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The half a billion Maloti mess

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MASERU – THE construction of the Royal Palace has been a monumental disaster whichever way you look at it. Financially, it will now cost nearly three times its initial budget. That’s from just under M200 million to around half a billion.
It’s an estimation based on the assumption that it will be completed in the next few months.
Experts however think it will be more than another 12 months before the building is done, meaning budget overruns and escalations are highly possible.

In terms of time, a project that was supposed to take 18 months has now gone beyond seven years. Yet still there is no definitive date as to when the Royal Family will move into the Palace.
No one seems to have an answer as to when the project will be finished.
Ask the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Public Works, the project managers, and they will say it will be completed by October this year and will be ready for occupation by November.

“Its 90 percent complete,” said Mothabathe Hlalele, the Ministry’s principal secretary.
Those directly involved with the construction work are not as optimistic, with some opining that it will take “nothing short of a miracle” to conclude the project by early next year.

“Even the shell itself is not anywhere near 70 percent complete,” said one of the technical staff who has been involved in the project since it started in 2011. But who is to blame for the inordinate delay that has now forced the government to sink half a billion into a project that has dragged on for seven years?

The answer is elusive as nearly everyone involved tries to duck responsibility and disperse blame. For the past two months thepost has been digging for answers in an investigation that has led to nearly 40 interviews with people involved in the project.
Stacks of documents perused include contracts, emails, letters, construction plans and minutes. Nearly all those interviewed have intimate knowledge of the project, either from working on it or managing it.

Some have left the project while others are still trying to push it to the finishing line. The result of that investigation is what could be dubbed a near-complete picture of what has been happening to the project some have called a ‘national embarrassment’.
The investigation reveals a project that has been botched and allowed to run without strong supervision for years, cranking up the costs that have galloped without much progress.

The second indication of the mess is the timeframe that has stretched for years but with no sign that the final product will be a spectacular building that will dazzle the public with its beauty. thepost can today reveal that the delays on the Palace project are a result of poor decision-making, lack of supervision of contractors, delays in the payment of contractors and poor workmanship.

This is in addition to what seems to be opulence by the architect, poor coordination of work among the contractors and dismissal failure to rein in an architect who has what appears to be a big dream but is not hampered by cost implications.
For clarity those issues are explored in the subsequent stories. For fairness the responses of those blamed are published as separate stories in the special report.

It is therefore important to read the stories as part of a Special Report and not separate stories.
The troubled history of the palace project has been the subject of several stories in the past seven years. Those stories have largely concentrated on the cost and delays without delving into the nitty-gritties of how those came about.
For instance, they mention shocking figures without explaining what they constitute. Still they have resulted in public outrage that has only intensified.
The summary is that Palace Architects, a South African company, won a contract to design the Palace in 2010. They signed the contract a year later and sent Thomas Lanier, an architect of international repute, to supervise the construction.
LSP won the construction contract. Dyelec Lesotho were the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers while Aurecon were the Civil Engineers.
The interior designer was Makeka Design Lab, a company owned by Mokena Makeka, an award winning Mosotho architect based in Cape Town. Lethola Cost Associates were the quantity surveyors.

It did not take long for Lanier to fall out with the Ministry of Public Works over delays in payments and the late payment penalties he charged the government. Penalties on delayed payments are a standard in construction but it would appear that the Ministry was not ready to tolerate them from the architect.

At one time the ministry’s then PS Lebohang Phooko travelled to Johannesburg with Andre Bothman of LSP to attempt to persuade Lanier to resume his duties. There was an agreement between Phooko and Lanier that the penalties will be paid with the ministry paying part of the invoices.
After months of trying to find common ground the ministry fired Lanier (he speaks to thepost in an exclusive interview on Page…). Without the architect, construction had to stop. That was in April 2013 and already the project was way behind schedule.
The initial plan was that the project would be completed in 18 months, from August 2011 March 2013.

It was only in October 2014, 18 months after the stoppage, that the ministry announced that Makeka Designs, the interior design consultant, had been appointed as the new architect. But this doesn’t mean that during that 18-month stoppage, the government was not paying anything. LSP for instance was getting its monthly fees for the staff and equipment on site.

The process of appointing Makeka Design Lab seems to have started much earlier in 2014.
Why the official appointment was made in the fourth quarter of the year could be because Makeka Design Lab wanted to conduct an audit on the building before taking over.

The findings of that audit are contained in a report Makeka Design Lab submmited to the Ministry of Public Works on March 4, 2014, two months after the team had inspected the site.
The audit also involved an analysis of the drawings and a review of the contracts, minutes of meetings, payment certificates and various correspondences.

The report was scathing on LSP and Palace Architect’s work. It said interventions were required to “resolve serious omissions or problems in design”. It then listed a plethora of problems it said were inherent in the building’s structure and design.
The report said it seemed Palace Architect had neglected its role of ensuring general architectural quality as well as coordinating services and adherence to international standards.

On LSP the report was stinging, saying at the “very least” the company “executed non-compliant works on site”.
This, the report said, “either revealed a lack of proper coordinated professional oversight, and or lack of knowledge of the Building Control Act of 1995”.

It described the quality of LSP’s work as “very poor” and warned that it “will result in long-term defects”. In the end it suggested that some walls should be knocked down, corridors widened and plastering be redone.
“Construction work cannot continue without first correcting the defects,” the report said, adding that the remedial work means the project would require an additional 12 to 18 months to complete.

