LCA-Sello saga: more skeletons tumble out of closet
. . . as minister is accused of soliciting a M3 million bribe to approve tender
THE skeletons are continuing to tumble out of the closet with regards to cabinet minister Keketso Sello’s messy fight with suspended Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) CEO, Mamarame Matela.
This amid revelations that the former Communications Science and Technology Minister held a meeting with the now suspended Ms Matela, and ordered her to solicit a M3 million bribe for him from Global Voices Group (GVG) SA — a South African company contracted by the LCA in December 2020 to supply it with a Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance system.
Correspondences between Mr Sello and Ms Matela which have been leaked to this publication by some government sources indicate that the two met at the minister’s offices in Maseru on 15 April 2021.
The documents show that in that meeting, Minister Sello ordered Ms Matela to instruct GVG to revise the terms of the tender to include his company as a sub-contractor before he could append his signature to a gazette giving effect to the tender worth more than M500 million.
The documents further show that Ms Matela refused to follow Mr Sello’s instructions and even wrote to the minister informing him that the LCA was an independent authority which was not subject to control from anyone, including the minister himself. She also told the minister that his demands were tantamount to extortion and corruption. In a 19 May 2021 letter to Mr Sello, she warned that she would sue him if he persisted in refusing to approve the tender. Barely two weeks after writing the explosive letter, Ms Matela was suspended by Mr Sello on allegations of corruptly influencing the awarding of the tender to GVG.
Ms Matela subsequently denied the corruption allegations and filed an application for reinstatement. She alleges she is being victimised for refusing to solicit the bribe on behalf of the minister. She further accuses Mr Sello of punishing her for refusing to give in to his sexual advances. Apart from challenging her suspension in court, she wrote to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on several occasions to plead her innocence. She accuses the premier of ignoring her and shielding Mr Sello instead.
Both Ms Matela and Mr Sello’s mobile phones rang unanswered when the Lesotho Times called them for comment yesterday.
However, this publication is in possession of leaked correspondences between the two, suggesting that the minister should also be probed for corruption.
In one of the letters to Mr Sello written on 19 May 2021, Ms Matela said, “I refer to the meeting held at your office on 15 April 2021 when you requested me to demand M3 million from the supplier of the C-MART system (Global Voice Group) for the purposes of securing your signature of the Communications (Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance) Regulations, as well as to include your company as a sub-contractor.
“Kindly take notice that in terms of section 3(3) of the Communications Act of 2012, the Authority is independent and not subject to control by any person or authority in the exercise of its powers and duties under the Act. Accordingly, we are unable to demand the payment of M3 million from the supplier and we are also unable to demand that the supplier amend the terms of the contract to accommodate your company,” Ms Sello stated. Her letter is titled, Re: Request for Lesotho Communications Authority to amend the terms of the contract for the acquisition of the C-Mart system from Global Voices Group.
Ms Matela indicated that she will not be party to Mr Sello’s attempts to extort money.
“We note that the final draft of the Communications (Compliance Monitoring and Revenue Assurance) Regulations 2021 was delivered to your office by the office of the Parliamentary Counsel almost two weeks ago and that despite several follow-ups, you have declined to sign and return the final document for purposes of completing the promulgation process.
“Kindly take notice that we are not prepared to extort funds from the supplier of the system on your behalf in order to secure the exercise of your official statutory duties in accordance with section 55 of the Communications Act 2012. We submit that such action is tantamount to extortion and corrupt instructions that we have no intention to execute and no such demand or amendment shall be made. (sic).”
Ms Matela went on to warn Mr Sello of legal action to compel him to approve the tender.
“In the event that the office of the Parliamentary Counsel does not receive the signed document by close of business today (19 May 2021), we shall have no option but to approach a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain an order compelling you to exercise such duties without any further notice to your office,” Ms Matela warned.
Her letter bears the communications ministry’s stamp indicating that it was received by Mr Sello on 20 May 2021. A week before that Ms Matela had written to Prime Minister Majoro to complain about the minister’s conduct. Having received no response, she wrote again to the premier on 20 May 2021 but to no avail.
On the very day that Ms Matela wrote to Mr Sello, the minister wrote to the now fired LCA board chairperson, Motanyane Makara, demanding that Ms Matela be probed for awarding the M531 424 428, 84 tender to GVG allegedly without board approval.
