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Mind-boggling theft of resources

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AN internal audit report prepared by the Ministry of Finance on Covid-19 related expenditure for the financial years 2019/20-20/21 has exposed shocking lack of internal controls in implementing Covid-19 activities.

While the report was released on July 14, 2021 it only came to the public’s attention this week. The report appears to confirm what we have always suspected – that rogue individuals were exploiting opportunities brought by the Covid-19 pandemic to enrich themselves.

To achieve their goals, such individuals exploited the weak financial control systems within government ministries and in some cases, willfully flouted the government’s procurement regulations.
But there have also been shocking cases of wasteful expenditure that are mind-boggling.

All in all, the report appears to back up allegations that some individuals took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lax internal control mechanisms within the ministries to line up their pockets.

The result has been what has amounted to massive looting of the government resources on an industrial scale. If these individuals are allowed to get away with this massive level of looting, it would set a very bad precedent for Lesotho.

The auditor discovered that there were “inadequate internal controls in implementing Covid-19 activities”.

“With the amount spent on constructing of park homes for the six border posts, better and existing labs could have been refurbished or proper building structures” could have been built, says the report.

Most of the funds available were squandered on catering and allowances for staff involved in Covid-19 activities and not core activities to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The report also points to what it says is the “high staff complement at Nacosec”. These public officers got allowances that ranged from M2 000 to as much as M30 000 each between December 2020 and March 2021 totalling M1 711 314.00.

“It is not clear how the rates of these allowances were determined, how they were approved and by whom,” it says.

The whole staff structure at Nacosec was deemed to have been “too big, duplicative to Disaster Management Authority (DMA) positions and functions and too costly to the budget”.
The report says prices charged on some goods and services appeared to have been overstated or inflated significantly.

These include thermos scanners and fogging machines, tents, park homes, water tanks and hospital beds. It said the National Covid-19 Secretariat rented Avani Maseru Hotel for office space, accommodation and meals for its deputy CEO without a contract agreement.

The requisitions and purchase order were prepared and signed retrospectively, three to four months after services were rendered.

Nacosec inexplicably went on to acquire “two rooms for accommodation and meals” for its deputy CEO at a cost of M1 622 per room raising questions as to “why two rooms were rented and how the tenant occupied both of them”.

The report says “controls surrounding the Covid-19 initiative are unsatisfactory with regards to safeguarding of assets, compliance with rules and regulations, accomplishment of objectives for the best interests of the government of Lesotho”.

On the basis of the above findings, we would agree with its recommendation that those found guilty of any wasteful expenditure must be held responsible.

But we know that is not how things are done in Lesotho. We are likely to raise some dust and that will be the end of the story and the looting continues.

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Justice for Makutoane

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The brazen killing of a National University of Lesotho (NUL) student, Kopano Makutoane, last Thursday has seen an outpouring of national grief and soul-searching. We can also sense palpable anger from ordinary Basotho against the police.

Makutoane, who by all accounts was unarmed, was gunned down by the police while protesting at the Roma campus against a decision by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) not to pay part of their allowances.

By virtue of not being armed, we would like to believe that Makutoane and his fellow students, posed no real danger to the police. What we saw last Thursday was a naked, vicious and disproportionate use of lethal force by the police.

The police’s brutal response to the students’ protest, is a clear sign that something is off with our police. Sadly, there is a well-documented history of the viciousness we saw at the university last Thursday.

That is what is stoking the people’s anger. Our police appear to have consistently demonstrated that they have very short memories.

They have also stubbornly refused to learn from history. They have demonstrated time and time again that they are impervious to learning simple lessons of history. The result is that they are repeating the same old mistakes, with devastating consequences for Basotho.

In 2009, the police shot and killed a first year student, Matšeliso Mary Thulo, during a student protest at the NUL. That should have been a wake-up call. But that incident appears to have been conveniently forgotten.

Thirteen years later, we are now confronted with just a change of name, under the very same old setting. This time it is Makutoane. We are talking here of a life that has been cut short in its prime. The young man had a bright future ahead of him.

His family, perhaps, saw him as their only ticket out of grinding poverty. But all that was put to a grinding halt by a bullet fired by a mad officer who never took a minute to contemplate the gravity of his actions as he pulled the trigger.

It is this gross lack of respect for human life that is deeply worrying. Our verdict is that we have a murderous police whose preferred modus operandi is to resort to violence at the slightest of provocations.

It is a reputation our police have unfortunately built over years. We have police officers who have no sense of contrition. They have no shame.

What else explains the repeated acts of violence perpetrated against innocent civilians time and time again? The rate at which our police kill is deeply worrying. The shortcomings we have highlighted here are systemic. They are institutional. It is a culture within the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) that must be uprooted, root and branch.

In setting up an investigation, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro is tacitly admitting the rot within the police that has seen the police becoming a law unto themselves. That investigation must identify who authorized the operation and the culprit who pulled the trigger.

Once identified, the rogue officer must be brought before the courts so that he faces justice. But all too often we have seen the well-heeled and well connected in society getting away with murder, literally. That must not be allowed to happen in this case.

Nothing short of a swift conviction and a long jail sentence thereafter will assuage the people’s anger.

