Deputy prime minister under investigation over road deal
Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing is under investigation for alleged corruption in the awarding of a M120 million road-construction tender to a Maseru-based construction company last year.
According to highly-placed sources who cannot be named for professional reasons, investigators from the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) have been to the Maseru City Council (MCC) — which awarded the tender for the construction of roads in Ha Matala, Ha Nelese, Ha Leqele villages and the Lekhaloaneng-to-Ha Seoli highway.
The investigators have also visited three locals banks, suspected to hold Mr Metsing’s bank accounts, to scrutinise his wealth.
Mr Metsing is being accused of allegedly using his position as Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs to influence the awarding of the tender to the Maseru-based construction firm by the MCC which falls under his ministry.
The Lesotho Times is withholding the name of the construction company for professional reasons.
It is as yet not fully clear whether the current investigation has been prompted by the turmoil in the coalition government which has seen Mr Metsing joining forces with the Democratic Congress in a bid to topple Prime Minister Thomas Thabane or a result of legitimate suspicions of wrongdoing.
While the Lesotho Times has conclusively established that both the LMPS and DCEO are indeed investigating Mr Metsing, no official has been willing to confirm the probe on record.
Mr Metsing’s sympathisers see this as an attempt to find something to use against him in the event that his reconciliation talks with his coalition partners fail and he sticks to his bid to oust Thabane.
Another school of thought is that if he is indeed found to have done wrong, he could be let off provided he does not ditch the coalition.
Regarding the probe itself, the company awarded the lucrative bid is said to have won it despite failing to meet the requirements of the tender after an evaluation by a hired consultant.
Among the several shortcomings raised against the company were its lack of equipment, expected of any roads construction firm handling high value contracts, and the required bid-security of more than M5 million. The company had won the M120 million contracts nonetheless.
The Lesotho Times has also been told that apart from the LMPS and DCEO probe against Metsing, the company which was awarded the tender is also being investigated by the LMPS, DCEO and Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
The LRA is said to be interested in establishing how the company brought road-construction equipment from South Africa without paying the relevant taxes.
After having been allegedly awarded the tender without proving all the necessary technical wherewithal, the company is alleged to have then used the tender award to lease equipment from another South African based firm.
“This company did not have the required road-construction machinery or even trucks, and had to rent the equipment from a Bloemfontein-based firm.
“The LRA is now said to be investigating how the machinery was brought into the country to make money for the company without the necessary taxes being paid,” the sources said.
Investigators are said to have visited banks to try and verify allegations that the construction company had been depositing money into Mr Metsing’s accounts every month to thank him for his influence in the awarding of the tender. It is not clear whether the investigators found anything regarding this allegation.
Mr Metsing also stands accused of having used his position as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs, to facilitate the speedy company. MCC Public Relations Officer, Lintle Moerane, confirmed that DCEO officials had visited the MCC, over the tender.
She however dismissed claims that the company in question had been awarded the tender improperly. She further rejected claims of Mr Metsing’s involvement saying the tender had been a sole prerogative of the MCC.
“The tender is actually worth slightly more than M119 million and we normally ask for bid securities amounting to M5 million, but as you have contacted me late, I can’t give you the exact amount of the bid security that had been requested for this specific tender.
“However, it is not true that the company did not have this bid-security.
“We, as the MCC, also certified that the company had enough machinery to do the required work and so far, we are satisfied as they are still within their project timeline,” she said.
Ms Moerane said the DCEO had posed several questions about the tender.
“The DCEO has requested certain information from us (MCC) regarding the awarding of the tender and also how we have been paying the company since it was contracted to do the job.
“The officials specifically asked for the names and numbers of the bank accounts into which we have been paying the money,” Ms Moerane said.
She confirmed that the company had indeed not been the preferred bidder by the consultant evaluator but said the final decision lay with the MCC.
“That is true (that the consultant did not recommend the company), but the Maseru City Council Tender Board has the final say on who should be awarded which contract and not the consultant, who is only hired to evaluate and give recommendations.
“Like I said, these recommendations are not necessarily compulsory as the final say lies with the our Tender Board.
“This Board consists of seven MCC councillors and officials.
“The MCC officials who are part of the Board are the Town Clerk, the Legal Officer and Director of Finance.
“It is this Board that makes the decision of who should win a tender and who should not and not a consultant,” said Ms Moerane.
Ms Moerane disputed claims that the company had been paid prematurely at the instigation of certain officials, among them Mr Metsing.
She Mr Metsing did not feature anywhere in the company’s documents as a director.
Several attempts to get a comment from Mr Metsing proved futile yesterday as his mobile phone was either unavailable or rang without being answered.
The Lesotho Times could also not get hold of the owner of the company, which is reportedly at the centre of the DCEO and police investigations.
On her part, the DCEO Chief Information Officer Matlhokomelo Senoko, told the Lesotho Times the anticorruption agency never discusses cases it is investigating, with the media.
LMPS Spokesperson, Lebona Mohloboli, said he was not aware of any police investigations into Mr Metsing. Other police sources confirmed the investigations.
The Deputy Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs, Apesi Ratšele, said he was not aware of any investigations into Mr Metsing regarding any tender under the ministry.
“Since the project belongs to the Maseru City Council, you could find out from them if there are any such investigations,” Mr Ratšele said.
It nevertheless seems clear that the probe against Mr Metsing is to try and unearth any dirt that can be used against him when it becomes convenient.