Lesotho already benefitting from Guptas: Molapo

 

Billy Ntaote

HOME Affairs Minister Joang Molapo says Lesotho is already benefitting from Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s decision to appoint members of South Africa’s controversial Gupta family his Special Advisors.

Dr Thabane appointed Atul Kumar Gupta, his nephew Essa Omar Aziz and another South Africa-based businessman of Indian origin his Special Advisors in July this year and issued them with diplomatic passports “to facilitate their work of marketing Lesotho in countries where they have influence”.

However, the appointments met with fierce criticism from opposition politicians, who demanded the withdrawal of the passports but the premier stood his ground, insisting the documents were essential in facilitating the tycoons’ work in securing investment for Lesotho.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting held at a local restaurant last Saturday, Chief Molapo said Lesotho was already reaping the rewards of the Guptas’ appointment “as the country now has access to formerly inaccessible Middle Eastern funders”.

“We had diplomatic relations with countries in the Gulf region as early as 1977. My father was also the first Ambassador to Kuwait in 1970s. However, since 1998 until today, we, as a country, have not had much success compared to what we gained in the past from this diplomatic relationship,” Chief Molapo said.

“For instance, we were funded by these Gulf countries to build Moshoeshoe I International Airport, but we have not utilised this relationship fully since then.”

Chief Molapo added that the “Western approach” to diplomatic relations was different to that of Gulf states “hence the need to have people like the Guptas” to market the country in that region.

“We have not had any access to Gulf countries, so as a government, we felt that we needed people who have connections to Arab states, such as the Guptas. They were actually introduced to us by sources close to our government,” he said.

“The Guptas are billionaires and their only sin was landing their own aeroplane at an army base in South Africa (in May 2013). However, they are the right people to gain us access to those inaccessible funders.

“Since the Guptas’ relationship with our government, there are a lot of doors that have started to open which were never opened to Lesotho in the past and we, as a country, are going to be benefitting from that.”

Chief Molapo accused former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his party, the Democratic Congress (DC) “of behaving as if our coalition government should be bound to follow his foreign policy route”.

“These people had their own diplomatic and foreign policies that they followed when they were in government. However, they fail to understand that we cannot follow the same policies.”

Meanwhile, Dr Thabane has since declared he would not apologise for his decision to make the wealthy Guptas his special advisors.

“I have appointed them to market Lesotho in countries where they have influence…,” said Dr Thabane in a previous interview with the Lesotho Times.

“These people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC (South Africa’s ruling African National Congress) and we have good relations with the ANC…It’s no secret that we are good friends of the ANC

“I was introduced to them by the ANC President (Jacob Zuma) and other ANC officials….I then appointed them to help scout for investment for my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho. They have undertaken to hunt for investors for us…….”

Dr Thabane further said any suggestions that he had favoured the Guptas — who have made a fortune in South Africa through shrewd investment in mining, air travel, energy, technology and the media — in exchange for personal returns were totally wrong and unacceptable.

“I have not taken a penny from the Guptas. I am not corrupt. Check with all the banks the world over … I have not received any money from them. …I am merely using my office to get developments going for my country…,” said Dr Thabane.

The premier further said the Guptas had also indicated they wanted to invest in the mining sector in Lesotho and he was facilitating things for them.

“I will not bury my head and shy away from the Guptas….I won’t apologise to anyone for assisting them. Anyone who wants to come and invest…I will assist them…,” said Dr Thabane.

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