Taming the beast

Taming the beast

MASERU – How much is a bribe depends on who you are, what influence you want to buy and what trouble you want to avoid.
And it starts right at the bottom. In primary school a sandwich to the class monitor would make your name disappear from the noisemakers’ list. That’s a slice of bread to avoid detention or the teacher’s spanking. They don’t call it corruption at that age but that’s what it is: corruption.
On the road you can slip M20 into the palm of a police officer ‘troubling’ you over an expired license or an illegal turn.

In the rural areas M10 to the chief might get you on the food-for-work (fato-fato) list. Grannies know that an occasional gift to the chief might put you in good standing if you want to get some government aide. In town tens of maloti to a clerk might fast-track your ID or passport. And a few hundreds can get you a job.
While all this is corruption at its lowest level, its corruption all the same.

Still, what you pay depends on who you are and what is at stake. A few thousands might be enough to avoid jail. Hundreds of thousands of maloti will get you that lucrative government tender. Millions are for bigger projects like road and big building projects.
The point is that corruption is pervasive. Just because newspapers are awash with headlines of senior people caught in corruption scandals doesn’t mean it’s only prevalent at the top.
We scream when we hear that senior officials or ministers are lining their pockets with bribes yet we don’t hesitate to pay the police officer or the clerk for favours.
Right in the villages people are paying small bribes for services like water and electricity connections. Parents are greasing palms to get their children into good schools.

Senior government officials are paid to ‘make things happen’.
Ask Trade Minister Tefo Mapesela who claims he was offered a M30 000 bribe by a Chinese family whose relative had been arrested for selling rotten meat in his supermarket.
Mapesela says the family wanted the man released.

The minister had earlier in the day told the Chinese man that he was aware that he habitually paid health inspectors bribes whenever he is caught with expired goods.
Mapesela says he refused the bribe but some senior officials in government might have taken it. There are probably some who might consider Mapesela “a fool” to pass off a chance to make an ‘easy’ M30 000.

A few weeks ago the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard how the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) awarded a lucrative tender to Unik Construction, a Chinese company notorious for second-rate work. Wasco itself had also blacklisted the company over some botched contract.
As the Wasco boss Lehlohonolo Manamolela was being interrogated the line and tone of questions left little room for imagination. The committee was insinuating that money had changed hands when the controversial contract was awarded.

Who had received the money and how much, only an investigation can reveal. The contract has since been stopped.
Two months earlier the Ministry of Public Works was under fire for awarding, without tender, a M1 billion contract to China Geo Company, another Chinese company, for construction of a road between Butha-Buthe and Monontša.

The deal was cancelled after vociferous protests from local construction and engineering companies. An investigation is underway. There are also several tenders mired in corruption scandals.
Borotho Matsoso, director general of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), describes corruption levels in Lesotho as “terrifying”.
“For small and weak economies such as ours in Lesotho, the situation is getting more terrifying,” Matsoso says.

“Almost all the corruption cases that the DCEO has handled to date, including those still under investigation even as I speak, are emanating from public finance and public procurement.”
Litelu Ramokhoro, the DCEO’s director of public education, says bribery is the most prevalent form of corruption in Lesotho.
This year, as part of the Public Finance Management Reforms, the DCEO hired a consultant to help with finding ways to curb corruption in government finance and procurement transactions.
The expert found that the problem was with weak systems.

The specialist’s draft report revealed that outdated fiscal policies, poor whistleblowing structures and ineffective anti-corruption initiatives impeded the fight against corruption. The report also said the delays in payments from government and the elaborate processes it takes to approve them were fertile grounds for corruption.
As chairperson of the PAC Selibe Mochoboroane has gained rare insights into how money is being siphoned out of state coffers through corruption.
He says the levels of corruption are staggering but there seems to be little appetite to prosecute those caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Such an attitude, he says, breeds impunity as officials continue to steal “hand over fist” because they know that there no consequences.

“Ministries and government officials don’t comply with regulations and procedure. There is non-compliance with tax laws. But the biggest one is that of corruption and illicit movement of money,” Mochoboroane says.
For the past few months the committee has grilled government officials over dubious transactions, fishy tenders and missing funds.
Mochoboroane says one major challenge undermining anti-corruption efforts is “working in silos”.

