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Blow for Akani

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MASERU – A company fighting for a contract to manage Lesotho’s biggest pension fund paid bribes to win a similar contract in South Africa. Akani Retirement Fund Administrators, a South African company, has been fighting for the contract to manage Lesotho’s Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODPCF) since 2020.

The basis of its bid for the PODCPF contract was that it had a sterling track record in South Africa where it once managed the Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) which has 21 000 members and is worth M7 billion.

The PODCPF has 35 000 members who are government employees and, like the CINPF, is worth M7 billion. But in a massive blow to its reputation, South Africa’s High Court last week ruled that Akani bribed the trustees of CINPF to topple a rival company and get the contract.

The victim of its corruption, the court ruled, was NBC Holdings, a major shareholder in NBC Lesotho Insurance Company Limited with which Akani is fighting for the PODCPF contract in Lesotho. NBC had been the CINPF’s administrators for three decades when Akani instigated its termination and took over the contract.

It is those allegations of corruption that were at the centre of the long-drawn battle between the companies. The court ruled that in 2019 Akani paid three CINPF trustees to terminate NBC’s contract. It found that the trustees faked the deaths of three relatives to receive the bribes in the form of insurance claims paid through

Neighbour Funeral Scheme, a company with strong links to Akani. The payments were made to the trustees – Bonginhlanhla Dangazele, Reginald Sema and Ayanda Sithole – four months after NBC’s termination and a week after Akani’s appointment.

Dangazele was the CINPF’s principal while Sema was deputised by Sithole as the chairperson of the board of trustees. Akani and the three had vehemently insisted that the payments which happened on the same day in 2019 were insurance claims for relatives who had died around the same time.

The three took up the insurance policies with the Neighbour Funeral Scheme around the time they were aggressively pushing out the NBC from the CINPF contract. Their relatives too died around the same time and their insurance pay claims were paid on the same day.

The court ruled that it was a “remarkable coincidence” that the three had taken out the policies at the same time, their relatives had died around the same time and Neighbour Funeral Services paid their claims within four minutes of each other.

Dangazele received M40 000 while Sema and Sithole got M25 000 each. Justice Adams said there is no explanation why, out of funeral policy vendors, the three trustees signed up for policies with Neighbour Funeral Scheme on the same day, their relatives died around the same week and their claims were paid minutes apart.

The judge said based on “irrefutable inferential reasoning, the true purpose of the payments to Dangazele, Sema and Sithole was a bribe”.

“The explanation for the receipt of substantial payments all on the same day, all from one funeral scheme vendor, which happens to be a company related to Akani, one week after the appointment of Akani, in which decision they were directly involved, implies a series of truly remarkable and unlikely coincidences,” the judge said.

He ruled that the termination of NBC’s contract should be reversed because it had been tainted by corruption and fraud. The court also ordered the CINPF to remove Dangazele, Sithole and Sema as trustees. The judgement in South Africa has serious implications in Lesotho because Akani and NBC are battling for the contract to manage the PODCPF.

The fight started after the PODCPF renewed the NBC’s contract as an administrator following a two-horse race with Akani. Four of the PODCPF’s trustees, who preferred Akani disputed the decision, wrote to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was finance minister at that time, asking him to intervene to reverse NBC’s appointment.

They accused the board, of which they were members, of ignoring complaints against NBC in Lesotho and South Africa. They pointed out that NBC’s contract with CINPF has been terminated for “non-performance issues”.

They were referring to the same termination that the South African court has now ordered be set aside after finding that it was instigated by Akani through bribes to CINPF trustees.

Staff Reporter

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LAA wins another international award

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MASERU – THE Land Administration Authority (LAA) has scooped yet another international award from the European Society for Quality Research (ESQR).

The award was presented to the LAA at a function held in Barcelona, Spain, last month.

The award was for best outstanding business results, best practices, quality awareness and achievement by companies in the regional and global markets.

This is the second time that the LAA has received an international award.

Last year the LAA was honoured with an international award on technology.

The LAA Director General, ’Mataeli Makhele-Sekhantšo, said the LAA was established as an autonomous government body by the Land Administration Authority Act.

She said the objective was to modernise and improve land administration services and to reduce land transaction costs.

“The ESQR awards recognise organisations’ distinctive performance improvement, organisational excellence, customer focus and encourage them to share their best practice, experiences and knowledge with other organisations,” Makhele-Sekhantšo said.

“The recognition is independent assurance for organisations stakeholder and customers and it motivates the organisation employees to strive for sustainable excellence,” she said.

The Board Chairman, Ratšele Ratšele, congratulated the staff of LAA for their hard work.

However, he said as much as the organisation has improved, “there are still some challenges which need to be addressed by the government”.

“The organisation still seeks to extend the issue of licenses in all the places across the country,” Ratšele said.

“The act that regulates estate agents still need to be strengthened,” he said.

He said sectional title deals which distinguish the size of land to be registered still need to be reviewed to allow people who can afford to buy small pieces of land.

Local Government Deputy Minister ’Mathato Phafoli said the government is proud of this organisation since “it fulfills the mandate of the local government for administering the lease holding”.
Phafoli said the administration for the lease is not only crucial for regulating land, but also to boost the economy of the country.

“Land is the crucial treasure which needs to be registered with the LAA so that it can benefit even the coming generations,” Phafoli said.

She said one of the government’s strategic plans is to improve food security.

However, agricultural land is being utilised for industrial purposes, business premises and for household purposes.

“We are worried as to how Basotho will in the coming years acquire food,” she said.

She said immediate action must be taken because Lesotho could fail to grow food for its people.

