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‘We’ve no plans to privatise bus company’



THE Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Thabo Motoko, says there are no plans by the government in the immediate future to privatise the Lesotho Freight and Bus Corporation (LFBC). His comments are however in sharp contrast with a Cabinet decision that was captured in minutes and that was published with the authority of the Government Secretary.
In the minutes seen by thepost, the Cabinet said the LFBC will be turned into a private company (e tla fetoleloa ho ba k’hamphani e ikemetseng).
Motoko said this does not mean the LFBC will be privatized. He said the fact that the same Cabinet decided to bail out the LFBC with M5 million indicates that it will not be privatised.
Out of the total of 33 buses the corporation had in 2008, only two are left, seven are write-offs while the rest need to be repaired. The corporation has 56 employees.
Our business reporter Refiloe Mpobole interviewed Motoko and below are excerpts from the interview.

There is confusion as to whether the Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation is going to be privatised or not. What exactly is the government’s stand point?

The Lesotho Bus Freight Bus Corporation has got financial problems. So we sat down with the people working at the corporation to ascertain what is the problem they have and how much they need to pay employees who were not paid since May, but now there are some who have been paid.
The government bailed it out with M5 million to pay the salary arrears, the people who have gone for pension and the people owed by the corporation and the maintenance of the buses.
So it is not true that it will be privatised. From where I stand, it is not going to be sold, it is not going to be privatised and the government at the moment is not willing to partner with any private institution. From where I stand, Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation is still a parastatal for the government until further notice.

You are the key man in the ministry, in light of the management and financial status of the corporation is it not better that it should be privatised?

At the moment privatising it is not in our minds simply because the corporation has about 56 employees who are employed by the government under the Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation.
If we privatise it, any company or any institution which is willing to buy it will have to take even those employees or if those people are not taken, they will have to be absorbed in the government sector.
At the moment the government has a very huge wage bill and so absorbing 56 people under the prevailing situation is not going to be easy.
However, the government is going to form a sub-committee of ministers and establish a board since it is not there at the moment. After the board has been formed, it is the one which will advise us on whether to sell it or partner with a private institution or we should maintain the corporation.

For decades, the government had been pumping money into the bus corporation but the government has not got any dividends. Why do you insist that it should not be privatised?

When the Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation was formed, it was not meant to be a profit making business. It was established to assist Basotho especially those in remote areas who are experiencing huge problems of transport. The corporation was given a subvention to keep it running.
The only thing which we can try to push now is to reach the break even point, where we will not make a profit or a loss, or if we make a profit it should be at a very minimum rate. The mandate is to serve the people.
We are keeping it only because there are people in remote areas who are least served, that is why those buses were mostly travelling long distances.

What are your future plans with Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation?

Let me answer from a different perspective, not as the Principal Secretary. Everywhere there are buses. I can say those buses should operate here in Maseru for example, I can say they should operate in the morning and be parked at 8:30pm.
There should be demarcation.

They should only use the route for buses where they can operate at a specific time such as in the morning. After that, they should be parked to allow the taxis to operate.
We should maintain the Lesotho Freight business to serve the people from the remote areas who are least served. Even here in town there should be a few buses because there are more people and workers who are not using taxis for travelling.

If the buses can be maintained, these people can afford to use them without causing tight competition for taxis.
I can say the corporation should be maintained but there should be a clear management and we should buy buses suitable for Lesotho’s terrain. I still say there is future for the corporation if there can be good management which will give good direction for the corporation.

Is there anything you can do which was not done to make the bus corporation work in the past?

There are many things I can suggest. When these buses arrived in Lesotho, they already had drivers which we did not know where they were trained and there were also more inspectors for each route who were depending on one bus for food and salaries.
If these buses can be maintained maybe some of these people can be absorbed in the public sector.
We can say that they should only take the required number of people not the large number of employees. We also need to have a healthy management at Lesotho Freight Bus Corporation and a healthy board of management.
We can buy new buses which can suitably work in Lesotho considering its terrain. I still believe that we can revive it and run it better than it was managed in the past.

Is it not better to turn this corporation in to a company wholly owned by the government such as LEC and WASCO?

With the advice of the subcommittee of ministers and the board, surely this is one of the things which can be considered. It can still be a good move. The government owned corporations never succeeded for the past decades, they can succeed if they are turned into companies.
Companies like LEC are owned by the government but their management is different from other government corporations like the Lesotho Freight.
It can still be a good idea to run Lesotho freight as one of the companies or the government should partner with Basotho in the same way Interstate buses are operating in South Africa where the government has partnered with the people.
Or the government should only own a small amount of shares and give the bigger part to the operators.

Surely, it does not make business sense that the corporation has two buses operating with 56 workers. Even if you can repair the seven buses it will still not make business sense. What do you say about this?

There should be a way on how to deal with that larger number of employees. Even if seven buses can be repaired and the company operates with nine buses, 56 people are still too many.
We can either negotiate with the workers who are about to go for pensions so that they can be paid to go before their time or others should be absorbed in the government sector.
Surely it does not make business sense. With the help of the board the number of workers will be reduced.

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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