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Taming the beast

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MASERU – How much is a bribe depends on who you are, what influence you want to buy and what trouble you want to avoid.
And it starts right at the bottom. In primary school a sandwich to the class monitor would make your name disappear from the noisemakers’ list. That’s a slice of bread to avoid detention or the teacher’s spanking. They don’t call it corruption at that age but that’s what it is: corruption.
On the road you can slip M20 into the palm of a police officer ‘troubling’ you over an expired license or an illegal turn.

In the rural areas M10 to the chief might get you on the food-for-work (fato-fato) list. Grannies know that an occasional gift to the chief might put you in good standing if you want to get some government aide. In town tens of maloti to a clerk might fast-track your ID or passport. And a few hundreds can get you a job.
While all this is corruption at its lowest level, its corruption all the same.

Still, what you pay depends on who you are and what is at stake. A few thousands might be enough to avoid jail. Hundreds of thousands of maloti will get you that lucrative government tender. Millions are for bigger projects like road and big building projects.
The point is that corruption is pervasive. Just because newspapers are awash with headlines of senior people caught in corruption scandals doesn’t mean it’s only prevalent at the top.
We scream when we hear that senior officials or ministers are lining their pockets with bribes yet we don’t hesitate to pay the police officer or the clerk for favours.
Right in the villages people are paying small bribes for services like water and electricity connections. Parents are greasing palms to get their children into good schools.

Senior government officials are paid to ‘make things happen’.
Ask Trade Minister Tefo Mapesela who claims he was offered a M30 000 bribe by a Chinese family whose relative had been arrested for selling rotten meat in his supermarket.
Mapesela says the family wanted the man released.

The minister had earlier in the day told the Chinese man that he was aware that he habitually paid health inspectors bribes whenever he is caught with expired goods.
Mapesela says he refused the bribe but some senior officials in government might have taken it. There are probably some who might consider Mapesela “a fool” to pass off a chance to make an ‘easy’ M30 000.

A few weeks ago the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard how the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) awarded a lucrative tender to Unik Construction, a Chinese company notorious for second-rate work. Wasco itself had also blacklisted the company over some botched contract.
As the Wasco boss Lehlohonolo Manamolela was being interrogated the line and tone of questions left little room for imagination. The committee was insinuating that money had changed hands when the controversial contract was awarded.

Who had received the money and how much, only an investigation can reveal. The contract has since been stopped.
Two months earlier the Ministry of Public Works was under fire for awarding, without tender, a M1 billion contract to China Geo Company, another Chinese company, for construction of a road between Butha-Buthe and Monontša.

The deal was cancelled after vociferous protests from local construction and engineering companies. An investigation is underway. There are also several tenders mired in corruption scandals.
Borotho Matsoso, director general of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), describes corruption levels in Lesotho as “terrifying”.
“For small and weak economies such as ours in Lesotho, the situation is getting more terrifying,” Matsoso says.

“Almost all the corruption cases that the DCEO has handled to date, including those still under investigation even as I speak, are emanating from public finance and public procurement.”
Litelu Ramokhoro, the DCEO’s director of public education, says bribery is the most prevalent form of corruption in Lesotho.
This year, as part of the Public Finance Management Reforms, the DCEO hired a consultant to help with finding ways to curb corruption in government finance and procurement transactions.
The expert found that the problem was with weak systems.

The specialist’s draft report revealed that outdated fiscal policies, poor whistleblowing structures and ineffective anti-corruption initiatives impeded the fight against corruption. The report also said the delays in payments from government and the elaborate processes it takes to approve them were fertile grounds for corruption.
As chairperson of the PAC Selibe Mochoboroane has gained rare insights into how money is being siphoned out of state coffers through corruption.
He says the levels of corruption are staggering but there seems to be little appetite to prosecute those caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Such an attitude, he says, breeds impunity as officials continue to steal “hand over fist” because they know that there no consequences.

“Ministries and government officials don’t comply with regulations and procedure. There is non-compliance with tax laws. But the biggest one is that of corruption and illicit movement of money,” Mochoboroane says.
For the past few months the committee has grilled government officials over dubious transactions, fishy tenders and missing funds.
Mochoboroane says one major challenge undermining anti-corruption efforts is “working in silos”.

He says due to lack of collaboration anti-corruption entities often work on the same case resulting in a waste of already scarce resources and time.
“There is poor coordination between relevant stakeholders like police and the courts. You will find that the DCEO has done a comprehensive job and finalised investigations but when it comes to prosecution there is a backlog of cases in the courts.”

That the DCEO is being asked to fight the scourge of corruption on a shoe-string has not helped matters.
“There is inadequate human resources, there are only ten investigators (in the DCEO) meaning that the ratio of cases to one investigator is high,” Mochoboroane says.
A director and consultant at Equity Solutions (Pty) Ltd, Limakatso Lehobo, in her 2017 paper titled Institutional Capacity and Illicit Financial Flows: Lesotho, says the problem in that DCEO’s annual budget is determined on the basis of the staff compliment and not on the financial demands of the cases at hand.

Lehobo says that while the staff component increased from 24 in 2010 to 59 in 2014, the number of cases reported since 2010 is 706, and 225 cases still have to be investigated.
The DCEO is funded by the government through the Ministry of Finance and it has been allocated slightly over M14 million since 2010. That is way below what the anti-corruption unit had been asking for to deal with graft in the country.
The budget does not match the amount of work that the DCEO has to tackle, Lehobo says.