“It has come to the attention of my office that a tender which attracts an amount to the tune of M531 424 428, 84… was awarded irregularly to a company called GVG,” Mr Sello stated in his letter to the board.
“It has been unravelled through independent investigations that the said company was awarded the tender prior to the authorisation of the board. This was done irregularly by the chief executive officer under the supervision of the board which you lead. The board is bound by law to play a role of oversight and above all to supervise the activities of the chief executive officer…You are formally requested to probe the matter as a matter of priority…It is only logical to initiate a suspension pending the inquiry,” Mr Sello stated.
He also instructed the board to report the matter to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) for possible prosecution.
This publication is in possession of a 25 May 2021 LCA Board document detailing its resolutions on the issue.
Although indicating that there was a prima facie case against Ms Matela, the Board resolved that she should not be suspended.
“After hearing the CEO’s side and having considered all the evidence against her, the Board is of the view that there is a prima facie case that must be investigated.
“The Board resolved not to suspend the CEO. Based on the well-known shortage of staff and considering the interests of the organisation, the Board resolved to meet on 2 June 2021 to decide how the investigations will be carried out while CEO is still in office and also whether to evaluate her possible suspension in order to facilitate the investigation if such need arises.” It is not clear if the Board ever met on 2 June 2021.
Interestingly, the Board appeared to believe Ms Matela’s allegations that she had been sexually abused and threatened with death by Mr Sello. In its resolutions, the Board said “the CEO should be given emotional and security support.”
“She should be given counselling and she should report to the Board if she needs security at home and close protection by private security,” the document indicates.
However, Mr Sello proceeded to suspend Ms Matela on 3 June 2021, notwithstanding that the Board had not approved her suspension.
“Based on the findings of the board and the resolutions of the board to recommend your suspension as the CEO on 2 June 2021. Based on the spirit of section 14 of the Communications Act 2012, I take a decision to suspend you from office as the CEO and from all activities of the LCA pending an investigation into the allegations of your involvement in the award of the tender of C-MART system to GVG. As you are aware, the ministry (of Communications) has also reported this to the DCEO for its investigation. You are suspended from today 3 June 2021 upon receipt of this letter,” Mr Sello wrote to Ms Matela on 3 June 2021.
It remains unclear which findings the minister was referring to as the documents in our possession clearly indicate that the Board had resolved not to suspend her.
That very day, she wrote back to Mr Sello, saying his decision to suspend her was irregular as there had not been such a resolution by the LCA Board. She also denied any wrongdoing in the awarding of the tender to GVG.
“I vehemently deny any wrongdoing in the tender process for the acquisition of the C-MART system and confirm that Mr Soko Thabisi, who chaired the evaluation committee and Mr Nizam Goolam, who was a member of the evaluation committee and devised the evaluation criteria, were involved in the tender process more intricately than I was. In the interests of fairness and the avoidance of any unfair discrimination, they must be subjected to the same standard being systematically, irregularly and unlawfully meted out by your office.
“Kindly take notice that no resolution was taken on 25 May 2021 to recommend to place me on suspension as directed by your office and your frustration has led you to take further unlawful steps such as the present which is not supported by the Communications Act,” Ms Matela wrote.
Her letter did not move Mr Sello. She subsequently launched applications in the Labour Appeal Court and Court of Appeal challenging her suspension. However, her applications were dismissed on grounds that she had approached the wrong court. She ought to have appealed to the Labour Court. She remains suspended pending a disciplinary hearing into the tender award.
Meanwhile, Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme said the premier could not comment on Ms Matela’s allegations that he was shielding Mr Sello because the matter was before the courts.
“The Prime Minister cannot comment on Ms Matela’s issue because the matter is currently a subject of the courts. When she was challenging her suspension, she accused the prime minister of not addressing her grievances and so that is a matter for the courts to decide,” Mr Moseme said.
Ms Matela has a pending constitutional application challenging her suspension.
Mr Sello was moved to the Public Service portfolio on the very day that he suspended Ms Matela. No reasons were given for the reshuffle. Nor has the premier ordered that he be probed for corruption or sexual abuse.