Mosisili in mini cabinet shake-up

MASERU —  Ramootsi Lehata, who as assistant agriculture minister admitted
owing millions of maloti to the government’s block farming scheme, has been promoted to become public service minister.
Lehata replaces Semano Sekatle who was reassigned to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport during a mini reshuffle by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili on Monday.
Sekatle replaces former public works minister Tšele Chakela who resigned last month.
Lehata, 71, was a minister in the prime minister’s office between 2004 and 2007.
After the 2007 general elections he was appointed assistant minister of agriculture, a position he held until his promotion this week.
Sekatle, 57, had manned the public service ministry since 2007, having previously served as its principal secretary from August 1999 to February 2005.
Sekatle holds a degree in Public Administration and Political Science from the National University of Lesotho as well as two post graduate diplomas in Industrial Relations and Business Management from the University of Natal.
Lehata acquired his junior certificate at the age of 33 in 1973 and got his COSC two years later.
He then enrolled with the College of Preceptors (of the United Kingdom) in Maseru, to train as a teacher. He has been a principal at several primary schools including Qiloane Primary School, Khotla Primary School and Khubetsoana Primary School.
In October last year, Mosisili fired four ministers and an assistant minister in what was the biggest cabinet reshuffle in his 13 years as prime minister.
Yesterday, Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader Sello Maphalla criticised Mosisili’s decision to promote Lehata at a time when he has been named in the block farming scandal.
He said it was “poor judgment” for Mosisili to promote Lehata before a thorough investigation into allegations that he illegally benefited from the block farming scheme had been done.
“People are complaining about this minister and he goes on to promote him. To me this means that we have a government that does not listen to the people,” Maphalla said.
The block farming scheme was launched in 2006 to provide credit to poor farmers who could not get commercial loans from banks.
The idea was to help farmers produce their own food and earn income from the surplus.
But according to a damning report issued by the former Ombudsman, Sekara Mafisa, last year top government officials ended up being the major beneficiaries of the scheme.
Lehata was one of those senior officials who benefited.
Finance Minister Timothy Thahane was alleged to have received more than M4 million but has vehemently denied receiving a cent from the scheme.
He has said it is the group of farmers he was mentoring that borrowed.
Agriculture minister Ralechate ’Mokose who was also alleged to have borrowed a few thousands of Maloti has also denied receiving anything from the scheme.
But Lehata has admitted that he owes the scheme.
In an interview with the Sunday Express, our sister publication, Lehata said he had not repaid the loans because he had a bad harvest.
Lehata held the second biggest chunk of the block farming funds in the scheme’s loan book.
For the 2007/2008 winter cropping season, Lehata took a loan of M1 682 739 but only managed to pay back M30 538.
Lehata borrowed M336 324 for the 2007/2008 summer cropping season but only repaid M8 000.
This means that the minister owes nearly M2 million to the scheme which was managed by Standard Lesotho Bank with a guarantee from the government.
Yet despite the serious allegations raised in Mafisa’s report the government has been reluctant to launch a formal inquiry.
In an interview on Tuesday, Lehata said he was committed to repaying the loan.
“I am paying little by little from my own pocket although it’s not easy”.

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