…as Thabane’s former aide claims his signature was forged in botched M1, 7 billion deal
THE mystery surrounding the previous Thomas Thabane government’s botched M1, 7 billion solar energy deal with German Company, Frazer Solar, deepened this week.
This after a former aide of Mr Thabane, alleged that his signature on the controversial deal was forged by unknown people.
The former aide, Hlophe Matla, made the claim while testifying before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.
Mr Matla said all he ever did was to append his signature as a witness “to a two-page letter transferring the project from the Prime Minister’s Office to Ministry of Development Planning”.
He said a fortnight ago he was shocked when Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) investigators showed him a “voluminous contract” which he allegedly signed as a witness to a supply agreement between the government and Frazer Solar.
He said the voluminous contract also bore the signatures of Frazer Solar owner, Robert Frazer, and the former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Temeki Tšolo.
He said Mr Tšolo had been equally surprised when he told him that he had seen his “signature” on the contract.
Mr Tšolo has previously denied appending his signature to the controversial deal which has resulted in the government being ordered by a South arbitrator to pay off £50 million (M856 million) in damages to Frazer Solar. This for allegedly breaching a 2018 contract the company claims to have entered into with Mr Thabane’s government for the supply of solar water heating systems, solar generated electricity, LED lights and solar lanterns over four years.
The company insists it had a valid agreement that was signed by Mr Tšolo and the project was not implemented due to current Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s dogged refusal to sign the financing agreement when he was finance minister under the Thabane government.
Despite his denials, Mr Tšolo was last month named by Energy and Meteorology Principal Secretary, Themba Sopeng, as the man who approved the deal.
Mr Sopeng told parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Mr Tšolo had made it clear that the deal had the blessings of the then Prime Minister Thabane.
The PAC has launched its own investigations into the deal and former and current government officials have been lined up to testify.
The PAC wants to establish who actually signed the deal on behalf of the state, especially as Mr Tšolo hotly denies appending his signature.
Messrs Matla, Tšolo and the latter’s former secretary ‘Masentle Ntobaki are some of the people who have been lined up to testify. Ms Ntobaki’s testimony was captured in camera on Tuesday because she is one of the key state witnesses in the South African court case between the government and Frazer Solar.
Mr Matla’s appearance before the PAC was open to the public and the session was chaired by National Independent Party (NIP) leader, Kimetso Mathaba.
Mr Matla told the PAC that he had signed as a witness on a two-page letter transferring the discussions on the project from the Prime Minister’s Office to Ministry of Development Planning. He said he did not sign any final agreement as suggested by documents in the DCEO’s hands.
He said he signed after being informed by Ms Ntobaki that Mr Tšolo had requested that he signs the transfer agreement as a second witness.
“One day I received a call from Mme Masentle, saying Ntate Tšolo had requested that I sign a two-page letter transferring the project from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Ministry of Development Planning,” Mr Matla told the PAC.
“He (Tšolo) said I had been asked to sign the document because I already knew about the project and I signed. There were already three signatures- that of Ntate Tšolo, Frazer and another person that I didn’t know. I was the second witness on that document,” Mr Matla said.
In his testimony, Mr Matla said he was introduced to Mr Frazer by Ms Ntobaki, who requested him to set up a meeting between the German businessman and Mr Thabane in 2018. He however, said he failed to personally set up the meeting between Messrs Frazer and Thabane after the latter’s wife, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, inexplicably banned him from seeing the then premier.
Left with no choice, Mr Matla said he turned to businessman, Teboho Tlokotsi, to set up the meeting between the former premier and Mr Frazer.
He said Mr Tlokotsi was a personal friend to the Thabane family and frequented the State House during the former premier’s administration.
Narrating the genesis of the botched deal, Mr Matla said, “one day after my meeting with Ntate Tšolo, I went to collect my phones from his secretary, Masentle Ntobaki, who asked me if I was in a hurry.
“She (Ntobaki) said to me, ‘Ntate Matla, please assist this white man (Frazer), he has been coming here many times.