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Broadcasting Code will tame wayward sector

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THE Broadcasting Code 2022 which came into force in April this year has been met with howls of protest from players in the broadcasting sector. Some of the radio stations now argue that they are being targeted with the ultimate goal of shutting them down.

But such a hysterical reaction to the Broadcasting Code 2022 will not be helpful to their cause. After reading through the Broadcasting Code 2022, we think this is an elegant piece of legislation that will finally bring order to a sector that has been extremely chaotic for years.

We see nothing that is at cross-purposes with our basic freedoms like the freedom of speech and of the press that are protected by the Constitution of Lesotho. Rather than restrict these basic freedoms, the new code will enhance such freedoms by ensuring that we have competent individuals behind the microphones at our radio stations and that we depoliticise radio stations.

We therefore see no reason to be hysterical about the new requirements. The Code says a broadcaster “shall recruit and retain presenters who have certification confirming journalistic training of no less than six months of continuous training from a registered and recognised institution”.

It also requires that editorial staff must have “certification confirming journalistic training of no less than two years of continuous training from a registered and recognised college or university”. In carrying out their duties a broadcaster must “ensure accuracy, balance, credibility, impartiality and fairness in their news and current affairs”.

These are basic requirements that the regulatory authorities are asking and we see no reason to raise alarm. We fully understand why the government of Lesotho has put in place these requirements. The idea is to tame a sector that has been a jungle for years.

This was a sector where anybody, without any training in journalism, could do as they pleased. The results of such an arrangement have not been pleasant. Without a basic appreciation of journalism, radio broadcasters were a law unto themselves. There were no basic standards upon which broadcasters could rely or be held accountable. They simply did as they pleased.

The results were complaints by aggrieved listeners whose reputations were often dragged in the mud. For those who felt aggrieved their only recourse was to sue in the courts of law, a process that was often costly and time consuming.

The Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) would time and again find itself locked in incessant battles with radio stations. The key in ensuring Lesotho moves in the right direction lies in enforcing the new requirements so that we have individuals who have a basic appreciation of how journalism works.

Like any other profession, there must be basic entry requirements before anyone is allowed to hold the mic. These individuals must have an appreciation of the ethical challenges that come with broadcasting. It would be an act of folly for any radio station to argue that they do not need trained journalists with solid academic credentials for them to be presenters. We find that argument to be extremely naïve and self-serving.

Radio stations, which have for years been associated with certain political parties, must see the bigger picture. That bigger picture entails accepting the need for reform or risk doing the same wrong things over and over again.
The days when radio stations would spew vitriol against political opponents are certainly coming to an end. Radio is a powerful tool. It cannot just be left in the hands of political hacks to defame political opponents.

 

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The ABC is at a cross-road

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THE appointment of Dr Pinkie Manamolela as the deputy leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) this week is coming at a time when the embattled party finds itself at a crossroad.
By assuming the deputy leadership position in the ABC, Dr Manamolela will be expected to unify a party that has struggled to put up a united front since the departure of Thomas Thabane as party leader in May last year.

Hawks within the ABC have refused to back new party leader Nkaku Kabi who was elected into his position earlier this year. There are still pockets within the ABC that have remained loyal to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro even though his influence within the party has gone down.

The result is that the ABC is approaching the next general election bitterly divided. Its chances of retaining power at the ballot box remain extremely low unless the factions rally behind a single candidate.

With a key election looming in October, time is fast running out for the ABC to participate in the election as a united front. Here is a party that is running government but is now likely to risk squandering its advatages of incumbency. Any other party in power would have exploited such power.

Rather than consolidate its gains won over the last five years, the ABC finds itself fighting against its own, to the detriment of its own electoral aims. It is therefore no surprise that the ABC’s long-suffering supporters are praying that Dr Manamolela will now play the role of a unifier to bring the two warring sides together.

But if any of the leaders are big headed and refuse to heed the calls for unity, the party faces an electoral whitewash come October.

The ABC will be up against a rejuvenated Democratic Congress (DC) party that still remains the darling of the masses in rural areas, thanks to the pro-poor social programmes introduced under the party’s tutelage 15 years ago.

It will also have to contend with Sam Matekane’s newly minted Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) that has the momentum at the present moment if their rally attendances are anything to go by.

Without putting a united front, the ABC will be dead and buried come election time. Surprisingly though there are individuals who still insist they could go it alone without the other faction. They are dreamers.

Kabi and Majoro might as well be remembered as the two individuals who failed to reunite a party when it was clear that the party was facing an existential threat. It should be in the interests of the two to clear their differences and rally behind a single candidate, who in this case is Kabi.

Kabi must however first acknowledge that his party’s push to oust Majoro as Prime Minister has failed dismally and now is the time to mend bridges to save the party. That in our opinion was the main stumbling block. But it has become clear to the hawks in the ABC that Majoro is not going anywhere before the election. It is now time to smoke the peace pipe.

Each day that passes without the two finding each other, brings the prospect of defeat for the ABC closer. Once it is ousted from power, the route back into political office will be long and torturous.

The ABC might be remembered as a party that had a golden opportunity to change the lives of Basotho for the better but squandered such an opportunity by failing to resolve petty differences.
Voters will likely punish the party at the polls come October.

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