Phafoli said the government is more concerned about agricultural land which is being utilised for industrial purposes instead of food production.

She said this exposes the country to high risk of food security failure.

Refiloe Mpobole

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ETL flies students to USA

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MASERU – TWO Basotho students are off to the United States, thanks to Econet Telecom Lesotho’s HigherLife Foundation.

A farewell ceremony for the two was held in Maseru on Tuesday.

HigherLife Foundation is a social impact organisation that invests in human capital. It was formed by Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and his wife, Tsitsi, in 1996.

The Public Relations Officer of Econet Telecom Lesotho, Puleng Litabe, said each year they reserve two percent of their budget for the foundation.

She said they have so far sponsored 524 students ever since the foundation was established in Lesotho in 2011.

“These two students will add up to 18 students who studied in America through the assistance of the HigherLife Foundation since its establishment.”

Litabe said of the over 18 students they have sponsored to study in America, five of them are now working in Lesotho while seven of them are working in the US.

She said one student is working in Canada and three students are in their Doctor of Philosophy studies.

The Econet Chief Executive, Dennis Plaatjies, said HigherLife Foundation sponsored the two students since their high school days at Soofia International School in Leribe.

He said after completing their Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE), the foundation took them to Waterford University in Eswatini.

He said the foundation has several programmes with education as the major priority.

He said they assist Grade A students who are vulnerable.

One of the students, Nthati Lehloenya, will be studying at the University of Oklahoma. She said he was raised by a single parent.

Lehloenya said life was not a walk in the park due to financial constraints her family had.

She was lucky to be introduced to the HigherLife Foundation which ultimately changed her life.

“The foundation did not only change our livelihood but it has also impacted our communities,” Lehloenya said.

She explained that while at school she won a M16 000 fund for a community project she was working on at work.

The other student is Mahali Mabesa.

The one will be studying engineering while the other will be studying mathematics and physics.

A parent to one of the scholars, ’Mamahali Mabesa, said in 2012 the financial problems forced her to transfer her daughter from the National University of Lesotho International School (NULIS) to Soofia International School.

She said it was still hard to support her daughter’s education. The teachers realised that her daughter was working so hard and deserved financial assistance.

“They said they could not let this talent go to waste because of our struggle hence they would try all means so that she could be assisted,” Mabesa said.

Meanwhile, Econet Telecom Lesotho yesterday in partnership with Gem Institute Lesotho launched a tree planting campaign for 1 408 apples and peach trees at 16 schools in the lowlands and highlands.

The Founder of Gem Institute, Mpho Letima, said one of their mandates is to encourage the youth to venture into entrepreneurship, technology and agriculture.

She said they have partnered with the school ever since 2016.

Refiloe Mpobole

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LRA’s modernisation project extended to October

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MASERU – A four-year project to modernise the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA)’s system which was supposed to have ended in June has been extended to October. The Lesotho Tax Modernisation Project is designed to address weaknesses and target areas for improvement that are linked to the main causes of weak tax administration in Lesotho.

It focuses on improving efficiency and service delivery, increasing Value Added Tax (VAT) compliance, and broadening the tax base. It is also meant to support the LRA to consolidate and deepen reform by focusing on redesigning and upgrading business processes.

It is also meant to develop an enabling legal and institutional framework, introduce modern information and communication technology to increase tax compliance and efficiency in tax administration. It also promotes peer learning and experience sharing with similar national revenue authorities in the region.

The purpose is to strengthen the government’s capacity to raise domestic revenue and provide fiscal space for priority public expenditures including counterpart funding for ongoing operations. The LRA said the project is at 90 percent towards completion.

Speaking at a media briefing in Maseru on Tuesday, the Project Manager, Mokhethi Mabeea, said the project began in July 2018 and it was supposed to end in June this year. They have extended the time to October 2022 because implementation it took longer than expected.

The project, he said, was designed to enhance their services and modernise old systems. Mabeea said they were working on a different scope which includes E-taxation. The E-filing was developed for Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) and deployed for piloting.

“We believe in October it will be up and running,” Mabeea said.

He said E-payment was also developed and under testing while E-registration is under testing development. Mabea said there is the Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse. He said the Business Intelligence was strategically developed and they are still in the process with the strategy which will assist in the implementation stage.

He said Operational Reports and Dashboards were developed and in use. He further said the Data Governance Framework was also completed and it is being operationalised. Mabea said an E-invoicing Solution was established late hence it will be completed around March 2023.

He said they also realised that the staff needed to be equipped with training as technology changes. They included amongst others the Block Chain Technology, special sectors in the financial sector and telecommunications sector, as well as business processes management.

Mabeea said in the Tax Administration Bill that was sent to parliament before it was dissolved two weeks ago. The Income Tax Bill was also sent to parliament while the VAT Amendment Bill has already been considered by both Houses.

Mabeea said that in the category of Small Business Tax Enhancement, they are seeking to treat small and medium entrepreneurs differently in terms of registration and filing of tax. The registration, filing and payment processes have been re-engineered. He said the configuration of the Core Tax Management System is in progress.

He said they are still calling upon all Basotho who are employed to file their returns. He said everyone paying tax should update their registration information. The Digital Service Manager, ’Makhothatso Khanare, spoke of an online rating tool which is still in progress.

She said they had introduced a tool management system in some of their offices to improve the quality of services they offer. She said they had so far achieved a 91 percent satisfaction level.

Khanere said however, they realised that since most of their services are conducted online, the level of satisfaction was not traceable. She said they expanded their rating tool digitally and a new product will be launched next month. She said this will allow all their clients who visit their offices and use the digital services raise their concerns and opinions.

Refiloe Mpobole

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