Former PS Tšolo charged over govt fleet tender
FORMER Ministry of Finance Principal Secretary (PS) Motena Tšolo yesterday appeared before the Maseru Magistrates’ Court on charges of corruption in the 2018 procurement of the government vehicle fleet.
PS Tšolo served under the previous Thomas Thabane government from June 2017 to May 2020. Ms Tšolo and the Finance ministry’s administrator, Mafusi Mosamo, appeared before Magistrate Teboho Thoso who released them on M2000 bail and M10 000 surety each.
Their co-accused are businessmen Teboho Tlokotsi and Tumo Ramonaheng, who have already been charged with the crimes and are currently on bail.
The four are accused of contravening the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act after they allegedly “accepted or attempted to accept” bribes totaling M234 000 from current Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation Minister, Likeleli Tampane, and several others to facilitate the hiring of their vehicles for the government fleet.
The tender process for the procurement of the government fleet, which was held in September 2018, failed to yield the required 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were disqualified for failing to meet the requirements. It was then that Messrs Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng, who were close to the Consortium that controversially won the tender, are accused of soliciting bribes in exchange of helping those who wanted to get their vehicles in the lucrative fleet stream, among other things. Ms Tšolo and Mr Mosamo are alleged to have been part of the con.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was then Finance Minister, first announced in March 2018 that cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who included taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women’s groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.
Senior government officials such as directors in ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers, were among those excluded from participating.
The finance ministry later said it had received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as “fronts” when the tender bids were submitted in September 2018.
The DCEO was then roped in to investigate these allegations. It discovered that some desperate vehicle owners were made to pay as much as M40 000 each to have their vehicles leased to the government.
The DCEO subsequently came under fire in November 2019 from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, who told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that she was surprised that the anti-corruption body had not prosecuted high profile suspects for corruption in the fleet tender almost four months after she had directed it to prosecute.
In terms of the DCEO Act, the anti-corruption body only prosecutes cases after getting the consent to do so from the DPP.
Adv Motinyane made the remarks a week after the DCEO Chief Investigations Officer, Thabiso Thibeli, had told the PAC that the DCEO’s investigations had pointed to Ms Tšolo, Ms Tampane, Tlokotsi, Ramonaheng and Mosamo as the suspects in the alleged fleet tender corruption.
Mr Thibeli was on suspension at the time he appeared before the PAC. He accused now suspended DCEO Director General, Mahlomola Manyokole, of ordering his suspension to punish him for investigating some individuals who were friends for corruption in the procurement of the government fleet. Mr Tlokotsi had been particularly cited as an ally of Mr Manyokole, both being close to then powerful First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane.
However, Adv Manyokole vehemently denied allegations that he sought to block any high-profile suspects from being prosecuted.
He told PAC that he had forwarded all the case files to the office of the DPP for prosecution and recommended that all suspects be prosecuted except for PS Tšolo because there was no substantial evidence against her.
“I realised that Ms Tšolo’s alleged involvement in the fraudulent awarding of tenders for the government fleet was just a political agenda being pushed against her.
“But I submitted the docket to the DPP. I did not remove anything from it despite my discovery that there was only hearsay evidence against PS Tšolo,” Adv Manyokole said.
But in the latest turn of events, Ms Tšolo and Mr Mosamo, alongside Tlokotsi and Ramonaheng, have now been charged with corruption just over a month after Mr Thibeli was reinstated to his position.