Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili does not want “the Guptas” as his special advisors and government had since decided to revoke diplomatic passports issued to three members of the super-rich but controversial South African family.
Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, who made the revelation in Parliament this week while seeking approval of his ministry’s M290millilion budget for the 2015/2016 financial year, further said he had “personally” looked into the “circumstances” under which the passports were issued.
During his short-lived administration which ended midstream with the 28 February 2015 parliamentary elections, then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane appointed Atul Kumar Gupta, his nephew Essa Omar Aziz and another South Africa-based businessman of Indian origin related to the Guptas, as his special advisors.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times’ sister publication, the Sunday Express, in September 2014, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader defended the appointments following widespread criticism led by Lesotho’s then main opposition party, the Democratic Congress (DC), led by Dr Mosisili.
In addition to owning Sahara Computers, which has since become one of the largest Information Technology groups in South Africa, the Guptas are also into mining, real estate, aviation, media and the leisure industry. However, their relationship with certain South African politicians has been the subject of many unpleasant articles in the South African media, hence the DC’s anger that Dr Thabane had decided to offer the family such privileged posts.
However, Dr Thabane told the Sunday Express he needed the Guptas to market Lesotho in the Middle East and that the passports were meant to facilitate their job, adding: “I have appointed them to market Lesotho in countries where they have influence…. 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…….”
But Advocate Rakuoane on Monday told the National Assembly that the new premier, Dr Mosisili, had emphasised that he did not need “the Guptas” and that their Lesotho diplomatic passports should be withdrawn.
The minister was responding to a question by DC Mpharane Constituency legislator, Mafereka Phutuhelo, who had asked “whether someone called Gupta who was wrongly issued with a Lesotho diplomatic passport still had the document”.
According to Advocate Rakuoane, he “personally” investigated circumstances under which the passports were issued and also consulted the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the issue.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorises who should get diplomatic passports, and my ministry then issues the documents.
“We are working together with the Prime Minister’s Office, through the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (Kimetso Mathaba) in dealing with the Guptas matter and withdrawing the diplomatic passports. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he does not want the Guptas as his Special Advisors, which is why we are working to ensure those passports return home to Lesotho,” said Advocate Rakuoane.
On the budget, Advocate Rakuoane informed parliament the money would ensure an increase in the production of national Identity Documents, birth certificates and electronic passports whose number was 306 874; 718 766 and 156 059 respectively as at March 2015.
“We are looking forward to improving the ministry’s operational efficiency and also strengthening our revenue-collection.
“We are also going to computerise our four remaining major ports of entry and enhance service delivery.
“We are also going to commence large-scale registration and marking of livestock in all 10 districts of the country. This 2015/2016 budget would also enable us to complete the birth and ID registration exercise,” Advocate Rakuoane said.