Vultures circle in
…..Rows over tenders threaten Covid-19 fight….
IN June Thabo Khasipe, the Commissioner General of the Lesotho Revenue Authority was appointed chief executive of the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC). He found an organisation struggling to make an impact in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Its legal standing was in dispute and nothing much was happening.
Instead it was facing damaging allegations of rampant corruption and wasteful expenditure. Khasipe quickly changed the name to National Covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec) and for a moment it appeared that Lesotho was ready to fight the pandemic. But over the past few weeks Khasipe has had to deal with incessant questions about Nacosec’s legality.
The secretariat had neither the money nor a bank account. Its core functions have stalled while the legal debate rages on. Khasipe and his team have reason to be frustrated. This week our Editor, Shakeman Mugari, spoke to Khasipe about Nacosec’s struggle to get things moving again. Below are excerpts from the interview.
How would you describe Nacosec two months after you took over?
Nacosec is alive despite the lingering questions about its legal standing. Practically there is an able and functioning team guided by a well-articulated organisational structure. We have the Prime Minister to whom the Ministerial Taskforce reports. The Minister of Health reports to the taskforce. I am heading the secretariat together with my two deputies. We have a professional team in which everyone is clear about their job.
It is however disheartening that people think Nacosec is a place where people are waiting to line their pockets. The website we have was funded by our Information Technology Manager who decided that we cannot be waiting for money to be available. This is the kind of dedication we have in the team.
The website has been useful in information dissemination, engaging the nation and tracking infections. We have developed a risk assessment and decision-making framework that guides strategy on the kind of social and economic restrictions to be implemented. Our communication through the various media platforms and the website is making a huge difference.
What is the focus now?
Now we are consulting various stakeholders to forge relationships crucial in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. We have district structures based on Nacosec’s governance guidelines. That structure includes the District Administrators (DA), District Medical Officers, District Disaster Managers and District Council Secretaries.
We have taken their views and built them into ours to make the governance guidelines. The idea is for the secretariat’s functions to be decentralised as much as possible. We cannot win the battle against Covid-19 unless we have the full participation right from the village level.
That decentralised structure is what makes the secretariat effective. It is the community leaders who are making crucial decisions every day. It is they who are telling us which bars are open and who has illegally crossed into the country.
Is that strategy working?
I am confident that in terms of strategy we are on the right track. We have decentralised the power and decision-making process to create a secretariat that is agile and able to quickly respond to issues and implement strategy. The DAs are taking charge of their own areas in this fight. Over the past week they have been making their own budgets and business plans that we are presenting to the cabinet.
In so doing we will be able to collect data that will inform our interventions. If you can measure it then you can manage it. We should be able to collect data right from the district level so that our decisions are well-informed. It is only through accurate data that we can target specific villages and districts for interventions to contain the spread of diseases.
What did you change?
The first decision was to create a competent team built with staff sourced from four different areas. We had those seconded from the government and parastatals. Then there are those hired and some offered by the private sector. So the talent is from a broad spectrum.
I can say we have a strong team in which everyone is clear about their role. Each one knows what to do, when and how. President Barack Obama once said Africa doesn’t need strongmen and strongwomen but strong institutions. We need clarity of governance.
We have been busy with stakeholder consultations so that we make informed decisions. Beyond the consultations we created various advisory groups. The security cluster made up of security forces is helping with the enforcement of the regulations within villages and at the borders. The cluster of heads of state companies is meeting every Wednesday to advise us on ways to fight the disease.
How are you dealing with the reputational damage caused by the allegations of corruption against the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC)?
I have never been under any illusion that NECC had suffered reputational damage because of the allegations of corruption. That’s why I sought cabinet’s approval to change the name. We wanted to break with the past and be seen as a different institution that can be judged by its own performance. I feel the narrative has, in a way, made it difficult because trust has been eroded. This mistrust is not limited to the secretariat.
We see it in the general attitude towards all systems and institutions in the government. In this country you are mistrusted until you prove otherwise. It’s a toxic mistrust because it makes people throw obstacles in the way of everything.
Even those who are mistrusted begin to doubt the intentions and sincerity of those who mistrust them. You begin to think the mistrust is based on some sinister motives. Those accusing others of being corrupt are probably even more corrupt.
What breeds that mistrust?
Part of it is historical because people make judgements based on what has happened in the past. But I believe here we are dealing with a culture of tenderpreneurship. When I came I said there were two main issues that will make us fail in this battle: political squabbles and tenderpreneurship.
The past two weeks have shown that tenderpreneurship is the biggest threat. There seems to be a battle for tender opportunities. Some people seem to believe that there is money to be made from this national crisis. To me that explains why some people are fighting Nacosec from all fronts. It is unfortunate because we are focusing on the wrong things. We are forgetting that we have a serious crisis on our hands and time is of essence.
Does Nacosec have the money to work?
For the past two months Nacosec has not had a cent. We have been operating without a bank account. We are using our own money to do small things. When we have meetings over weekends I use my own money to buy food for staff. We are doing the best we can but we cannot achieve much without resources. The process to open the account was at an advanced stage but we were told to stop at the last minute. In fact, we were told to stop the hiring and procurement as well.
We were told that some “good Samaritans” had advised that Nacosec legality is being challenged. They said the secretariat is standing on a shaky legal foundation. They said Khasipe cannot sign for government money because he doesn’t have the authority. We were told positions have to be advertised.
What could have triggered that?
That is where the tenderpreneurship issue comes in. I could not help but notice the coincidence that this noise started as soon as we advertised tenders for personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency services and a communication consultant. That immediately attracted attention to what Nacosec is doing and how it will spend money.
