Youth leagues demand urgent NMDS probe

MASERU — The youth wings of the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the main opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) have demanded an urgent probe into the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
In a rare sign of unison the youth leagues — normally at odds on almost everything serious — called on the government to act fast to root out the “corruption” that has engulfed the NMDS for decades.
The call follows recent revelations by the Lesotho Times of the NMDS’s deals with middlemen who provide accommodation for Basotho students studying in South Africa on government grants.
LCD youth league secretary-general Mochoboroane Selibe said the involvement of middlemen in NMDS business “amounts to corruption”.
The ABC youth wing’s Mohoalohoalo Jane echoed his LCD counterpart’s views, saying it was disgusting that the NMDS could pay millions of maloti to people they only had verbal agreements with.
A fortnight ago it emerged the government suspected it could have been allegedly duped of millions of maloti by a middleman, Bothata Mahlala, with whom the NMDS only had a verbal agreement.
According to the government, Mahlala had received rent money from the NMDS but had not forwarded it to property owners who were now threatening to evict students studying in Bloemfontein.
In addition, the government alleged that Mahlala had actually been overpaid for the past three years.
Mahlala admitted that he had been paid “some money”, but denied the overpayment allegations.
He claimed it was the government instead that owed him “just over a million”.
“There is no justification for the NMDS to use middlemen,” Selibe told the Lesotho Times in an interview.
“Their incorporation into NMDS affairs amounts to corruption which we strongly condemn.”
Selibe said it was scandalous that the NMDS used middlemen when the department could have dealt directly with property owners.
“As far as we are concerned, sponsorship contracts are exclusively between the NMDS and students with the assistance of parents,” he said.
“The NMDS has to immediately do away with middlemen and explore other possibilities.”
He added: “What has happened in the case of Mahlala is a clear indication that the corruption that has been reigning at the NMDS involves officials there.”
Selibe said the NMDS must be investigated and officials found to be “involved in the rot should be dealt with accordingly”.
“Mahlala should also be brought to book and reveal the people he has been working with because he could not have done it all by himself,” he said.
“The fact that there was no written agreement and that he charged his own commission must mean there could be NMDS officials whom he gave a share for the duration of the four years he has been providing student accommodation.”
The Lesotho Times is yet to find any evidence to sustain the corruption allegations which have been a matter of public speculation for some years now.
Selibe said he suspected there was a “closely woven plan” involving middlemen and some NMDS officials to spirit money out of state coffers. 
“I cannot exactly point out (former NMDS acting director Karabo) Mabote as the mastermind behind the cancer of corruption that has been ravaging the NMDS for years now,” he said.
“But his suspension and dismissal shows clearly that the corruption at the NMDS was something resembling a crime syndicate, a vicious circle.”
Mabote was fired in August.
Jane said the ABC youth league was disgusted that that the NMDS had paid millions to people they only had verbal agreements with.
“There should have been clear terms and conditions of operation from the very beginning. This is shocking,” he said.
Jane said they suspected some shady deals between NMDS staff and Mahlala.
“We suspect there might have been a shady deal entered into by Mahlala and some of the NMDS personnel for the purpose of getting a fair share of Mahlala’s commission,” he said.
“Student accommodation funds should have been deposited into their accounts direct from the NMDS instead of engaging shady middlemen.
“I am sure those students are old and responsible enough to get their own accommodation.”
He said both the NMDS and Mahlala must shoulder the blame for the chaos.
“Mahlala entered into an agreement made possible by the NMDS so he should take the blame, but most of it should be apportioned to the NMDS since they have been utterly reckless in managing student funds,” he said.
According to Jane, where there was no transparency corruption was bound to thrive.
“Where there is no transparency regarding money matters, from the top most officials down to tea ladies, corruption is bound to thrive,” he said.
“Middlemen end up squandering student funds because the NMDS allows it.
“They know they can do what they like and hide behind the NMDS skirts when their deceit is exposed.”

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