What followed after the report was a dispute over who should pay for the remedial work. Makeka Design Lab argued that LSP should bear the cost of correcting the shoddy work while LSP said it could not pay for work approved and certified by the initial architect, Lanier.
LSP’s argument was based on clause 3 in the contract which says “No person subsequently appointed to be the Architect under this contract shall be entitled to disregard or overrule any decision or approval or directive by the Architect for the time being.”
That clause, in LSP’s reasoning, meant that it could not be held liable for work approved by Palace Architect and therefore had no obligation to pay for the remedial work.

There was a back-and-forth that went on for another half a year as Makeka Design Lab and LSP disagreed over who should take responsibility of the remedial work. A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to map the way forward kept being chopped and changed with each side insisting that it includes what they wanted.

When the MoA was eventually signed it included an agreement that work would resume on June 8, 2015. LSP agreed to pay for some of the corrections on the building. Makeka Design Lab was supposed to provide all the drawings by March 2016, a deadline that was missed and extended to April 2016 before being pushed further to May 2016.

By February 2016 LSP had revised its budget estimates for the construction from the initial M136 million to M250 million. By August 2016 LSP was firing letters to Makeka Design Lab demanding the drawings.
Andrea Bothman, then LSP managing director, wrote to Makeka on August 26, 2016 complaining about the lack of drawings.
He said without the drawing LSP could not continue with construction but was still paying staff at the site. The lack of drawings leads to “unnecessary repetitive work”, he said. Bothman also complained that much of the money was being used on preliminaries because Makeka was not providing the drawings on time and in the proper sequence.

On September 19, 2016 Botman wrote another letter to Makeka Design Lab. He was reacting to a bunch of drawings Makeka Design Lab had submitted on September 15.
Bothman was concerned that Makeka had submitted only 11 of the 27 drawings.
“As previously alluded to, this out of turn issuance of drawings has a negative impact on the works,” he said.
He said Makeka Design Lab was requesting LSP to prepare “Works Programme for activities such as demolition” but was not providing the necessary drawings.
Seven days later Bothman wrote another letter to Makeka Design Lab, again demanding the drawings. This time he reminded the architects that they had promised to deliver the drawings by April 2016 and had issued a programme indicating that the Palace would be completed by June 2017.
“It is clear that you have failed to meet this programme…,” Botman said.

He said LSP staff on site was being paid “while little progress is made with the work”.
“Our staff are on site, but not able to function and work optimally. We have accordingly been suffering damages caused by these delays”.
Botman said Makeka Design Lab should provide the full set of documents by October 6. He also proposed a Planning Workshop for all the consultants in the project.

That workshop, held in November 2016 at a local hotel, produced a work plan to which everyone agreed. The new arrangement was that the architect would provide some documents to allow the quantity surveyors to do costing to that the Ministry of Public Works can budget.
The idea was that since Makeka Design Lab was not providing the full set of drawings they should provide the little they have so that work could continue.

According to several people who attended the workshop that arrangement was a stopgap measure but the real solution was with Makeka Design Lab providing all the drawings.

A work schedule done at the workshop with the input of all consultants put the completion date at March 2018. In fact according that schedule the Royal Family was supposed to have moved in on March 21 this year. That, off course, did not happen.
Makeka Design Lab only provided the final documents in October 2017, ten months after the planning workshop and 18 months after the deadline for their submission.

Meanwhile Lethola Cost Associates, the quantity surveyors, had started working on estimates based on the drawing Makeka Design Lab had submitted in early 2017. They had a definitive budget estimate of the project by May 2017. But when they submitted it the Ministry of Public Works is said have reacted with shock at the quantum. The ministry is said to have told Lethola Cost Associates to put the process on hold because the budget was too huge.
The process was on ice until October 2017 until the ministry eventually said they should go ahead based on the initial specifications it had rejected in May.

Quantity surveyors are the accountants of the construction industry. It is their role to provide a detailed costing of a project to enable the client to budget. To provide an accurate costing they need the full set of building drawings from the architects and engineers.
If they don’t have the drawings it means they cannot cost the project and the client cannot budget. That means the contractor cannot proceed with construction because there is no approved budget. It would appear that much of the delays on the project were caused by the lack of drawings but the issues are much broader as the subsequent stories in this Special Report will reveal.

Makeka has denied all the allegations against him (See page…). Lethola spoke on record. So did Lanier, the previous architect.
As of now the Ministry of Public Works is making frantic efforts to complete the project. The ministry’s PS Hlalele told thepost that he has instructed LSP to accelerate the project with a view to complete it by October this year.

Our investigation shows that the acceleration would cost between M35 million and M50 million more. What the public has not been told all along is that the Palace designed by Palace Architect is not exactly the same as the one that will be unveiled in a year or so.

It would appear that apart from dealing with the standard structural issues Makeka Designs Lab redesigned the Palace. So while instructing LSP to knock down some walls Makeka Design Lab was making additions to the building. That has had implications on the cost and time it takes to complete the project (See story on Page…). Those changes are what have led some to believe that the Ministry of Public Works did not put Makeka Design Lab on a tight leash.

Shakeman Mugari

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.


Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.


Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.


The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.


His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.


As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.


“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.


“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.


Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!


One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!


“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?


He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.


He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.


Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.


He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.


He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.


But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.


However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.


“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.


Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.


“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables

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ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store

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ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
Nope!

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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