Ministry officials questioned over fire

Ministry officials questioned over fire

MASERU – THE Deputy Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Health Hlompho Mpeta yesterday briefed a parliamentary portfolio committee how a section of the ministry’s headquarters was burnt in July.
Mpeta told the committee that the building was in a bad state with all fire sensors not working. “The fire pipes have all been stolen,” he said.
He said the government buildings were not maintained due to lack of funds.
“We lack a lot of things, expertise included,” Mpeta said.
He told the committee that the ministry’s workers were not negligent but faced severe lack of funds to do their work.

Mpeta told the committee that in the morning of July 17 this year, on the day they were to celebrate the King’s birthday, they received news that the ministry’s headquarters had been burnt.
“I went there and found out that it was indeed true,” he said.
He said earlier that morning, the security guards realised there was a fire outbreak and they quickly informed the police who came to the scene without any fire extinguishers.

Mpeta said the police went back to fetch the fire engine.
He said the police who first came tried to open the office that was on fire but they turned back because the fire was already engulfing the office.
Mpeta said the finance office was burnt down and the other office coordinating funds also caught fire.

He said the billowing smoke forced its way up to the ceiling making everything in the building black.
“The police fire brigade said they would write a report on the accounts of events but they have not done so,” Mpeta said.
He said an incidence report was filed to find out if the fire was caused deliberately.

Mpeta said the police told them that they suspected that the air conditioner in the Director of Finance’s office could have caused the fire as it was probably left on during that eventful night.
Mpeta said the director, Mpheteng Tšukulu, said he thought he turned off the heater when he knocked off.

He said the damage done to the building would be covered by the insurance policy. While the building was insured, the office equipment was not, he said.
He said a loss report to the Ministry of Finance stating the damage on the equipment has since been filed with the ministry.
Mpeta said the Department of Environment had also recommended that the entire building be evacuated but the then Principal Secretary of the ministry, Lefu Manyokole, did not implement the recommendation.

Tšukulu told the committee that he was notified that the building was on fire and the flames were out of control.
He said he then went to the scene and found a lot of people watching.
He said he was surprised and shocked to see the damage caused by the fire.
He said he was then interrogated by the police.
“I told them that I did not have any clue as to what might have caused the fire,” he said.

Tšukulu said he was always careful to switch off all electrical appliances before knocking off.
He said the police ended up suspecting that he forgot to switch off the air conditioner.
He said they were expecting written reports from investigators.
He said finance office does not keep accountable documents.
Tšukulu told the committee that the office does not physically keep any money.
“We have safes here to keep it,” he said.

He said the burnt documents include reports by committees like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
He also said while the Electronic Financial Management Systems was burnt, every data stored can still be recovered.
According to government laws, Tšukulu said he had to file a loss report showing equipment that was in the office
“We are still searching to find the exact worth of the burnt equipment,” he said.

The estate manager Marathane Tlhomola said the building was currently not covered by insurance.
Director General Health Services Dr ’Nyane Letsie said the fire extinguishers in the building were not working.

Nkheli Liphoto

 

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