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NUL registrar rejects graft charge



MASERU – IN August, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) registrar, Liteboho Maqalika-Lerotholi, found herself in a storm.
Thato Ponya, the firebrand Students Representative Council leader (SRC), was pelting her with scurrilous allegations.
In a stinging letter leaked to the media, a furious Ponya called Maqalika-Lerotholi an incompetent and corrupt person unfit to be in the registrar’s office.

He gave an ultimate: leave office immediately or face the wrath of the students.
What had annoyed the students’ leader was a graduation gown tender he alleged the registrar had bungled.
His gripe was mainly with what he saw as an attempt to deny the students a piece of the pie. It is from such contracts that NUL students should benefit, he said at a press conference where he was as forceful as he was in the angry letter to Maqalika-Lerotholi.

Then there was a Chinese lady Ponya said had been handed a huge chunk of the contract under dubious circumstances.
The Chinese lady, he said, was benefiting at the expense of the locals. He said the Chinese lady had been given an order to make 1 400 of the 2 000 gowns.

Amid the fiasco Maqalika-Lerotholi kept her silence.
Not once did she discuss the issue with Ponya who she says she should have disciplined using university regulations.
But she admits she was hurt by the allegations “because they were utterly false”.
Maqalika-Lerotholi says for weeks she pondered how to respond to Ponya’s allegations.

“There was not a grain of truth in the allegations that were being stated not only as fact but also in a rather forceful way,” Maqalika-Lerotholi says.
What riled her most was that as Ponya and the SRC pilloried her no one “bothered to seek my side of the story”.
“They were dragging my name in the mud with lies but no one was giving me a chance to state the true story”.

Now Maqalika-Lerotholi says the best way to understand the gown tender is to go back in history “to see how it all came about”.
She says before 2015 the university had an in-house department that manufactured graduation wear. That department was disbanded after the university entered an austerity era that forced it to cut jobs.

With the department defunct, the university had to outsource the production but it immediately faced a huge problem, she says.
“This is a highly specialised job we could not give out randomly. Graduation wear is governed by statutes that have clear specifications on how they should be made, in what shape and in what fabric.”

For continuity the NUL encouraged former employees of the department to form companies to make the gowns. The initial companies hired were all owned by former NUL employees but their relationship with the university was not controlled by a contract.
“That was one of the problems because after some time we noticed that some of the companies had deviated from the specifications. The university then invited the companies to sign two-year contracts.”

“But because some of the initial companies formed by the former employees had collapsed two new companies came on board.”
The new companies were Hong Xing, a locally registered company owned by a Chinese lady, and Diary One (trading as TBT), owned by a Mosotho man.

Maqalika-Lerotholi says the original agreement was that the companies would sell the gowns directly to the students.
She however says that began to change in 2016 when the university Senate started discussing a new design to the gown “after noticing that they were too plain and did not have any branding”.

A subcommittee was established to explore the redesign and the symbols that were to be used. The committee proposed the use of Mokorotlo as the national symbol and the NUL logo.
“That meant we had to have new specifications and the quality control had to be centralised. So instead of the companies selling to the students directly they now had to supply the gowns to the university”. The subcommittee’s recommendations however went beyond just redesigning the gown. It proposed the creation of ceremonial gowns for what are called Officers of the university and Deans.

“This was in line with the mandate because we had noticed that those people were wearing gowns from their universities so there was need for some form of uniformity. This happens across other universities in Africa,” Maqalika-Lerotholi says.
After initial reservations to the new proposal the companies agreed to play by the university’s new rules.
“Others were however upfront that they might not be able to do the branding we required.”

Then came the allocation of the orders which Maqalika-Lerotholi says Ponya got “deliberately wrong”.
She says she does not know where the students’ leader got the information that Hong Xing had been given an order to make 1 400 gowns.
“The truth is that Academic Regalia, a consortium of eight ladies who used to work at the university with others joining from outside the university, was given an order of 800 pieces, which was the highest.”

The reason, she adds, is that the university wanted to empower the former employees. Diary One and Hong Xing had an order to make 300 gowns each. The same applies to Koatsa Mobile and Mosh General, which are separately owned by two local ladies who used to work for the NUL in the laundry and administration departments respectively. The two live in Roma.
Maqalika-Lerotholi says the “noises” from Ponya started as soon as the orders were released. She later discovered that one of the companies was behind the trouble.

“It appears that the company told Ponya that if students push the university to give it the whole contract to make the 2 000 gowns it would give the SRC part of the profits,” she says.
“Ponya’s proposal was brought to the management’s attention but it was rejected because the university already had contracts with the five companies since 2015.”

“I suppose that is when they started accusing me of corruption and incompetence, allegations that are both unfounded and unfortunate.”
She says in the end three of the five companies, including one that had tried to use the students to arm-twist the university to get the whole tender, failed to meet their quota.

“Going forward we will work with one or two companies. We have learned that some of the companies don’t have the capacity.”
Maqalika-Lerotholi says her track record shows that Ponya’s allegation that she is incompetent is malicious. She became registrar in March 2015 after a stint as Director of IDM.

Before that she was the Deputy Rector at the Lesotho College of Education where she was in charge of administration.
She also worked as chief inspector for secondary schools.

Staff Reporter

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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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