawfully drawing fuel amounting to M30 652. 50 at Engen Garage in Maseru using government vehicles which the Crown claims he no longer had lawful authority to use.
He is also charged for drawing fuel worth M67 164.47 while using a government-hired vehicle which he did not have lawful authority to drive and fuel at the government’s expense.
Messrs Nchaka, Molefe and Tumahole are further jointly charged with theft for illegally drawing fuel worth M46 714 between June and July 2022 from Engen Filling Station using government-hired vehicles they did not have the authority to use.
After the charges were read to the accused, their legal representative, Attorney Monaheng Rasekoai, applied for their bail, telling the court: “I am effectively making application for them to be admitted to bail. We have had discussions with the prosecution and agreed that they each pay a bail deposit of M10 000 and one person to stand them a surety of immovable property in Maseru amounting to M1 400 000.”
Adv Bassie concurred.
However, Magistrate Ntelane questioned the bail conditions especially surety which was only being provided by one of the three accused. She asked what would happen if one of them disappeared.
She then adjourned the court briefly. Upon her return, the magistrate bemoaned the fact that cases dragged for too long due to lack of prosecution. This, she said, often gave victims the impression that the courts were lenient on perpetrators when that was not the case..
She then opted to admit the accused to free bail saying bail and surety were not meant as punishment but instruments to ensure that accused persons attended court.
“Cases should start and run to finality. Bail is not a punishment to the accused persons but because cases often drag for too long, plaintiffs often feel it was proper for one to be slapped with hefty bail deposits. Bail now confuses people as some feel as if it would be a punishment, hence an uproar whenever an accused pays little bail.
“If you come here on Mondays and Tuesday, you will see so many people here for remands and you would be told investigations haven’t been completed.
“We understand that the police are faced with their own challenges. If cases could be investigated and prosecuted to finality, things would be better and that is what needs to happen, not to punish people with bail. I have been informed that the investigations have been concluded so I am giving you free bail so that you can come on Monday for the trial dates to be set. Do not interfere with state witnesses,” concluded Magistrate Ntelane.