PAC grills Small Businesses Ministry

PAC grills Small Businesses Ministry

MASERU – THE Ministry of Small Businesses is in hot soup after it bungled a catering tender that could have cost the government millions of maloti.
The ministry awarded the contract to two companies to provide catering services to 100 students at the Cooperative College in Maseru.
Both companies ended up working at the college in 2015 in contravention of the government’s procurement regulations.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is following on potentially corrupt practices in government ministries and departments unearthed in the Auditor General’s report, is accusing the ministry of misusing taxpayers’ funds.

Trouble started when Ha-Rona, which had been providing services lost the contract to rival Eat More, refused to leave. It argued that it should have won the tender because it was already providing services at the college.

Lekhooe Makhate, a former Principal Secretary of the Ministry, said they worked with Ha- Rona for two years and had even extended its contract “but we knew the procurement regulations did not allow us”. He said the ministry later advertised the tender and Ha-Rona and Eat-More were the only two companies that showed interest.
Makhate said Eat-More won the tender, but Ha-Rona rejected the decision, insisting it should have got the job.
“Since we have been working with them they did not admit that they had failed,” said Makhate.

“So Ha-Rona catering refused to go and let Eat-More to work that is why we ended up having two catering companies in one kitchen,” he said.
Makhate said in order to resolve the standoff, he asked the college management to deal with the matter “diligently” since Ha-Rona had taken the matter to court.
PAC chairperson Selibe Mochoborane demanded answers why Ha-Rona still catered for the college and yet it was told that its time was up.

Makhate told the committee that Ha-Rona was still being paid and had refused to leave. He said he did not know why Ha-Rona refused to leave.
The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Small Businesses, Lerato Pekane told the committee that they worked with Ha-Rona for three years and two months, with the ministry accountant ‘Malehlohonolo Sennane paying the company a whopping M7 million.

After Ha-Rona went to court about the tender decision, it was ruled that the two companies should share the six months contract, the committee heard.
Under the arrangement, one company would work for three months and the other for the remaining three months.
Makhate said Ha-Rona wanted to be refunded for work it claimed it had done at the college without being paid.

He said the company claimed it had run a loss and wanted to be repaid for petrol and food. He said Ha-Rona wanted M3.6 million in damages.
The committee resolved to call the two companies and the proceedings were subsequently held in camera to brief the committee what really happened.
“We could sense there has been insidious fraud here coupled with misuse of funds,” Mochoboroane said.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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