MASERU — Five senior officials in the prime minister’s office have been suspended for alleged corruption.
The principal secretary for administration Kubutu Makhakhe and his deputy Thato Masiloane received their letters of suspension on Monday at around 4pm from government secretary Tlohang Sekhamane.
So did the finance director ’Marapelang Raphuthing and two other procurement officers in the department, ‘Manthabeleng Shai and Lerato Moerane.
The five are accused of manipulating tender procedures to benefit companies to which they are connected through friends and relations.
They are also accused of conniving with the companies to inflate prices of goods and services supplied to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office.
For instance the investigators found that the department was paying more than M50 for a soft drink bottle that costs just over M5 over the counter.
Sources said Mosisili sprung into action after being alerted that his grocery, which is funded by the government, was now running into tens of thousands of maloti.
The allegations are contained in a report of a forensic investigation that was commissioned by Mosisili late last year to probe allegations of serious corruption in his office.
The investigation has since spread to other government ministries and departments as the government battles to root out corrupt officials.
On January 28 Sekhamane wrote to the five officials asking them to “show cause” why they should not be suspended for “gross misconduct that bordered on criminality”.
On Monday Sekhamane delivered the letters of suspension to the five.
They will remain suspended until investigations in their alleged corrupt activities are completed.
Makhakhe confirmed his suspension last night.
“Yes I have been suspended,” Makhakhe said when called for a comment.
Asked what he was going to do about it Makhakhe said: “I want this matter to unravel so that we see what happens.”
He added: “I am confident that I will be vindicated because as far as I know I have not done anything wrong.”
Last week the Lesotho Times reported that the five were facing either suspension or dismissal.
On Monday morning Makhakhe, who was in Italy when the story broke last week, called the Lesotho Times to vehemently deny allegations that he was corrupt.
By close of day on Monday he had received his suspension letter.
In the interview he gave to this paper before he was served with the letter Makhakhe said there was no need for him to be suspended because he was innocent.
Makhakhe said when he solicited an interview with this paper he was not aware that he had been suspended. Makhakhe was adamant that he “remains innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law”.
In his letter of response to Sekhamane on February 3, Makhakhe said allegations that he was working with other officials in his office to manipulate the tender process were false (See letter below).
“The letter from the government secretary shocked me,” Makhakhe said.
He added: “I was astounded, astonished, flummoxed, perplexed, flabbergasted, shocked and mesmerised at the same time. Quote me saying that because that is precisely how I felt when I got that letter.”
Makhakhe admitted that during the audit the investigators had interviewed him about the alleged corruption in the department.
“They asked me about tender rigging and allegations of manipulation and I told them I knew nothing about the allegations,” he said.
He said he told the investigators that he had “never been in cahoots with any supplier or officer to commit fraud”.
“I told them that all I do is check whether any transaction has gone through the proper stages.
“I don’t know any supplier. I only get to know about any given suppliers when the tender section process has been made. I have no influence on who should be awarded a contract.”
Makhakhe, a former government journalist who rose through the civil service ranks until he became a principal secretary, said anyone who doubts his innocence “can go to the registrar of companies and they will find there is no company registered in my name”.
Sources who have seen the report told the Lesotho Times that it does not say that Makhakhe used a company registered in his name to get tenders.
Instead, they say, the report alleges conflict of interest between the five senior officials in the department and companies that got the tenders.
The report, the source said, says some of the officials were awarding tenders to companies linked to them either through relations or friends.
The source added that the report also shows that for the past three years only a few companies seemed to have been favoured with the lucrative tenders to supply goods and services to the prime minister’s office.
“The report says they were manipulating government regulations which allow civil servants to buy goods and services under M100 000 without going through the tender process,” said the source who claims to have seen the report.
During the interview Makhakhe said he does not deny that there could be corrupt officials in his department.
“There could be corruption from my subordinates. That I cannot rule out,” he said.
He added that what particularly shocked him was that the allegations of misconduct were being “thrown” at him before he could read the forensic audit report.
“I did not see that report the government secretary used to justify the need to suspend me pending further investigations,” Makhakhe said.
“I am therefore being asked to respond and defend myself on the basis of a report that I have not read. I am not privy to the details of that report. That is exactly what I told the government secretary in my letter of response.”
Makhakhe said had he seen the report he would have been in a position to address the allegation adequately.
But he still maintains “there is nothing in it to incriminate me”.
“I am confident that I have not done anything wrong to justify suspension from work.
“The allegations are meant to tarnish my good image,” Makhakhe said.
He said the nature of his position in the department makes it impossible for him to rig or manipulate the tender process as alleged by Sekhamane’s letter.
My role as the principal secretary, he said, is to appoint people who sit on the tender panel that decide on who should supply goods and services.
“I personally don’t sit on those panels and therefore there is no way I can influence or rig their decisions,” Makhakhe said.
There are some people who want to damage my reputation by making unfounded allegations, he charged.
When asked who those people were Makhakhe said he was not yet sure.
“What I know is that this is a war and I will not take it lying down while people cast aspersions on my reputation,” he said.
“As a journalist I know the principles of libel and I strongly warn the media houses that have started publishing these unverified allegations to be careful because I am not taking this matter lying down.”
He added: “If there is any criminal activity with respect to this matter it should go to the courts of law. These are just allegations and a person is innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law.”