Herbert Moyo | Pascalinah Kabi
A SOUTH African company, Global Voice Group (GVG), has denied that it was corruptly awarded a M500 million tender by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) for the supply of a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday, GVG CEO, James Claude, said his company had successfully bid for the tender in an open and transparent process.
He said former Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Thesele Maseribane, had approved the tender and it was unfortunate that his company was now being dragged in the “personal matter” of the “sexual harassment” allegations involving suspended LCA CEO ‘Mamarame Matela and former communications Minister Keketso Sello.
Mr Sello, who replaced Chief Maseribane in a 3 February 2021 cabinet reshuffle, refused to sign a gazette confirming GVG’s appointment allegedly on the grounds that GVG had been improperly awarded the tender.
Mr Sello subsequently suspended Ms Matela pending investigations into her alleged corrupt role in the awarding of the tender to GVG. He also fired LCA board chairperson Motanyane Makara over the issue.
Both Ms Matela and Mr Makara have challenged their respective suspension and dismissal in court.
In her court papers, Ms Matela denies the corruption allegations and instead accuses Mr Sello of refusing to sign the gazette until he was given a M3 million bribe by GVG. She said the minister also demanded to have his company subcontracted by GVG before he could approve the tender.
She also accused Mr Sello of demanding sexual favours from her as a condition for keeping her job. She even reported the sexual harassment claims to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro who has remained tight-lipped over the issue. She subsequently reported the matter to the police who say they have completed their investigations and submitted the docket to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane.
Yesterday, GVG broke its silence on the saga with CEO Claude insisting the tender was above board.
“I strongly deny the corruption allegations because integrity in business dealings is very important to us,” Mr Claude said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.
“We are a company that provides solutions that bring transparency in different sectors including the mobile communications industry but our solutions are not always welcomed by some. This means that there will be interest groups that are motivated to fight against us.
“In the case of Lesotho, there was a tender in which we participated.
“On 6 March 2020, a Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued by the LCA to appoint a service provider to design, supply and implement a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance Tool. Bidders were informed on 11 April 2020 that the LCA extended the deadline for submissions and that bidders could submit bids electronically to accommodate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“GVG’s bid and the subsequent award were conducted in an open and transparent process, and in compliance with Lesotho’s Public Procurement Regulations of 2007.
“Former Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Thesele Maseribane, approved the contract in December 2020. To our knowledge, there has been a delay in approving amendments to the current legislation which will facilitate the implementation of the Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system. These amendments are important because they are aimed at ensuring consumer rights are protected, that operators are treated fairly and that GVG performs its contractual obligations,” Mr Claude said.
He said they had not been informed of the bribery demands allegedly made by Mr Sello.
He said it was unfortunate that they were now being affected by the personal issues between Ms Matela and Mr Sello.
“That is something very personal between them. And it’s unfortunate that our contract, which can bring a lot of value to government, is being linked to something that has nothing to do with it. We followed the process to make sure that we presented the best technical offer that can really create a safe ecosystem in Lesotho,” he said.
Asked if they would go to court to force Lesotho to keep its end of the deal, Mr Claude said they had not considered that option as they were still hopeful that the matter would soon be sorted out to allow them to provide services to the LCA.
“We are a service provider and we are supposed to deliver a service. The LCA has its own responsibility when it comes to working with internal policymakers to gazette the laws and regulations to allow for implementation.
“All we can do is follow up with the LCA to check on progress and if they need any advice. We are available to share our experience with them but that is all we can do because we cannot interfere in the internal processes of government bodies.
“We are not there yet (court action). If the LCA has any challenges in meeting their contractual obligations, we will sit down as partners and seek the best way forward and agree on solutions. So, at this stage, we want to focus on assisting the LCA so they can meet their obligations. If they can’t, we will sit down to explore solutions. There are always solutions to problems,” Mr Claude said.
He said Lesotho really needed their compliance system to combat costly illegal transactions that were done using mobile phones.
He said experiences from other countries such as Tanzania had shown that African countries lost out on potential revenue earnings from fraudsters who were able to pass off international calls as though there were local calls thus depriving service providers of revenue they should have got from such international services.
“If you’re in Lesotho and you receive an international call which registers as a local call, that is proof that someone has bypassed the system and is committing fraud by pretending to be a local caller. This sim fraud is a reality everywhere and I think Lesotho, like other markets in Africa, is a victim of this kind of fraud. This can be solved through a joint effort where the LCA, as the regulatory body works alongside the mobile network providers using the compliance system.
“This (GVG compliance) system can help generate additional revenue for governments,” Mr Claude said.