“She opened Ntate Tšolo’s boardroom for us (Matla and Frazer) to sit in there. I didn’t know the man but I had seen him many times at the cabinet offices. He asked me to set up a meeting for him and Ntate Thabane because he wanted to present a business proposal to connect solar systems for the government offices and state residences occupied by civil servants.
“A day or two later, I requested a meeting with Ntate Tšolo and told him about Frazer’s request. He said he already knew about Frazer’s request and that he would try and book him an appointment with Ntate Thabane. He also said I should identify a person close to Ntate Thabane to organise the appointment. I was introduced to an ABC member, Teboho Tlokotsi, by Selimo Thabane,” Mr Matla said.
He said he approached Ms Thabane with his request for a meeting with Mr Thabane but the fiery former First Lady turned him down.
“There was a time when I could not meet with Ntate Thabane, either at the offices or at the State House. There was one time when the prime minister had just arrived in the country with his wife from an international trip. I was called by his wife and I asked to meet with the honourable Prime Minister. She asked for the agenda of the meeting and when I told her, she said I should never come to her house to meet with her husband.
“I even told Ntate Tšolo that I was having serious challenges in accessing Ntate Thabane. He (Tlokotsi) was one of the people close to Ntate Thabane and would see him anytime he wanted to. I used to find him at State House,” Mr Matla said.
Faced with this predicament, he said he was left with no choice but to ask for help from Mr Tlokotsi.
“I telephoned Teboho Tlokotsi and asked for a meeting. Frazer, Teboho Tlokotsi and I met at Renaissance Restaurant in Maseru. Frazer then told Tlokotsi about his proposal.
“He (Tlokotsi) promised to get back to us within a week or so. The three of us met again at Renaissance Restaurant and exchanged numbers. One day I saw Frazer at the cabinet offices and he told me that he had successfully presented his proposal to the prime minister, and that the prime minister had set up a meeting with His Majesty, King Letsie III, for the same purpose. He sincerely thanked me for connecting him with the right person,” Mr Matla said.
He said he subsequently received a call from Ms Ntobaki, saying Mr Tšolo wanted him to append his signature to a document transferring the project to the Development Planning ministry.
Mr Matla said he only signed on a two-page document transferring the project but was later shocked when DCEO investigators showed him a voluminous contract he allegedly signed as a witness to a supply agreement between the government and Frazer Solar.
“About two weeks ago, I received a call from one Ntate Phasumane, requesting that I report to the DCEO. I told him that I would need permission from my employers and he offered to come to me. He indeed came with two of his colleagues. He asked if I had signed a contract between Frazer and government and I told him I didn’t. I was shocked when he showed me a paper bearing our signatures- Frazer, Ntate Tšolo and I.
“I deny that I signed the (voluminous) document. I only signed a two-page letter transferring the project from the Prime Minister’s Office to Ministry of Development Planning. I called Ntate Tšolo afterwards and he was also surprised in as much as I was surprised and shocked,” Mr Matla said.
Contacted for comment, Mr Tlokotsi denied ever setting up a meeting between Messrs Frazer and Thabane.
“This is my first time hearing about this issue,” Mr Tlokotsi said.
In addition to the PAC probe, Dr Majoro has appointed a three-member commission to probe the botched solar energy deal.
The commission comprises of High Court Judge Molefi Makara (chairperson), former Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Mohlabi Tsekoa and lawyer, Advocate Sekake Malebanye.
The government has also has petitioned the Gauteng High Court to stop the seizure of its water royalties and other assets in South Africa to pay off part of the £50 million damages it allegedly owes Frazer Solar for breaching the contract.
The same court had in April this year, granted Frazer Solar’s application to garnish the royalties due to Lesotho in terms of the bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
Buoyed by the Gauteng High Court judgment, Frazer Solar also moved to seize the Lesotho government’s assets in other countries. These include the government’s shares in a Mauritian company, West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC).