Explosive tape over mine tender

Explosive tape over mine tender

Staff Reporter

MASERU – AN explosive tape revealing details of what happened during a closed-door meeting between Mining Minister Lebohang Thotanyana and two prominent businessmen has exposed the rot in the mining sector.

The tape gives a clear picture of how connected people use influence peddling to get ahead in tender processes. It is a window of sorts into the intricate workings of Lesotho’s tender processes which have become patently corrupt.

The tape was recorded at a time when Thotanyana had instructed the Mining Board to start negotiating with Sputnik Limited over the sale of government’s 75 percent stake in Mothae.

The decision has since triggered an investigation by the police who suspect that the minister could have interests in Sputnik.

Trans Hex, the company that lost to Sputnik, seems to have accepted the resulebohang-phooko1lt but its proxies in Lesotho are fighting on.

One of those proxies is Mohapi Khofu who reported the alleged corruption to the police.

As Khofu explained in an interview with thepost, his relationship with Trans Hex was not at shareholder level. Instead, he says, he had negotiated with Trans Hex to be a contractor at Mothae.

He said when Trans Hex failed he talked to Thotanyana about what he called a ‘proposal’ for him to benefit in the Sputnik deal.

Also in that meeting was former Public Works principal secretary Lebohang Phooko. Phooko’s relationship with Trans Hex, he told thepost, “goes as far as the company asking him to fix a meeting” with Thotanyana.

The recording gives an impression of two businessmen demanding a piece of the pie. It starts with Khofu explaining briefly that they had come for the meeting they had talked about.

Thotanyana tries to explain what happened during the tender process.

“The truth of the matter is that a member of the Mining Board (Pusetso Borotho) committed a serious fraud,” the minister says.

“I am aware that the matter is before the police. He has manipulated the report and he is busy going around with a manipulated document, the manipulated results of the sitting (of the board) saying it is legitimate. I can show you the presentations….”

He is referring to Pusetso Borotho, a former member of the Mining Board who had accused the minister of tinkering with the board’s recommendation to ensure that Sputnik gets the deal ahead of Trans Hex.

Borotho has denied this allegation and instead accuses the minister of changing the Mining Board’s recommendations (see interview with Borotho on Page 6).

In response Khofu says he understands what the minister is saying so there is no need to discuss the companies’ presentations.

But Thotanyana insists on giving the background story before they get to the agenda of the meeting.

“This is because the complaint at the police says I changed the recommendations. I didn’t change any recommendations but made my decisions on the basis of the recommendations and…”

Khofu however shoots back: “I know the amendments. Don’t bother to explain the internal processes to me. I know them together with the amendments.”

It is then that the minister reveals that Tutuoane advised him to “make an offer” and “cooperate” with Khofu and his team.

Khofu however interrupted him.

“We can’t make the rule. We understand what is happening. We are aware that you put the things in the main (audio unclear) before the approval. We gave you the list in advance so that you can apply your mind on it, see where it fits.”

The list, seen by this paper, has 12 services Khofu and his team wanted to provide at Mothae.

It is includes supply of earthmoving equipment, drilling and blasting services, engineering consultancy and construction works. According to the list Khofu and his team also wanted to supply fuel, catering and cleaning services, security services and protective clothing.

But perhaps the biggest demand was for a 12.5 percent stake in Mothae and that Sputnik invests in Khofu’s mine.

Thotanyana however seems reluctant to discuss the list.

“When Borotho left the board, he told you that Trans Hex won. Borotho manipulated the documents. He manipulated the people, then went and said I didn’t want (Trans Hex) because Phooko is involved in it,” Thotanyana says.

Khofu however seems to push on.

“We now…we try to consolidate the acceptance of you into us and the results…we have put aside what Tutuoane (Acting Senior Assistant Police Commission Seabata Tutuoane) said (audio unclear). I was with Mokola (Police Minister Monyane Moleleki) last night and I gave him the structure (list) and said this is what we want to talk to Ntate Thotanyana about and see how we can have the stake.”

“We are not fighting against him, we are going to say Ntate Thotanyana we are your children and we are here…”

The confrontation

Thotanyana: What is important is not to say let sleeping dogs lie, you have to understand what is important is to have local content, Basotho should have opportunities. Ntate Moleleki came to me about that.

Khofu: We have agreed with those people about the list. We will tell him that we are from Ntate Thotanyana. At least he is with us.

Thotanyana: You have come to me here. I don’t want to give anybody an impression that you are holding me at gunpoint when you are not. There is no holding me at gunpoint. What is important is to ensure that Basotho will benefit.

Khofu: We wanted the Yellow Plant, 1, 2, 3 is a major. (He is referring to the first three items on the list which are earthmoving equipment, drilling and blasting and engineering services.)

The yellow plant

Thotanyana: You accept that you will not be alone in this.

Khofu: There are big components here. We want to achieve…(audio not clear) You have yellow plant yourself and you will probably…

Thotanyana: My machines will work somewhere else, not here.

Khofu: We can get Ntate Lebona’s machines…

Thotanyana: No, his machines are working somewhere else too.

Khofu: Alright, if we bring in our comrades with yellow plant, as we will be the main contractors…(audio unclear) Ntate Phooko will take number three as an engineer…

The tussle

Thotanyana: Let me go and when I come back we will continue with our meeting. These people you are talking about should be Basotho. These should be reserved for Basotho. For example, this of the yellow plant, could be provided by the Basotho who have come together….(audio not clear) however, let us not say you will be the ones on top. There are skills that are needed in this which you don’t have. Experience is also needed in this.

Khofu: That is what I have a problem with.

Thotanyana: It is Sputnik that is going to hire. There are two principles that should be followed ….(audio unclear). We have to create competition. Monopoly will not be tolerated here. I cannot say it will be you who will be on top. I can’t guarantee that you will be on top….(audio unclear)

Phooko comes in

Phooko: I understand you quite well. What makes me nervous is that this thing can go either way.

Thotanyana: Yes, we understand that Sputnik will not be obliged to work with you. They will not be legally obliged. Legally speaking, that is the case. However, as long as what you want to do is done industry wide, that is not the problem. For me I don’t think if we bring together business people that should be a problem. I don’t want to say it is going to happen only to say it did not succeed at the end. We can’t risk putting the wealth of this country in the hands of a few people. Ntate Phooko, you already have your company, Mafube Consulting Firm?

Phooko: As one with relevant skills there, I’m interested in getting Basotho to get opportunities.

Khofu: We say if we get number 1, 2, 3 we will ensure that the procurement in the mine benefits Basotho.

Thotanyana: This will require financing. It is not easy to get finance. Aren’t you a front of someone?

Khofu: No, we have someone with whom we are going 50/50.

Thotanyana: So, tell me what am I going to do?

The stake

Khofu: Stake in the mine. In Kao Basotho had 12 percent stake, I was told this by the leadership. Khasu transferred it back. Basotho will have to have the 12 percent in here too.

Thotanyana: In Kao, Basotho do not have a 12 percent stake. They had been given the shares before they could buy them properly. They still have to pay for them.

Khofu: There is need to invest in Pipe 200. It is included in the investment (audio unclear) Trans Hex people were interested. They were saying Mothae might be the big one. Can’t you propose that some of the structure from Mothae go to Pipe 200?

Thotanyana: Write a summary of about two pages on this so that when some investors come seeking an opportunity I can sell it to them.

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