He says due to lack of collaboration anti-corruption entities often work on the same case resulting in a waste of already scarce resources and time.
“There is poor coordination between relevant stakeholders like police and the courts. You will find that the DCEO has done a comprehensive job and finalised investigations but when it comes to prosecution there is a backlog of cases in the courts.”

That the DCEO is being asked to fight the scourge of corruption on a shoe-string has not helped matters.
“There is inadequate human resources, there are only ten investigators (in the DCEO) meaning that the ratio of cases to one investigator is high,” Mochoboroane says.
A director and consultant at Equity Solutions (Pty) Ltd, Limakatso Lehobo, in her 2017 paper titled Institutional Capacity and Illicit Financial Flows: Lesotho, says the problem in that DCEO’s annual budget is determined on the basis of the staff compliment and not on the financial demands of the cases at hand.

Lehobo says that while the staff component increased from 24 in 2010 to 59 in 2014, the number of cases reported since 2010 is 706, and 225 cases still have to be investigated.
The DCEO is funded by the government through the Ministry of Finance and it has been allocated slightly over M14 million since 2010. That is way below what the anti-corruption unit had been asking for to deal with graft in the country.
The budget does not match the amount of work that the DCEO has to tackle, Lehobo says.

In a 2016 interview with the thepost Ramokhoro said on average an investigator should handle at least five cases at a time but at the DCEO an investigator deals with 30 cases at a time.
He said while the DCEO’s role is to investigate corruption cases the bulk of its staff is in administration and finance.
Lehobo also observed that “the DCEO is also directly encountering problems with cases that drag on in the courts of law”.
“Although it has several high profile cases in the courts, which they consider an achievement for their organisation, these have suffered several postponements,” she says.
No wonder there is a strong perception that Lesotho is not doing enough to fight corruption.

In 2016 Lesotho tumbled from position 61 to 83 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
In the report the anti-corruption watchdog said Lesotho had scored 44 in 2015 but plunged to 39 points in 2016, suggesting that the country is now perceived to be more corrupt.
The World Bank Enterprise Survey of 2009 corroborates that by indicating that 26 percent of firms operating in Lesotho are expected to give bribes in order to secure government contracts.
Matsoso emphasized that the international ranking and rating of Lesotho insofar as corruption is concerned has gone down badly, thus discouraging foreign direct investment.
The net effect of all this, he says, is serious socio-political and economic instability and therefore no development.

There is a clear trend that cases of corruption and mismanagement exposed annually by the auditor general and PAC are not being prosecuted.
There are also indications that junior officers are more prone to be held accountable for their corrupt dealings than their seniors.
Former MP, Ramootsi Lehata, told a local newspaper in 2011 that “there are people within the government ministries who seem to be above the law as they are never brought to book …in cases whereby measures are taken to bring civil servants to book, police dockets often disappear”.

However, in some occasions the judiciary has applied a firm hand on corrupt individuals.
One of the examples is the case of ’Mampai Lesupi who tampered with the court records of Steve Dlamini who had defrauded the Lesotho Highlands Water Authority (LHDA) of M2.8 million.
Lesupi, then a magistrate, received a bribe to alter court records to indicate that charges against Dlamini had been withdrawn.

Ultimately, Lesupi was sentenced to six years imprisonment of which three years was suspended for five years on condition that she is not convicted of defeating or attempting to defeat the ends of justice. But Lesupi’s conviction is a rare victory in the protracted fight against corruption.
In most instances investigations are either swept under the carpet or abandoned altogether.

If at all the case is brought to court they are bogged down by inordinate delays until they eventually die a natural death.
Mochoboroane says while the DCEO needs sufficient funds to employ adequate staff and acquire technologies what will make a real difference is “political support”.
He says unless the anti-corruption unit has the full support of the government nothing much will change.

Thabo Qhesi, chief executive of the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL), suggests the establishment of an economic crimes court so that corruption cases are speedily prosecuted.
“This story was produced by [insert outlet name here]. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a pan-African media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org” .

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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