Nacosec was a darling until it wanted to spend money. I am told that some people even approached the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to investigate the very idea of Nacosec. The advert for PPE was not even a tender but a request for information. We were merely saying all those supplying PPE should give us their details.
What did the DCEO say?
I am told that they have come up with a legal opinion that says Nacosec does not exist at law and therefore cannot spend government money. This is despite that there have been three legal notices dealing with the establishment of the Nacosec. These legal notices related to the establishment of the ministerial taskforce, setting up the Nacosec in accordance with the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) Act and my appointment as executive secretary.
They empower me to deploy the staff from the private and public sectors. We thought those legal notices were enough for us to work but then some people rushed to the DCEO. In addition to those legal notices the DMA Act gives far reaching powers to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office to make decisions during national disasters.
Section 4 (a) of that Act says the minister’s powers to “suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of government business or the orders, rules or regulations or any government agency, if compliance with the provisions of any statute, order, rule or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the disaster-induced emergency”.
Some even called to warn me about the tenders. When I asked why they raised a lot of technical arguments. I am not a lawyer but a manager hired to perform a national duty during an unprecedented disaster.
What of your own argument?
When all is said and done none of these issues should stop our national fight against the pandemic. We should not be squabbling when faced with such a crisis. I am not a lawyer so I really don’t care who is right or wrong. The issue is the people are dying and being infected while we engage in legal debates. Within a week hospitals will run out of PPE like coveralls and masks. The numbers are dwindling fast as we argue over who has the power to buy them. The M1.2 million masks we had are almost gone because a doctor or nurse can use more than 10 a day.
We are facing a disaster because legal arguments have hamstrung Nacosec for the past two weeks. What I want to make clear is that I am not saying that the law doesn’t matter. I am not asking to be allowed to violate any law or resist accountability. I am just saying we need to move fast because we have a disaster.
As we make legal arguments we must not lose sight of the fact that we are facing a crisis like no other. If we spend time debating the “how” then the “what” will not be done. We are running out of time. We need to buy PPE and educate our people.
What else has stopped because of those legal arguments?
As we speak now the owners of hotels and lodges used as quarantine facilities have not been paid. They have been asking for their money for the past five months. For weeks I have been asking for more time to get the payment through. Now they have lost patience. Some were here today and I said they should go to the Minister of Health.
They have told me they will evict the people. I can see a repeat of what happened during NECC when there were incessant arguments between the DMA and the Ministry of Health over who should buy PPE. In the end nothing was bought for months. The PPE we distributed three weeks ago was bought in March. The world is not waiting for Lesotho to place their orders.
So the longer we delay to make orders the longer it takes for us to get the supplies. At this rate we might get supplies in December. That is a scary prospect because it means a disaster. When bad things start happening we will be accused of neglecting our duty as Nacosec yet we are being blocked from doing our work.
What do you think is the solution to this impasse?
In my view this fight is not about legality but suspicion. There are people who think someone is out to line their pockets. Nacosec has never said it wants to violate procurement regulations to get things done. We are not saying regulations should be sacrificed. We are just saying we have an institution and we must allow it to work.
The legal issues can be expedited. We are also saying there are existing laws that we can use. There is nothing that says the Public Financial Management Act will not be followed. Even that law was designed with an understanding that some things will have to be urgently procured. It has clear processes to be followed in such instances. We are saying if there is a need to approve new limits then the ministerial taskforce can make that happen. The Minister in the PM’s office can also use his power enshrined in the DMA Act.
What is the state of isolation hospitals?
The truth is that Berea Hospital and Mafeteng Hospital, which are the only designated isolation centres, are not ready to take patients. At Berea Hospital there are no blankets and hot water. The food is not up to standard. The Mafeteng Hospital is in a terrible state as well. These are the issues we should be dealing with instead of bickering. There is a cost to these delays. You can argue that people isolated in those hospitals are likely to get worse because of the poor conditions they endure. We are putting people’s lives in danger while we argue.
There should be money to repair those hospitals but we are debating about the legal modalities of spending it. I am not saying lets throw around money without following procedure but there comes a time when you have to move fast to avert a crisis. In our case we seem to be concentrating on winning arguments instead of dealing with the issues that matter.
Are you confident that Nacosec will survive these troubles?
I am optimistic because there is strong support from both the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet. There has been a strong commitment to deal with the problems. We have now been given a deadline to sort out the legal issues and get the ball rolling. There is a general agreement that while the policy issues are being handled Nacosec has to be responsive and agile.
We need an institution fit for purpose. Yes the legal infrastructure has to be right but we should also remember why Nacosec exists in the first place. It is here because of a national crisis. The longer we take to put our house in order the bigger the battle we will face and we might lose it. Indications are that there will be a surge in infections in September. We have to prepare for that time but we cannot do that if we are arguing over legal issues. Time is not on our side.
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel
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Purge of was long overdue
Matekane to launch microchip project
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Shao resigns from SR
Big blow for Sekata
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Mahao murder witness grilled
The queen Mampara
Lephema spooks Muslims
Matekane whips dissenters into line
LEC to switch off households over debts
Weekly Police Report
I made Matekane rich: Moleleki
The middle class have failed us
DCEO raids PS’
No peace plan, no economic recovery
Musician dumps ABC
Reforms: time to change hearts and minds
We have lost our moral indignation
MP dumps party, joins Matekane
Coalition politics are bad for development
MP charged with stock-theft
Literature and reality
Row over army secrets
The ABC blew its chance
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