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Government owes LEC M170m



MASERU-THE government owes the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) M170 million in power bills that have been mounting for decades.
This makes the government the biggest debtor to the power company already struggling with cash flow problems.

Businesses and individuals owe the LEC M90 million to bring the total debt to a staggering M260 million, money the company urgently needs to plug the gaping holes in its financial books.
If paid the company can connect more people to electricity, repair faults and pay suppliers.
Makhetha Motšoari, the LEC spokesman, said part of the government’s debt dates back to 2010.

Motšoari said the government remains in arrears despite the fact that it budgets for power costs every year.
While the debt ballooned, the power company has had to scrounge for resources to keep the lights on and the national grid running.
Salaries have remained largely stagnant and expansion projects have been curtailed. In the meantime, the cost of power imports, equipment and other operating expenses have galloped.

But now the parastatal cannot hold for too long.
Motšoari said the company is struggling to buy equipment and repair faults.
“The cashflow problem is huge because we don’t get any subvention from the government and our tariffs are controlled.”
The company is battling to clear a mounting backlog of new connections. Some customers have to wait for months to be connected.

New projects to connect more households and businesses have been put on hold.
“We are unable to expand to other areas that urgently need electricity. If those debts are not paid, we might be unable to import electricity, pay salaries and do repairs,” Motšoari said.
Making the situation worse is the government’s reluctance to approve tariffs matching the company’s operational costs.

Since 2017, the approved tariffs have been significantly less than the LEC’s financial requirements.
In 2017, for instance, the company was allowed to collect M856 million against the required revenue of M918 million.
The same happened in 2018 when it was allowed to collect M918 million instead of the M1.040 billion enough to meet its obligations. The trend continued last year when revenues were capped at M902 million against a budget of M1.076 billion.

The company’s tariff application for the 2020/21 financial year puts the required revenue at M1.2 billion. Repair and maintenance costs were projected at M558 million while operational expenses were expected to be around M316 million.
The financial woes are however likely to continue this year because the government might use the Covid-19 crisis to justify keeping the lid on the tariffs.

Some companies have shut down while others can barely keep afloat. The national lockdown has wiped out thousands of formal and informal jobs.
The recent budget shows that the economy is in tail spin and government revenues will continue plummeting in the near future.
All this means the government might be coy to approve a power tariff hike. This is particularly so because it has a history of being averse to approve tariff increases even in times when the economy was stable.
Motšoari said this puts the LEC in a quandary.

“On one hand they say we cannot increase tariffs because we can collect what we are owed. Yet on the other hand the same people who are saying this owe the company,” Motšoari.
“The situation is getting worse because the cost of importing power is increasing while the tariff reviews are marginal.”
The LEC appears to have lost patience with some owing state departments.
An aggressive debt collection campaign seems to be in full swing.

Last Thursday the company cut power supply to the Maseru Magistrates Court over a M1 million bill.
That instantly brought the court’s operations to a halt. The Ministry of Law and Justice is also affected because some of its prosecutors operate from the same complex.
A visibly irate Chief Magistrate ’Matankiso Nthunya said the electricity was cut during court proceedings. Cases are not being recorded and court officials are unable to retrieve information from computers. Magistrates cannot print judgments and cases are being registered manually.

Chief Magistrate Nthunya however said she is not shocked because the bill has accumulated for years. This, she said, is because the court has not been getting enough budget allocation.
Facing a crisis, Chief Magistrate Nthunya tried to pool the meagre resources to settle the bill but could not raise enough.
The LEC is adamant that power will not be restored until the bill is paid.
Chief Magistrate Nthunya said the power cut is a reflection of the consequences of the financial crisis at the court. She said the budget allocation is not enough for the 16 courts in the Maseru District.

Other courts that are not connected to electricity are struggling to pay for coal, paraffin and gas. She said they have now submitted the bill to the High Court so it can be settled.
But ‘Mathato Sekoai, the Registrar of the High Court and Court of Appeal, says the judiciary is broke.
“This is just an indication of the dire situation in the judiciary. We are being allocated the resources of a department when we are an arm of government,” Sekoai said.

“We try to pay our bills every year but the money is just not enough to clear them.
We are facing a potential disaster because all the courts, from the lowest to the highest, might not have power soon.”
The High Court owes the LEC M1.7 million. The Commercial Court’s power bill is just over M900 000. The district courts owe substantial amounts as well.
“We have been talking about these financial problems for years but nothing is changing. We have a huge water bill and our buildings are dilapidated. The point is that the judiciary is starved of resources,” Sekoai added.

“The utility benefits to the judges have been severely cut. Their vehicles are not getting enough fuel and their airtime allowances have been capped. We don’t have basic stationery like summons.”
Sekoai said the judiciary is not asking for a favour when it requests money.
“This is a constitutional matter. The government has an obligation to ensure that the judiciary is well funded.”

“The Chief Justice’s position is that henceforth the judiciary will be unable to perform its constitutional obligations if there is no money for such events.”
The power cut at the Magistrates Court has also affected the labour court and the probation division which are at the same complex but don’t owe the LEC.

The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Justice Lebeko Sello said there has to be a demarcation of the supply lines so that a cut in one department does not affect those not owing.
Lebeko said he will soon meet the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and the Registrar of the High Court to discuss the issue.
Sello said he is confident that power will be restored soon.

Majara Molupe

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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