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Vodacom, LCA row over fees



MASERU – A disagreement over an annual fee has soured relations between Vodacom Lesotho and the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA).
Now Sekhametsi Investment Consortium, the local company that owns 20 percent of Vodacom Lesotho, has entered the fray.
In a statement to shareholders this week Sekhametsi insinuated that the LCA was targeting Vodacom Lesotho.
What seems to have triggered the quarrel was how much Vodacom Lesotho should pay in annual fees to the LCA.

The annual fee is four percent of the mobile network company’s net operating income.
It is based on the annual audited financial statements mobile network companies are required to submit to the regulator.
thepost understands that the fight started after the LCA gave Vodacom Lesotho the bill for the annual fees.

Vodacom Lesotho disputed the figure, saying it was based on wrong calculations of its net operating income.
The company argued that the LCA had based its calculations on the net operating income that included Mpesa, its money transfer service.
Their reasoning was that income from Mpesa services should be discounted because it was not earned from core network operations. The company said Mpesa was a financial product, not a telecommunications one.

The correct calculation, the company argued, should be based on what the company earned from voice and data services.
The LCA however had a different interpretation, arguing that additional services like Mpesa formed part of the company’s income because they are driven by its network operations.
As the haggling continued Vodacom Lesotho missed the deadline to pay the fees. And when it eventually did, the regulator slapped it with an M8.2 million penalty for non-compliance.
Vodacom Lesotho then sued to challenge the penalty, arguing that it was unfair.

The High Court is likely to hear the case in March. Sekhametsi says the LCA overcharged Vodacom Lesotho by M8 million after refusing to allow the company to discount the Mpesa revenue from the net operating income from which the fee was to be charged. This, says the consortium, has deprived Vodacom of a net profit of M14 million.
That translates into M2.8 million lost in potential dividends to Sekhametsi’s shareholders.

An attempt to resolve the matter out of court seems to have fallen through and matters appear to have escalated since then.
Late last year the regulator issued a statement, announcing the penalty on Vodacom Lesotho.
Sekhametsi tells its shareholders that that statement has a “reputational damage” on Vodacom and further strained relations between the company and the LCA.
Such statements are however not unique to Lesotho.

In other countries regulators routinely name and shame companies that offend regulations.
Press statements announcing companies that would have failed certain regulator tests are not uncommon.
The only difference in Lesotho is that the LRA has not been known to publicly wield the stick.
In December the LCA slapped Vodacom Lesotho with two enforcement letters for allegedly breaching its Universal Access Fund obligations and keeping auditors who are allegedly not independent enough.

On the Universal Access Fund the LCA alleged that Vodacom Lesotho failed to submit a performance report on the contract it has with the regulator to supply internet services to 60 schools across the country. Vodacom Lesotho argued that the contract was not specific on what report should be submitted.
It has however submitted the report and Sekhametsi says it hopes the LCA “will not impose another penalty”.
On corporate governance the LCA took issue with the fact that Vodacom Lesotho’s chairman is related to a partner of the company’s auditors.
This, the regulator’s is said to have insisted, meant that there was no independence.

Vodacom Lesotho’s Managing Director, Phillip Amoteng, met LCA chief executive, Mamarame Matela, yesterday to discuss some of the issues.
Last night Amoteng refused to reveal what was discussed, only saying “this was one of the routine meetings that companies have with the regulator”.
thepost however understands that one of the issues on the agenda was a promotion Vodacom Lesotho wants to launch.
Amoteng was keen to downplay the alleged dispute, pointing out that Vodacom Lesotho was “constantly engaging the LCA on regulatory issues”.
Senior LCA officials were also reluctant to characterise the differences as a dispute.

They said these were simple and routine regulatory issues that “should not be a cause for panic”.
One of them said such interaction between mobile companies and regulators “are common all over the world and across other sectors”.
“There is nothing sinister with the way the LCA had handled Vodacom affairs. All is in good faith,” he said.
Sekhametsi too treaded cautiously. It said the regulator’s proceedings “need to consider the wider socio-political and economic context”.
“The arbitrary restraint of Vodacom Lesotho rights, as well as Telecoms Sector as a whole, could have negative impacts on the Sekhametsi shareholder value chain,” the consortium says in the statement.

It says it was taking a multi-pronged approach to resolve the impasse.
It says Vodacom Lesotho and its shareholders will assure the regulator of the company’s commitment to prioritise compliance with the licence conditions.
The investment company says it will seek a “fair regulatory enforcement framework” from the LCA.
Sekhametsi also said it will ask Communications Minister Thesele ’Maseribane to help ease the tensions between the LCA, Vodacom Lesotho and other network operators.

This, it says, is in addition to the minister setting a coherent policy direction for the sector.
Last night Sekhametsi’s chairman, Leboela Letebe, said he did not want to speculate on social media rumours that there was a political hand in the dispute.
He said the consortium was not aligned to any political party.

“We are only interested creating investment opportunities for Basotho from all walks of life,” Letebe said, adding that “we work with the government of the day”.
“We only seek a conducive investment climate. We are clear about our commitment to good corporate governance,” he said.
“We assist our strategic investment partners with compliance matters. We therefore encourage negotiations between Vodacom and the regulator.”

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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