In a 2016 interview with the thepost Ramokhoro said on average an investigator should handle at least five cases at a time but at the DCEO an investigator deals with 30 cases at a time.
He said while the DCEO’s role is to investigate corruption cases the bulk of its staff is in administration and finance.
Lehobo also observed that “the DCEO is also directly encountering problems with cases that drag on in the courts of law”.
“Although it has several high profile cases in the courts, which they consider an achievement for their organisation, these have suffered several postponements,” she says.
No wonder there is a strong perception that Lesotho is not doing enough to fight corruption.

In 2016 Lesotho tumbled from position 61 to 83 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
In the report the anti-corruption watchdog said Lesotho had scored 44 in 2015 but plunged to 39 points in 2016, suggesting that the country is now perceived to be more corrupt.
The World Bank Enterprise Survey of 2009 corroborates that by indicating that 26 percent of firms operating in Lesotho are expected to give bribes in order to secure government contracts.
Matsoso emphasized that the international ranking and rating of Lesotho insofar as corruption is concerned has gone down badly, thus discouraging foreign direct investment.
The net effect of all this, he says, is serious socio-political and economic instability and therefore no development.

There is a clear trend that cases of corruption and mismanagement exposed annually by the auditor general and PAC are not being prosecuted.
There are also indications that junior officers are more prone to be held accountable for their corrupt dealings than their seniors.
Former MP, Ramootsi Lehata, told a local newspaper in 2011 that “there are people within the government ministries who seem to be above the law as they are never brought to book …in cases whereby measures are taken to bring civil servants to book, police dockets often disappear”.

However, in some occasions the judiciary has applied a firm hand on corrupt individuals.
One of the examples is the case of ’Mampai Lesupi who tampered with the court records of Steve Dlamini who had defrauded the Lesotho Highlands Water Authority (LHDA) of M2.8 million.
Lesupi, then a magistrate, received a bribe to alter court records to indicate that charges against Dlamini had been withdrawn.

Ultimately, Lesupi was sentenced to six years imprisonment of which three years was suspended for five years on condition that she is not convicted of defeating or attempting to defeat the ends of justice. But Lesupi’s conviction is a rare victory in the protracted fight against corruption.
In most instances investigations are either swept under the carpet or abandoned altogether.

If at all the case is brought to court they are bogged down by inordinate delays until they eventually die a natural death.
Mochoboroane says while the DCEO needs sufficient funds to employ adequate staff and acquire technologies what will make a real difference is “political support”.
He says unless the anti-corruption unit has the full support of the government nothing much will change.

Thabo Qhesi, chief executive of the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL), suggests the establishment of an economic crimes court so that corruption cases are speedily prosecuted.
“This story was produced by [insert outlet name here]. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a pan-African media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org” .

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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A night of horror

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THE police arrived in Ha-Rammeleke, a Mokhotlong village, in the middle of the night.
They stormed one house and found a couple sleeping.

They then dragged the man out and ordered him to follow their instructions if he didn’t want to be killed. Their order was that he should scream while announcing to his neighbours that his wife was gravely ill. The villagers who responded to the man’s plea for help didn’t know that they were walking into a trap.

The police rounded them up as they arrived at the man’s house.

Their night of horror has just begun.

Dozens of men and women were frog-marched to the edge of the village.

The police assaulted the men with sticks and whips. They kicked others.

In the crowd was Tebalo Lesita, a 48-year-old Rastafarian with dreadlocks.

He was called to the front and ordered to act like a Rastafarian.

First, they said he should sing Reggae while shaking his head so that his dreadlocks would wave from side to side. He did and they laughed.

“They also ordered me to mimic Lucky Dube.”

Lesita says he only shouted like he was singing because, due to fear, all Lucky Dube’s songs he knew had slipped out of his mind.

“I just mumbled some words as if I was singing. I have never experienced such torment before.”

“I only kept saying ‘Ye ye ye!’”, he says.

They laughed again.

Meanwhile, the police were hurling insults at him.

“I was told that I was smelling rubbish in the mouth.”

Lesita says the police then instructed him to act as if he was having sex.

And when he said he was tired of the act the police ordered him to act as if he was ejaculating.

He did and his tormentors roared with laughter.

The police, Lesita says, wanted him and other villagers to confess that they knew men who had shot and killed a man earlier in the village.

Lesita says after the ordeal that lasted nearly an hour the police ordered him to pray. He claims his body is full of bruises, especially on the buttocks.

“My body is aching all over.”

Lesita says he wants to sue the police but doesn’t know where to start.

“I understand that my human rights have been grossly violated but I do not know which legal steps to follow,” he says.

A week after the assault, he still hasn’t sought medical help.

Nor has he opened a case against the police.

“I find it impossible to open the case against them. I will have to go to the police station to open a case,” he says.

“How can I open the case against the police at the police station?”

As a sheep farmer, Lesita says he cannot afford the taxi fare to travel to Mapholaneng to report a case at Tlokoeng Police Station.

Lesita says he cut his dreadlocks a day after the incident “because they have put me into serious problems”.

“I rue the day that I started growing those dreadlocks,” he says.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, confirmed that there was a police operation in Mokhotlong but said he didn’t know how it unfolded.

Incidents of the police terrorising villagers under the guise of fighting or investigating crimes are common in Lesotho.

It is rare for police officers involved in such incidents to be arrested or prosecuted.

Majara Molupe

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Anger over Chinese businesses

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FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.

Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.

The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 

 

Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.

 

“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.

 

“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 

 

“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”

 

Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 

 

The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 

 

The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 

 

They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.

 

“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.

 

“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.

 

“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”

 

Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.

 

“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.

 

The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 

 

“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 

 

Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 

 

’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.

 

“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.

 

“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.

 

“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”

 

Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.

 

Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.

 

“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.

 

He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.

 

“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.

 

 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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Labour unions in nasty fight

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TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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