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Netcare packs its bags



MASERU – THE end of an era. Or is it the end of an error?
Netcare is packing and leaving Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital today, after a decade of bruising fights with the government.
What was supposed to be a shining example of how cash-strapped governments can partner with the private sector to deliver world-class health services has ended in agony and acrimony. It has been a very expensive experiment for both the government and the country.

The 18-year contract was bleeding the government, taking more than half of the health budget and gobbling up resources that could have been used in other hospitals and clinics.
The government doesn’t deny that Netcare was providing a good service.
Its gripe is with the cost of the service, the punitive charges that came with often delayed payments, Netcare’s handling of labour issues and some alleged transgressions to the contract.

Netcare too might feel aggrieved with the way it all ended. It too is unhappy with how the government handled the contracts. It speaks of unpaid bills and a lack of adherence to the contract.
The cost of losing the contract is huge.
This was a M500 million-a-year contract that had six more years to go. The company was on course to rake in millions from the contract.
It could still extract a pound of flesh when the parties start negotiating what is likely to be an extremely expensive divorce. Some experts have estimated that Netcare and its partners could walk away with as much as M3 billion.

The government is also expecting to pay around that figure but is determined to get it severely trimmed. Either way, the settlement will be a hefty one for Lesotho.
The government doesn’t have some billions parked somewhere. Unless it negotiates terms, it might have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul.
It’s telling that the government believes anything else is better than keeping the contract going.
The immediate challenge for the government is to maintain the standards set by Netcare.
It has very little room for error on that front.

For now, the public perception is against Netcare but it won’t take much for the people to turn against the government. It might be a monumental task to manage the behemoth hospital which, until recently, the government believed requires special expertise to run.
The hospital spokeswoman Thakane Mapeshoane, who starting from today fully works for the government, told thepost last night that Netcare “leaves following a termination of the contracts with the government”.
This comes after the private company fired hundreds of nurses who went on strike over demands for a salary hike and had the backing of the government in their grievances.

Netcare has served their 60-day notice to vacate the premises.
“After receiving the letter, we started changing our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) policy and just yesterday, we were removing pictures on the walls,” Mapeshoane said.
However, she said Netcare is still expected to pay both July and August salaries.

The Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) Secretary-General ’Mamonica Mokhesi said they were excited that Netcare was leaving.
“The government fulfilled its promise and we are very happy,” she said.
Mokhesi said it was important for them to prepare for this transition.
“Today we will be engaging with the Health Ministry to discuss the way forward,” she said, adding that they are thankful that the ministry engaged them from the beginning to date.
Mokhesi said they have been suffering for years and they are happy that their advice was considered.
She said the Health Minister Semano Sekatle was their Moses.
She said Netcare has been disrespecting Basotho for years hence terminating their contract was a wise move.

Mokhesi said services rendered by Netcare in the neighbouring country are very good and disappointing to see how they have been treating Basotho.
Meanwhile, the public relations officer of the Ministry of Health ’Mateboho Mosebekoa neither confirmed nor rubbished the allegations.
She said her bosses were still in a meeting with Netcare so she was not sure whether they were really leaving.
“As soon as their meeting ends, we will call a press conference,” she said.

The Netcare Hospital Group, together with its local partner Tšepong (Pty) Ltd, entered into a multimillion-malot contract with the government to build and manage the national referral hospital under the PPP.
The 18-year contract, which the government cancelled as part of solving its dispute with Netcare, was lauded as an example of financing health infrastructure in Africa.

The Lesotho government was heavily relying on South Africa for referral of patients who required special treatment hence the PPP was brought up.
Netcare and Tšepong borrowed about M800 million from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to build the hospital, which was valued at about M1.2 billion.
The government wanted to transform the operation of the facilities, improve the quality of care they provided, and to build capacity in the public health system.

The critics of the deal complained that payments to Netcare were exuberantly increasing and over half of the entire Ministry of Health budget was channelled to it.
The contract showed that Netcare would be paid $32•6 million (about M466.8 million today) index-linked annual unitary charge for up to a maximum of 20 000 in-patient admissions and 310 000 outpatient attendances.
This is about a third of Lesotho’s total hospital demand.
Further, Netcare was paid extra for each additional patient.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Mahao, PS in big fight



PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors



MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue



LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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