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Government, Blue Cross tussle over control

by Lesotho Times
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THE government and Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre are embroiled in a tug of war over a draft performance-based contract which the rehabilitation facility says is being “imposed” by the Ministry of Health.

The proposed contract gives Ministry of Health all the powers to absorb Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre as one of government entities if it finds it fitting.

The national governing board of directors of Blue Cross, comprising of members of Blue Cross Lesotho, the country’s chieftainship and community councillors on the other hand say the suggested contract is just an attempt to usurp the organisation’s powers and strip it of its autonomy.

The organisation is registered under Societies Act as a non-governmental organisation but the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism understands that this proposed contract will likely see the organisation being reduced to a government department.

Confirming the battle between the Health Ministry and Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre, a member of the centre’s board, Chief Jimisi Theko, revealed that the Ministry has to be represented in the board but the representative has since disappeared without reason.

Chief Theko, who represented the Principal Chief of Thaba-Bosiu told a media briefing held at the Wool and Mohair Association’s boardroom this week that “appropriately, representatives of the Health Ministry are supposed to be attending this briefing but to our shock, they are not here”.

“It is my assumption that you might question their absence as we mention during introductions that the ministry has representation in the board but you currently don’t see them”.

“Conflicts intensified in 2016 when the centre was recruiting candidates for directorship of the centre.

“The board had several sittings with the ministry’s representatives attending but the problem escalated when representatives of the ministry imposed preferred candidates for the position of director of Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre.

“The candidates they imposed on the board did not even appear on the list of applicants but when the board rejected their candidates, they then threatened to hold subvention from the ministry to the centre,” Chief Theko said.

Asked to comment on claims by Ministry officials that the board literally expelled them on several occasions from board meetings, Chief Theko denied this as a false allegation arguing: “there had never been a time when representatives of Ministry of Health were thrown out of any meeting.

“They disappeared on us and never attended any meeting despite invitations to board meetings.”

Chief Theko added: “We have been surprised as anyone else by their absence at the board meetings because they never gave us reasons of absconding meetings”.

The chairperson of the board, Neo Moshoeshoe, told the media that Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre started receiving subvention support from the government since 2011 under a five-year contract.

He said the centre signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) where the centre and the government agreed on various issues pertaining to the provision of prevention and treatment services.

“The understanding was that Thaba-Bosiu Centre provides services that fall squarely within the mandate of the ministry, which is to take care of inhabitants and subjects of the country in matters relating to alcohol and substance abuse and related addictions,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.

MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism understands that in 2011, the Ministry of Health and the centre had an agreement for five years with expectation that it would be renewed for another five years.

According to Moshoeshoe, the Ministry of Health did not renew the agreement in 2016 as expected and resorted to small grants prior to renewal of the MOU until 2017 when the ministry introduced a new document altogether.

Blue Cross secretary general Makhoase Motsatse added that the centre is a non-profit organisation which has been operating for almost a century with the help of government for its operations.

Motsatse said all preparations to hire a new director of the centre had been done by the board but surprisingly the ministry representative Mookho Moqhali had her own agenda.

“’M’e Mookho was with her colleague some time in 2016 when she threatened Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Board. She said if we do not hire a candidate of her choice for director of the centre, the centre would not receive subvention from the ministry”.

“Since then, the relationship between the centre and the ministry has been compromised,” Ms Motsatse said.

Efforts to get a comment from Adv Moqhali were fruitless as her mobile phone was unavailable until the time of print.

However, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Advocate Mole Kumalo told this publication last year that the ministry’s legal officer Adv Moqhali was expelled from the board meeting.

“I wish ‘m’e Mookho was here to give you a clear picture and further details of how she was expelled from the board meeting. As the ministry’s legal officer she is the one representing the ministry in the board of Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre,” Adv Kumalo said.

He further indicated that the ministry was not aware of a press conference by Blue Cross Centre saying; “I only knew about the press briefing when journalists started calling me like you have done after the conference”.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Adv Kumalo said his predecessor Monaphathi Maraka reviewed the MOU government had with the centre and wanted to elevate it to a contract.

According to Adv Kumalo, the ministry failed to account for subvention given to the centre because they solely dependent on the reports from the centre.

Ntate Maraka wanted a contract because when the ministry tried to have the centre audited for accountability, they refused and referred to the MOU as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’,” Adv Kumalo added.

He further indicated that the tensions between the ministry and the centre are purely based on the centre’s reluctance to sign the contract introduced by the ministry.

“Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre was not for the idea of getting into a contract with the ministry. However, the discussions are still on-going between the government and the centre and hopefully we will reach reasonable agreement,” he added.

Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre is the only national rehabilitation centre for drug and alcohol addicts.

MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) produced these stories. All views are ours. See www.lescij.org for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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