Moleleki fires Bidvest deal salvo

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Billy Ntaote

DEMOCRATIC Congress (DC) deputy leader Monyane Moleleki has vowed to hold the national budget “at ransom” in the National Assembly until government annuls its vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited.

Addressing a rally held in Ha Ralejoe, in his Machache constituency, Mr Moleleki said he would have remained a minister if Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had “acted decisively” and stopped the “corrupt” awarding of the multi-million maloti contract to the South African firm.

The DC deputy leader also said Basotho should expect to see “a certain minister” being charged for “corruptly awarding the fleet services tender to Bidvest contrary to the country’s procurement regulations”.

In addition to DC supporters, the rally was also attended by members of the All Basotho Convention, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho. Mr Moleleki has admitted talks towards forming government with the opposition were ongoing.

Mr Moleleki, along with the DC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) members aligned to his Lirurubele (butterflies) faction, last week pulled out of the seven-party governing coalition.

The other partners in the coalition formed after the 2015 snap general elections include the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party, Lesotho People’s Congress and Popular Front for Democracy

The DC NEC cited the coalition government’s alleged failure to unite the politically-polarised nation, corruption, nepotism and deteriorating relations with development partners as some of the reasons for the decision.

Mr Moleleki and four other newly-appointed ministers and deputies also resigned from government, saying they were heeding the NEC’s call to withdraw from the coalition.

The ministers who resigned include DC Secretary-General Ralechate ’Mokose (Forestry and Land Reclamation), Public Works and Transport Deputy Minister ’Manthabiseng Phohleli, Law, Constitution and Human Rights Minister Mokhele Moletsane, and Local Government Deputy Minister Kotiti Liholo.

Mr Moleleki, Mr ’Mokose, Mr Moletsane and Mr Liholo also moved to the National Assembly’s crossbench last Friday to signify their withdrawal from the government.

Apart from the leadership succession feud between the DC’s Lirurubele and Lithope (loosely translated to girlfriends) factions, the party was also split in the middle over the Bidvest deal.

The Lirurubele faction has accused members of Lithope – which is linked to Dr Mosisili – of corruptly influencing the awarding of the deal in Bidvest’s favour. Their ire was mainly directed at former Finance Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla, whom they accused of disregarding due process in awarding the tender to Bidvest at the expense of joint venture company, Lebelonyane, that had been recommended for the contract.

Dr Khaketla, who was last week reshuffled to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, has vehemently denied allegations of corruption and has since demanded M6 million from her accusers, DC youth league executive committee members Thuso Litjobo and Letuka Chafotsa, as compensation for the “defamatory statements” they allegedly made.

Government initially awarded Bidvest a six month contract, from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016, but decided to extend its marriage with the South African company, signing a new contract hire agreement with Bidvest Bank Limited in August 2016 without an open tender process.

On the basis of the original arrangement, the government had promised to exclude Bidvest from its tender to find a new fleet management firm to replace Avis. However, the government cancelled the tender process, preferring instead to extend its original short-term deal with Bidvest into a long-term four-year contract.

Lebelonyane has since challenged the government’s decision to award the contract to Bidvest before the courts.

Mr Moleleki said MPs in his camp would not help pass the national budget as long as Bidvest retained the contract. The budgetary allocations are usually held in February since Lesotho’s financial year starts in April.

“We won’t pass the 2017/2018 national budget until the government rescinds its contract with Bidvest Bank Limited,” he said.

“We are angry and disgusted by the rampant abuse of state coffers as a result of this corrupt agreement with Bidvest. So much corruption has been tolerated by this coalition government.

“One example is the fertiliser procurement process for last year’s summer cropping season that was handled corruptly.

“The most disgusting, however, is the fleet services contract that is bankrupting the government of Lesotho.”

Without elaborating, Mr Moleleki said Basotho should expect to see a “certain minister charged for corruptly awarding the fleet services tender to Bidvest”.

“Just wait and see if we won’t see, within the space of two weeks, a certain minister being hauled before the courts and charged with corruption over this issue of awarding the fleet services tender to Bidvest.

“That minister will not be charged by Mahaletere (Moleleki’s nickname), but will be charged by an office of the government of Lesotho that deals with fraud and corruption issues. Just mark my words and see how long it will take for this to happen,” he said, seemingly referring to an ongoing investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences into the vehicle fleet contract.

Mr Moleleki accused Dr Mosisili of failing to decisively deal with “rampant corruption” in the Bidvest deal.

“If the prime minister had listened when we counselled him to take disciplinary action on the rampant corruption, I could still be a minister. It was very hard for my leader to take action on this issue,” he said.

“We could not let our party be tainted by corrupt deeds while it is in government hence the decision to withdraw the party from the coalition government.”

“We are fighting corruption in the public service and corruption must fall!” said Moleleki to a rapturous applause from the gathering.

Mr Moleleki stressed they had not joined the opposition but only pulled out of government.

“We are not on the opposition’s side, but just sitting on the cross bench. There is only one law that we intend not to support, and that is a law required to pass the budgetary allocations for the next financial year to government ministries.

“If we pass this financial year’s budget, the money would be taken to pay Bidvest’s never ending hefty charges on the government.”

He said budgetary allocations were unavoidable, hence the government would have no choice but to listen to their demands.

“Government will not have a way out on that one. Even if they were to prorogue parliament, there will have no choice but to reconvene the National Assembly so they can request us to pass the country’s budget,” said Mr Moleleki.

“They have been seizing funds allocated to other ministries and departments so they can pay Bidvest. We will not pass the national budget until we have forced Bidvest to leave the country.”

He added: “Cabinet has allocated about M600 million over the course of a year which was not part of the approved national budget. A huge chunk of that money is being used to pay Bidvest.”

Mr Moleleki also touched on the Amnesty Bill, 2016 which, in its current form, would see members of Lesotho Defence Force, Lesotho Mounted Police, National Security Service, Lesotho Correctional Service, government officials and “any other person” being granted amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.

He said the draft law would be a means of reconciling Basotho and guaranteeing stability and peace.

“We will vote with government and support a law for the reconciliation of all Basotho, a law intended to pardon all Basotho,” said Mr Moleleki.

“If we want peace and stability in this country, all people who are implicated in various crimes should be granted amnesty.”

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