STAFFERS and clients at the Consulate of Lesotho in Welkom, South Africa were on Tuesday allegedly locked out of the consulate office as a result of the government’s failure to pay rentals over several months.
This publication further heard that the consulate’s financial woes stem from the fact it does not have a budget allocation of its own from government and it is entirely dependent on the Consulate General of Lesotho in Johannesburg.
The failure to pay rent is just one of the several challenges facing the consulate which is also struggling to pay staff salaries and fund its operations.
Although the Consular at the Welkom consulate, Kutloano Lerothe denied they had been thrown out of the premises, some staffers as well as employees of Barbour & Thorne Property Professionals who own the property confirmed the developments.
The real estate company’s employees however, refused to say how much they were owed and for how long.
“I can also confirm that we are in negotiations with the staff at the Johannesburg office to see how they can settle the rental arears,” said one Barbour & Thorne employee who identified himself as Murray.
“They (the Consulate General of Lesotho in Johannesburg) need to come up with a payment plan.”
In a separate interview, Mr Lerothe denied that they were locked out of office over their failure to pay rentals. He also denied that there were ongoing negotiations over the arrears.
However, sources within the consulate insisted that they were locked out of the Welkom offices over the failure to pay rentals that had accumulated over several months.
“We started work at 830 am as we normally do and shortly after opening our offices, officials from the property company came and locked us out. They demanded that we settle the arrears or be locked out of the office.
“We are in this situation because we don’t have budget of our own. We are entirely dependent on what we get from (the Consulate General in) Johannesburg and it is never enough to cover all of our costs. Sometimes our salaries are not paid due to lack of funds,” one source said.
Deferred Pay Lesotho Consulate Welkom chairperson Ramahlokoane Tlali yesterday corroborated the source’s story, telling this publication that he learnt of the closure of the offices shortly after he had left the consulate.
“Mr Lerothe and I had scheduled meeting with an important guest at the consulate for Monday morning but when that meeting was cancelled, I left the consulate. Shortly afterwards, at about 9am, I received a phone call that Barbour & Thorne had locked the consulate office over the failure to pay rentals.
“I immediately called the consular (Mr Lerothe) who confirmed that the offices had been locked and that they were making arrangements to resolve the matter.
“He (Mr Lerothe) said that he was negotiating with the estate company but it was difficult for him because there was nothing he was bringing to the table. He is entirely dependent on Consulate General of Lesotho in Johannesburg for funds,” Mr Tlali said.
Mr Tlali said that Mr Lerothe was operating under a challenging financial situation. He said the consulate’s financial situation was so dire that it sometimes failed to pay staff salaries.
He further said the consulate had a fuel debt and it had been forced to park its vehicles because it had run out of fuel. The consulate also owed unpaid water bills, Mr Tlali added.
He said that the temporary closure of the consulate had left thousands of Basotho living in Welkom stranded because they could not access services such as assistance in repatriating the bodies of the deceased relatives.
The consulate also assists Basotho in Welkom and nearby areas in instances of wrongful arrest and detention in South African prisons.
When pressed on Mr Tlali, assertions, Mr Lerothe admitted owing rent but stuck to his story that the consulate had not been closed over the arrears.
“It is true that I was with him (Mr Tlali) yesterday morning and it is true that he later called me. I told him that I locked the (consular) office because I was in a meeting with the owners of the building to discuss rentals. I didn’t say we were locked out of the office, we were never locked out of the office.
“What happened is that when people saw the padlock and all of us leaving the office, they assumed that the office was locked by the landlord to prevent staffers from entering the building,” Mr Lerothe said, adding the consulate had only failed to pay the October 2018 rent on time.
“We pay the rent on the first day of every month but it was not paid this month. We have our own budget but our money is handled by the (Consulate General in) Johannesburg because we don’t have our own bank account.
“We operate as a sub-branch to Johannesburg and they had not transferred the money for rental but they didn’t because they were busy. On Tuesday, they transferred money to us and we immediately paid the rent,” Mr Lerothe said.
He said the allegations that they had been locked out persisted because even he later locked the office after being called to St Helena where there had been gunfight between two groups of Basotho allegedly working at the illegal mines.
He said one person believed to be a Mosotho died in the shootout while other gang members fled the scene of crime.
Mr Lerothe also refuted allegations that the consulate had failed to pay staff salaries, water and communication bills.