Vicious fight over Covid-19 tenders

Vicious fight over Covid-19 tenders

MASERU-A vicious fight over tenders is threatening to sabotage Lesotho’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec) cannot buy critical personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals because of incessant arguments within the government over its legality.

Thabo Khasipe, the Nacosec chief executive, says the squabbling has all but stopped operations. The secretariat has no money or a bank account.
Its procurement and recruitment have been abruptly stopped.
At the core of the fight is whether Nacosec is properly constituted to have its own bank account and spend government money.
Khasipe says while the battle rages the country’s hospitals are running out of PPE and masks.

He says those fighting legal battles are putting lives in danger and sabotaging the fight against the pandemic that has so far infected nearly a 1 000 people and claimed nearly two dozen lives.
Khasipe, who is also Commissioner General of the Lesotho Revenue Authority, is warning of an impending disaster when infections surge in September.

“The issue is the people are dying and being infected while we engage in legal debates. Within a week hospitals will run out of PPE like coveralls and masks,” Khasipe says.
“The numbers are dwindling fast as we argue over who has the power to buy them. The 1.2 million masks we had are almost gone because a doctor or nurse can use more than 10 a day.”

Khasipe says Lesotho might get the PPE in December if it doesn’t order now.
He worries that hospitals designated as isolation centres are unprepared to take patients.
“At Berea Hospital there are no blankets and hot water. The food is not up to standard. The Mafeteng Hospital is in a terrible state as well.”
“These are the issues we should be dealing with instead of bickering. There is a cost to these delays,” he said.

So brutal is the fight that some people have asked the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to stop Nacosec from advertising tenders and jobs.
The DCEO has since given Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro a legal opinion arguing that Nacosec doesn’t have the authority to spend government money.

The same view is shared by some people within the government. The DCEO was invited into the fray after the secretariat requested information from PPE companies and advertised tenders for emergency and communication services.
Khasipe says it was not a coincidence that the battle intensified soon after those tenders were announced. He doesn’t believe those arguing against Nacosec’s existence are sincere.

Instead he sees it as part of a broader fight for tenders because some people think there is money to be made from this crisis.
“The past two weeks have shown that tenderprenuership is the biggest threat. There seems to be a battle for tender opportunities.”
“To me that explains why some people are fighting Nacosec from all fronts. It is unfortunate because we are focusing on the wrong things. We are forgetting that we have a serious crisis on our hands and time is of essence.”

The secretariat was a darling until it wanted to spend money, he says.
Khasipe says he is not pushing for Nacosec to spend money without accountability, but the legal debate should not stop crucial operations in the fight against the pandemic.

“I am just saying we need to move fast because we have a disaster. As we make legal arguments, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are facing a crisis like no other.”
“If we spend time debating the ‘how’ then the ‘what’ will not be done. We are running out of time. We need to buy PPE and educate our people.”
It appears that Nacosec is not mired in the same legal mess as its predecessor, the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC). NECC was disbanded after four months of little progress because of arguments over its legality.

Instead of fighting the pandemic, NECC appears to have become a feeding trough for some unscrupulous government officials who allegedly engaged in corrupt and wasteful expenditure. 
For the better part of NECC’s existence Lesotho did not have a confirmed case of Covid-19. Experts say Lesotho could have fared better if it had used the time to prepare for the crisis. The number of deaths and infections has since galloped.

Yet Nacosec remains hamstrung, much to Khasipe’s frustration.
“When things become bad we will be accused of neglecting our duty as Nacosec yet we are being blocked from our work,” he says.
He says there is a toxic culture of mistrust that makes people sabotage good initiatives. “Even those who are mistrusted begin to doubt the intentions and sincerity of those who mistrust them. You begin to think the mistrust is based on some sinister motives. Those accusing others of being corrupt are probably even more corrupt.”

Khasipe also revealed that hotels and lodges the government has used as quarantine centres have not been paid for the past six months.
Nacosec itself is struggling to get petrol and food money, he adds.

Staff Reporter

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