‘We have been captured’

‘We have been captured’

MASERU – SElIBE Mochoboroane has always been a popular man. A former minister and a leader of a political party, he has a huge following. Those numbers seem to have however soared in the past few months, thanks to his new role as chairperson of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee’s hearings on radio and TV have become a national sensation of sorts, giving people a glimpse into the opaque operations of the government. A window has been opened into the rot in the government offices. The whiff has stunned many. Public servants have been grilled at the hearings. Some have crumbled under a barrage of questions that cast aspersions on their integrity and professionalism. Yet not everyone is pleased with Mochoboroane’s work.

He sure has rubbed some people the wrong way. This week the committee was told to move its hearings to a small committee room it says cannot accommodate all its members, the witnesses and the media.  The committee responded by suspending its hearings, much to the chagrin of many who have come to look forward to the drama of senior civil servants being interrogated. We spoke to Mochoboroane about that decision and other issues.

Why has the PAC suspended its hearings?

We have been told that we cannot use the main chamber and have to move our hearings to the committee rooms. It’s obviously going to be difficult to have hearings in the committee rooms because they are just small. They will not accommodate the committee members, the witnesses and the media.
The other problem is that the recording system in the committee rooms is not reliable. We need a perfect recording system because the evidence we are gathering from witnesses will have to be used in the courts. So given these challenges we had no option but to suspend the hearing.

What do you suppose is the motive behind that decision?

It is difficult to speculate at the moment but it started way back when the Ministry of Communications said it had been instructed by the Speaker of Parliament to stop broadcasting the hearings. That turned out to be false.
Now it’s the Deputy Speaker who has instructed that we should have the hearings in the committee rooms. This decision was made without consultation with us or the parliament as a whole. We have since been told by the Speaker that parliament has the power to change that decision.
So tomorrow one of the MPs will move a motion to nullify the Deputy Speaker’s decision. I am sure parliament will prevail.

Do you think there is a political hand in the decision to move the hearings to the committee rooms?

So far we want to handle this matter in a diplomatic way. I however suspect that there could be a political motive. But I must say this is a suspicion. The truth of the matter is that the country has a problem. We seem to have been captured by the Chinese.
We see the hand of the Chinese in many of the transactions we are investigating. I am telling you that the problem here is that we have been captured by the Chinese. As we are investigating the transactions and deals we are seeing Chinese companies everywhere.
Let me stop there for now. Today we were supposed to deal with officials from the Water and Sewerage Company (Wasco) which gave contracts to a Chinese company that had been disqualified.
Then we were told suddenly that the hearing has to be moved to the committee rooms. For now I am trying to be diplomatic but there will come a time when I might be political. So far we have been able to put together a very strong team of MPs.

What have been the main findings of your committee so far?

We now know that millions and millions of maloti have been embezzled by state officials but no legal action is being taken against the culprits.
One would have thought that by now this business of looting from the government would have stopped but it looks like it’s getting worse. As leaders of different political parties, those in government or out of it, we have to stop this corruption.
We have to fight back otherwise this will be a failed state. It you look at the transactions you will see a trail of illicit movement of monies within the country and across the borders.  You will hear that the money has been moved to South Africa. It is our job as parliament to stop this corruption. If we don’t deal with the problems in the system we will regret it. We have to be strong.

What other issues have you picked from the hearings and the evidence you have?

The lack of compliance is a serious matter. Ministries and government officials don’t comply with the regulations and procedures. There is non-compliance with the tax laws. But the biggest one is that of corruption and illicit movement of money.

Are you now scared that some of your work might put you in danger?

Not directly but I have been warned that if I touch so and so I might be in trouble. Some people have warned me to be careful who I touch. It is a fact that some people are not happy with what the committee is doing.  That is to be expected. I am not really scared because if I was I would have stopped doing my work. There is nothing that will stop me from doing my work. I will continue and have to continue.

But some people have said you are doing this to enhance your political career.

Oh yes, I have heard that. People will never stop talking. I have never changed the way I do things. When I was Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Local Government people said I was pushing a political agenda. They said the same when I became Minister of Communications.
They said the same when I was Minister of Energy. There were some who insisted that I was playing a political game. The truth is that I have done well in these areas because I have the energy. I am passionate about my work.  I love my country. I am driven by results. People should do the same instead of accusing me of playing political games. You can achieve a lot in every area you are working. All you need is dedication.
I am the chairman of a mere PAC but we are doing work that people appreciate. It doesn’t matter where you are thrown.

Do you think that the government is giving your committee enough support?

I am not quite sure about that. It is something that we will have to look at as a committee. People should understand that the PAC is doing this for the good of the country. Parliament is there to play an oversight role.  The PAC is there to assist in combating corruption and misuse of government resources. We are doing this to safeguard the interests of the country.  We are doing this for the people. That is why we need as much support as possible.

Staff reporter

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