MASERU — A senior official in the Ministry of Finance who called for an investigation into widespread corruption in the ministry has been suspended.
‘Mahelena Lephoto, who is the director of the internal audit department in the Ministry of Finance, was suspended by the ministry’s principal secretary Mosito Khethisa on November 8 for “possible gross misconduct”.
Documents seen by the Lesotho Times this week show that Lephoto was suspended on the same day she penned a three-page memo to Finance Minister Leketekete Ketso, Deputy Finance Minister ‘Mats’epo Ramakoae and Khethisa calling for investigations into allegations that some senior officials in the ministry were receiving kick-backs and bribes from clients.
Lephoto’s memo, titled Allegations on Ministry of Finance Management, was also copied to the Auditor General and Accountant General.
In the memo, Lephoto said there was need for an investigation because of allegations that some members of the management committee of the Ministry of Finance were “getting kickbacks and bribes from customers and/clients they serve”.
“There are also allegations of conflict of interest where some officers in management are said to be influencing decisions on the awarding of contracts to the companies that offer services at the Ministry of Finance,” Lephoto said.
She said the offices whose management was alleged to be involved in the malpractices are internal audit, procurement, Public Procurement Advice Division, accounts and pensions.
“There may be others, but these are the much talked about ones. It is my belief that to restore the image and integrity of the ministry, action has to be taken,” Lephoto said.
Lephoto then proposed that lifestyle audits be undertaken on all management “from the level of Grade G upwards”.
Lephoto further proposed that the audits be undertaken by an independent firm to ensure transparency and objectivity.
“This firm should not have worked at the Ministry of Finance and/or Development Planning,” Lephoto said.
She also called for the audits to be done by an outside body to ensure complete independence.
Lephoto said although the scope of the investigation fell under her office she could not be involved in the investigation as her audit staff was also being implicated. She then proposed to source the consultants from the office of the Auditor General.
She also listed five firms (names withheld) that she said should not be used.
Her basis for not using the firms, according to her memo, was that the finance ministry had in the past engaged these firms with unsatisfactory results.
“I propose that all firms (that) have worked with this ministry be investigated as well as to verify their neutrality because they are alleged to have given kickbacks and enriched individuals financially,” Lephoto said.
She added that even companies that had already submitted proposals to work with the finance ministry but had not been successful should also be excluded “from participating in the proposed exercise”.
“Once this exercise has been completed at the Ministry of Finance, similar exercises should be extended to other ministries in line rooting out corruption in the civil service. I hope you find this in order,” Lephoto said.
But on the same day she penned her memo Khethisa responded and suspended her from duty with immediate effect.
In the suspension letter, reference FIN/P/16843 and titled Suspension with Pay Pending the Outcome of an Investigation into your Conduct, Khethisa told Lephoto that he was suspending her on full pay “pending an investigation into possible gross misconduct on your part”.
“This has been necessary due to the seriousness of the allegations,” Khethisa told Lephoto.
“During this period of suspension, you shall not attend your place of work, other than for the purpose of assisting in the investigation into your conduct.”
Khethisa also told Lephoto not to contact any employees, suppliers, clients or stakeholders of the finance ministry “without my consent”.
The Lesotho Times understands that Khethisa has since appointed a South African audit firm, NEXUS Forensic Services to conduct the investigation.
Lephoto is however challenging the appointment of NEXUS Forensic Services alleging it is one of the companies that should have been investigated for allegedly giving bribes to staff within her ministry.
Lephoto declined to comment when contacted by the Lesotho Times.
Khethisa however told this newspaper that there were allegations that some people within the finance ministry had benefitted financially from the engagement of forensic auditors.
“What is important though is that she (Lephoto) is the one working directly with issues concerning forensic audit,” Khethisa said.
“I did not want to discuss this issue in the media but it’s obvious she is the one who has taken it to the media. This will put a dent on her credibility considering the position she holds.”
Khethisa added that it was weird that Lephoto wanted to instruct as to which forensic audit company should investigate her.
“It is totally wrong and out of line for one to push to decide which company should investigate them. I’ve never come across an individual deciding who should investigate them,” Khethisa said.
“Again, there are other officials in the ministry involved in the audit but she is the only one making noise about this issue.”
Kethisa added that the investigation into Lephoto’s alleged gross misconduct had already been concluded although “she would not cooperate”.
“The investigation has been concluded but very unfortunately the lady refused to be interviewed by the investigators,” Khethisa said.
“We are yet to decide how we’re going to deal with it.”