Judicial fleet grounded over debt

 

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

ENGEN Petroleum has been refusing to provide High Court vehicles with fuel over the past two weeks due to a longstanding debt, the Lesotho Times established this week.

According to judicial sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the debt amounts to “thousands of maloti” and has accumulated over six months.

“The situation is Engen has an agreement to provide the entire government fleet with fuel. Under the arrangement, each ministry or department pays for the fuel it consumes at the end of each month,” the source said.

“But the High Court, through its finance unit which is in shambles, has failed to pay for fuel used by judges, the registrar and other court officials, for the past six months.

“So, for the past two weeks, the company has been refusing to refuel the fleet, resulting in some judges failing to make it to work because they had been asked to purchase their own fuel and then be reimbursed when the money becomes available.

“However, some of the judges have not been comfortable with this arrangement as they feared they might not get the reimbursement.”

The source also said the court had failed to provide the judges and other staff with airtime, “for months now”.

High Court and Court of Appeal Registrar, Lesitsi Mokeke, yesterday confirmed the development, adding it was now two weeks since the South African energy firm has been refusing to refuel the fleet, whose total he refused to reveal.

However, Mr Mokeke said an agreement had been quickly struck with the affected parties to ensure the smooth operation of the courts. He also refuted claims that some judges had failed to turn-up for work due to the fuel issue.

“I think we owe Engen five months’ fuel, starting in September. Because of the financial crisis that we face, and not only us but other government ministries and departments, we were not able to make our due payments to the company,” he said.

“However, while we were working on a plan to offset the debt, the Ministry of Finance issued a savingram about two weeks ago indicating that it was going to pay all the monies ministries and government departments owe both Engen and Avis Car Hire. I have just confirmed with the authorities in the ministry that the payments have since been made.”

Mr Mokeke, however, said Engen was still not supplying the judicial fleet with fuel by yesterday.

“I don’t know exactly what is going on because if the ministry has paid up, we should be getting the fuel by now. We are yet to meet with other stakeholders to establish what could be the problem now,” he said.

Ministry of Finance Acting Principal Secretary, Khosi Letsie, yesterday confirmed settling both the Engen and Avis debts. Avis has an agreement to provide government with vehicles on a rental basis.

“We paid whatever government owed both Avis and Engen yesterday (Tuesday). However, we have since learnt that the judicial fleet is still being refused fuel by Engen,” Mr Letsie said.

“I am trying to establish why this is happening because we no longer owe the company anything. I think tomorrow I will be in a good position to know exactly why the judicial fleet is being refused the fuel.”

Mr Letsie could also not be drawn to reveal how much the High Court owed Engen.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara, lamented the dire shortage of resources in the judiciary during last week’s opening ceremony of the 2015 judicial year.

Efforts to get a comment from Engen proved fruitless yesterday.

 

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