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Turf war hits Covid-19



MASERU-A turf war in the government has delayed the supply of equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
An investigation by thepost has revealed that officials in the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office are fighting over the procurement process.

The result, so far, is a standoff that could derail the government’s fight against the disease that could be slowly spreading in the country.
Since the crisis began in March, Lesotho has been relying on protective clothing, equipment and testing kits donated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Foundation.
Those supplies have however dwindled and the government is desperate to buy more.

But the procurement process is now stalled by what appears to be a battle for control between the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office.
The fight started when the administration of the Covid-19 response fund was moved to the Disaster Management Authority (DMA), a statutory board under the Prime Minister’s Office.

That meant that although this was a national health crisis, the Ministry of Health did not have control over the funds.
Who buys what has also become a hotly contested issue.
Lefu Manyokole, the Cabinet’s principal secretary for administration, appears to be at the centre of the fight by virtue of his control of the DMA.
Manyokole seems reluctant to allow the Ministry of Health to independently control the procurement of medical supplies for the Covid-19.

He expressed his reservations in an undated letter to then Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, who is now the Prime Minister.
Manyokole’s gripe was with the finance minister’s instruction to include finance officers from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance as signatories to the Covid-19 bank account.

His problem with that suggested arrangement was that he does not have authority over the officers from the two ministries.
He told the minister that while he understood the order “I find it difficult to administer such officers as I lack authority over them”.
He also said the Ministry of Health had already bought Covid-19 protective clothing and machinery without his participation.

“As a result, I would be comfortable if a portion of the warrant could be allocated directly to the Ministry of Health for payment of procured goods and services to that Ministry,” Manyokole said.
Manyokole was therefore coy to be involved in tenders that only come to him for payment from the Covid-19 bank account.

thepost has discovered that Manyokole was referring to a M40 million tender the health ministry awarded to nine companies. Seven of those companies are said to have refused to deliver their goods for fear that the government might not pay them.
Sources said they want the government to make a commitment that it will pay them.

One company supplied M1.2 million worth of testing kits while another delivered isolation tents for M430 000.
The deliveries were made over a month ago but the Minister of Health is yet to pay them because it has not received funds from the Covid-19 account.
The Prime Minister’s Office is allegedly querying how the companies were hired without its involvement.

Those delayed payments have only strengthened the resolve of the other seven companies to hold on to their equipment. In the meantime the ministry’s stock of protective clothing, testing kits and other equipment are dwindling fast.
The ministry is now in a quandary of sorts.

Yesterday the Lesotho Nurses Association handed Prime Minister Majoro a petition clamouring for that equipment (See story on Page 8)
Hospitals are also piling pressure on the health ministry to deliver health essentials. Yet the ministry doesn’t have control over the procurement process. Nor does it control the bank account.

Investigations have also revealed that the ministry is now holding on to another M100 million tender that cannot be issued because of the quarrels.
“We are running dry. We cannot get what we have ordered because suppliers see this confusion over who is responsible for payments,” said a senior health official who refused to be named.

“We cannot even issue another tender for M100 million because of this chaos. There will be a major disaster if there is a sudden Covid-19 outbreak when we don’t have enough equipment.”
Manyokole has asked Communications Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane, the chairperson of the committee of ministers for the Covid-19 response, to help bring health officials into the Covid-19 Tender Panel under the Prime Minister’s Office.

He said the panel “needs to be strengthened with Health procurement and technical personnel, so that it can ably deal with procurement items in the National Emergency Budget for Covid-19 Health Sector”.
“I will be grateful for your support in this critical matter, which will facilitate procurement and payment for required goods and services in the Health Sector.”

The panel’s next meeting is scheduled for today.
Several sources at the Ministry of Health told thepost that the ministry’s procurement officers were reluctant to attend the meeting.
“We have our own tender panel and procurement policies here so we cannot be dragged around to attend another ministry’s tender panel. We work for health, not the Prime Minister’s office,” said one official.

“They are not going to use us to rubberstamp decisions in another ministry that doesn’t deal with health matters,” said another official.
The official described the deadlock as a “battle for control of money and nothing else”. “Ultimately, there are people who want to decide who gets the tenders. Otherwise there is no other reason why someone would be hostile to allowing health to be in charge of the procurement of specialised medical equipment.”

The problem, the official said, is that no one on the Covid-19 tender panels knows anything about the required equipment.
“We are being called in because that panel is now stuck. This is what happens when you appoint a panel that has no technical expertise.”
Yesterday the Principal Secretary of Health, Thebe Mokoatle, confirmed that the delay in the Covid 19 medical equipment has been caused by “prolonged discussions” between his ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The discussions, Mokoatle said, are “over the sharing of responsibilities on the procurement of Covid-19 equipment and services”.
“The second procurement of close to M100 million has been delayed because we need to clear the issues that are surrounding the first procurement first,” he said.
Some Ministry of Health officials said they believed that Manyokole is throwing spanners because he still holds a grudge against the ministry.

Last year Manyokole was removed as the ministry’s principal secretary after clashes with the then Health Minister Nkaku Kabi.
He told a local newspaper that he had been “fired” for refusing to approve a price escalation on a contract won by an Indian-based medical equipment company.

He claims to have also refused to pay the company because it had “wrongfully increased prices”.
Manyokole said when he stood his ground he was shunted back to the Prime Minister’s office.
That transfer, he said, is a dismissal from the Ministry of Health “finish and klaar”.

This week Manyokole said he had no vendetta against the ministry but just wanted procedure to be followed. He also denied that he was blocking the procurement (See sidebar for his full response)

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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