NUL registrar rejects  graft charge

NUL registrar rejects graft charge

MASERU – IN August, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) registrar, Liteboho Maqalika-Lerotholi, found herself in a storm.
Thato Ponya, the firebrand Students Representative Council leader (SRC), was pelting her with scurrilous allegations.
In a stinging letter leaked to the media, a furious Ponya called Maqalika-Lerotholi an incompetent and corrupt person unfit to be in the registrar’s office.

He gave an ultimate: leave office immediately or face the wrath of the students.
What had annoyed the students’ leader was a graduation gown tender he alleged the registrar had bungled.
His gripe was mainly with what he saw as an attempt to deny the students a piece of the pie. It is from such contracts that NUL students should benefit, he said at a press conference where he was as forceful as he was in the angry letter to Maqalika-Lerotholi.

Then there was a Chinese lady Ponya said had been handed a huge chunk of the contract under dubious circumstances.
The Chinese lady, he said, was benefiting at the expense of the locals. He said the Chinese lady had been given an order to make 1 400 of the 2 000 gowns.

Amid the fiasco Maqalika-Lerotholi kept her silence.
Not once did she discuss the issue with Ponya who she says she should have disciplined using university regulations.
But she admits she was hurt by the allegations “because they were utterly false”.
Maqalika-Lerotholi says for weeks she pondered how to respond to Ponya’s allegations.

“There was not a grain of truth in the allegations that were being stated not only as fact but also in a rather forceful way,” Maqalika-Lerotholi says.
What riled her most was that as Ponya and the SRC pilloried her no one “bothered to seek my side of the story”.
“They were dragging my name in the mud with lies but no one was giving me a chance to state the true story”.

Now Maqalika-Lerotholi says the best way to understand the gown tender is to go back in history “to see how it all came about”.
She says before 2015 the university had an in-house department that manufactured graduation wear. That department was disbanded after the university entered an austerity era that forced it to cut jobs.

With the department defunct, the university had to outsource the production but it immediately faced a huge problem, she says.
“This is a highly specialised job we could not give out randomly. Graduation wear is governed by statutes that have clear specifications on how they should be made, in what shape and in what fabric.”

For continuity the NUL encouraged former employees of the department to form companies to make the gowns. The initial companies hired were all owned by former NUL employees but their relationship with the university was not controlled by a contract.
“That was one of the problems because after some time we noticed that some of the companies had deviated from the specifications. The university then invited the companies to sign two-year contracts.”

“But because some of the initial companies formed by the former employees had collapsed two new companies came on board.”
The new companies were Hong Xing, a locally registered company owned by a Chinese lady, and Diary One (trading as TBT), owned by a Mosotho man.

Maqalika-Lerotholi says the original agreement was that the companies would sell the gowns directly to the students.
She however says that began to change in 2016 when the university Senate started discussing a new design to the gown “after noticing that they were too plain and did not have any branding”.

A subcommittee was established to explore the redesign and the symbols that were to be used. The committee proposed the use of Mokorotlo as the national symbol and the NUL logo.
“That meant we had to have new specifications and the quality control had to be centralised. So instead of the companies selling to the students directly they now had to supply the gowns to the university”. The subcommittee’s recommendations however went beyond just redesigning the gown. It proposed the creation of ceremonial gowns for what are called Officers of the university and Deans.

“This was in line with the mandate because we had noticed that those people were wearing gowns from their universities so there was need for some form of uniformity. This happens across other universities in Africa,” Maqalika-Lerotholi says.
After initial reservations to the new proposal the companies agreed to play by the university’s new rules.
“Others were however upfront that they might not be able to do the branding we required.”

Then came the allocation of the orders which Maqalika-Lerotholi says Ponya got “deliberately wrong”.
She says she does not know where the students’ leader got the information that Hong Xing had been given an order to make 1 400 gowns.
“The truth is that Academic Regalia, a consortium of eight ladies who used to work at the university with others joining from outside the university, was given an order of 800 pieces, which was the highest.”

The reason, she adds, is that the university wanted to empower the former employees. Diary One and Hong Xing had an order to make 300 gowns each. The same applies to Koatsa Mobile and Mosh General, which are separately owned by two local ladies who used to work for the NUL in the laundry and administration departments respectively. The two live in Roma.
Maqalika-Lerotholi says the “noises” from Ponya started as soon as the orders were released. She later discovered that one of the companies was behind the trouble.

“It appears that the company told Ponya that if students push the university to give it the whole contract to make the 2 000 gowns it would give the SRC part of the profits,” she says.
“Ponya’s proposal was brought to the management’s attention but it was rejected because the university already had contracts with the five companies since 2015.”

“I suppose that is when they started accusing me of corruption and incompetence, allegations that are both unfounded and unfortunate.”
She says in the end three of the five companies, including one that had tried to use the students to arm-twist the university to get the whole tender, failed to meet their quota.

“Going forward we will work with one or two companies. We have learned that some of the companies don’t have the capacity.”
Maqalika-Lerotholi says her track record shows that Ponya’s allegation that she is incompetent is malicious. She became registrar in March 2015 after a stint as Director of IDM.

Before that she was the Deputy Rector at the Lesotho College of Education where she was in charge of administration.
She also worked as chief inspector for secondary schools.

Staff Reporter

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