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M53 million lost through shady Covid-19 contracts

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THE government could have lost over M53 million through dubious contracts with suppliers for medical equipment, transport and meals during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The stunning revelation was disclosed during hearings conducted by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.

On the hot seat on Tuesday was Health Services Director-General Dr ’Nyane Letsie who was grilled by the committee over the Ministry of Health’s expenditure during the pandemic.

The PAC also roasted former Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, the then Cabinet principal secretary Dr Neo Liphoto, and procurement manager Tsietsi Mosae.

The committee quizzed Dr Letsie over how the ministry spent M7 million on medical supplies from companies whose registration papers were questionable.

The PAC chairperson, ’Machabana Lemphane-Letsie, wanted Letsie to explain why she did not proof-check the companies before they could be contracted.

Letsie defended her decision, emphasising that the companies qualified to supply the goods and services.

The suppliers are Bokamoso Medical Aid which supplied 100 2L fog liquid for fumigating Ministry of Health’s offices. The company was paid M711 201.

Another supplier was MS Brokers which supplied and installed medical oxygen equipment (250 oxygen gauges, 100 gauges pin index) and was paid more than M1.1 million for installation and over M1.5 million for supplies.

Frasers Lesotho, which supplied and installed other medical equipment, was paid over M2.5 million while Oasis Business Suppliers supplied beds and mattresses for over M1.2 million.

Lemphane-Letsie’s query was that “the nature of the businesses of these suppliers as categorised in their licenses were not in conformity with the required suppliers”.

She also said Bokamoso Medical Aid’s information shows that it was registered as such only this year.

She asked why the officers did not buy the supplies from the National Drug Services Organisation (NDSO), the state agency.

She also asked why Afrox, a company with a track record of supplying the ministry with oxygen and other medical supplies was not given the job.

Dr Letsie said her office’s responsibility is to make the requisitions and not to directly procure goods.

“This question will be answered by the procurement office,” Dr Letsie said.

She said all suppliers that fell under the health care services were correctly engaged.

Mosae said they sourced the rightful suppliers aligning with section 8 of the Public Procurement Act.

“It talks about exceptional procurement procedures,” Mosae said.

He said Bokamoso is a seller of pharmaceutical and medical goods, therefore it was rightfully engaged.

“As far as 2019 the company was licensed. Even if you can check from the trade portal,” he said.

He also argued that the NDSO does not supply fumigating liquid.

He said the suppliers licences were correct, adding that they were introduced to MS Brokers by Fox Suppliers, a company dealing with gas and oxygen in Cape Town.

“At that time medical gas was scarce and the company we asked for services introduced us to MS Brokers, we had no option since Afrox was owed by the government and refused to work with us.”

He however admitted that MS Brokers’ was not licensed to sell gas, “but it was a broker, and its offices are at Sekamaneng, I did my job very well”.

The committee also said it had discovered the previous finding that M16 million spent on the army’s dry rations was incorrect.

The actual expenditure, Lemphane-Letsie said, was a staggering M45 million.

She said they went back to check all the documentation and found out that a lot of money was spent.

“We found some papers that the Auditor General did not get,” she said.

The committee asked Dr Liphoto why she bought sorghum instant porridge (phusamandla) from a supplier selling at M90 per package when others sell it at M28, M31, and M55.

She also said one supplier was selling a packet of peanuts for M50, which is normally sold at M10 for a small packet and M30 for a bigger one.

She also said one company was registered a day after it was awarded a tender.

“Why did you pick the highest prices as principal secretaries?” Lemphane-Letsie asked.

“It looks like the principal secretaries had personal interests on those people they gave a chance to supply,” she said.

Dr Liphoto admitted that he might not have checked thoroughly about those suppliers before paying them.

“I thought the army and police had done things right, I had an element of fear that questioning them would be fighting those important institutions,” Dr Liphoto said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Dead on arrival

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My sister delivered a stillborn baby when she was on her way to the clinic,” ’Matemoho Letšela, 23, barely holding back tears.

Letšela says her sister, whose name she withheld, suffered birth-pangs when she was alone at home in Khonofaneng village in Mokhotlong.

She was then rushed down the slopes of a mountain by some passers-by on foot, striding on the slopes of a rocky mountain, crossing deep gorges as she sought to get to the Molika-Liko Health Centre some eight kilometres away.

When she arrived at the clinic, the baby was declared dead on arrival.

Welcome to Mokhotlong, Lesotho’s mountainous region known worldwide for its big and clean diamonds where the people do not have basic services.

Letšela said her sister collapsed when she was on her way to the clinic and was only seen by some passers-by.

By the time passers-by saw her, it was already too late for her and her baby.

She was eight months pregnant. 

“She was still far from the clinic and away from the villages,” Letšela says.

“She had no one to help her until she lost her baby. She was helpless the whole day until it was too late for her to survive,” she says.

 “She had already lost a lot of blood and could not make it to the hospital.”

Letšela shared her sister’s story with thepost during a tour conducted by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assess the impact of their assistance in Mokhotlong and Quthing districts a fortnight ago.

Letsela pleaded with the government to provide services in Mokhotlong’s hard-to-reach areas to avoid unnecessary deaths like her sister’s.

“My sister was eight months pregnant so the long walking distance might have been the cause of her early delivery and ultimate death,” she says.

She says there are still some villages in her area that are way far from where she stays, villages like Lichecheng where a patient must travel early in the morning, sleep on the way and reach the clinic the following day.

Cars cannot reach those remote areas, she says.

At Letšela’s area, they only have one bus that travels from home to town at 9am and will be back late at 8pm.

Even though they would love to always catch a ride whenever they are going to the clinic, sometimes they just do not have the money.

Letšela is three months pregnant now and says she cannot wait to reach 37 weeks so she can go and stay at the accommodation facilities provided by the clinic.

 “That is the advice from our midwives and I am willing to take that offer,” she says.

“I don’t want what happened to my sister to happen to me.”

When thepost met Letšela at the clinic last week, she had left her place at around 4am walking alone to the clinic and arrived after 10am.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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