MASERU — Prime Minister Tom Thabane has said his government will deal with corruption.
From this week the Lesotho Times will be revisiting some of the suspicious deals that happened under the previous government.
This is meant to remind the new government of the some of the suspicious deals it must probe.
MASERU — If there is anything that will test Prime Minister Tom Thabane’s resolve to fight corruption it is the way he will deal with the multi-million maloti electronic passports (e-passports) and identity document (ID) contract controversially awarded last year.
The way the e-passport and ID tender was handled by the previous government was an example of how corruption had reached rampant levels in Lesotho.
It was a clear example of how some senior government officials can short-circuit procurement systems.
National interests were jettisoned as some people tinkered with the process to manipulate the tender process for personal gains.
In the end, it is Lesotho that lost out on the money it was supposed to get from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Lesotho for the ID project. But it is not too late to put things right.
The ID and e-passport tender can still be revisited with a view to right the wrongs.
In short, the contract must be cancelled and new tenders must be invited.
And this time the process must be transparent.
When a winner is announced no one should be left in doubt that the process was above board. What happened during the previous tender must never be allowed to happen again.
Thabane’s government must make sure of that.
It is not hard to see that some chicanery happened during the tender process.
What is already known is that Lesotho would lose more than M50 million that the MCA Lesotho would have contributed if it had proceeded with its involvement in the ID cards deal.
In their zeal to determine who finally got the lucrative contract worth more than M120 million and, presumably for their own personal benefit, Lesotho government bureaucrats fought hard to remove the ID part of the deal from the MCA so that all the projects would be handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Originally, the ID tender was being handled by the MCA while the Ministry of Home Affairs handled the electronic passports project.
While the MCA embarked on a public open tender process to select a bidder to produce the ID cards and at least 10 reputable international companies responded to the MCA call, the Ministry of Home Affairs performed a surreptitious selective tendering process involving only a few companies.
The ministry’s principal secretary, Retsesitsoe Khetsi, was adamant that a selective tender was the way to go.
Khetsi said a selective tender process is legal and that he was authorised to do it if circumstances required.
He also said his ministry had decided to engage only those companies that had approached it and showcased their skills in producing the e-passports.
He also cited the urgent need for e- passports for Lesotho as the main reason for bypassing requisite tender procedures.
However, his argument about urgency has since been defeated by the mere fact that a year later, not a single electronic passport has been produced in Lesotho.
The government’s procurement regulations call for public tenders for any goods or services valued at more than M35 000.
Selective tendering can be done in very limited cases, mostly in those instances in which there is only one supplier for a product or in cases of extreme emergencies.
However, the production of e-passports and related services is a service offered by hundreds of reputable international companies and the fact that it took such a long time to be awarded since the ministry began its secretive process disapprove any claim of urgency.
Authoritative sources maintain that there can never be any justification for proceeding with the e-passports and ID project without an open tender.
While the ministry had conducted its e-passports project’s bidding process in secret, the MCA’s project for the ID cards had originally been done through an open tender.
The MCA tender processes attracted at least 10 reputable international conglomerates.
However, the MCA’s whole process was mired in its own controversy and its tender was rescinded twice amid allegations of impropriety as bidders slugged it out to win the work.
At one stage, the MCA bid seemed set to be awarded to Iris of Malaysia but this was not done after another international conglomerate, Gemalto, filed an appeal alleging impropriety after it emerged that Iris had hosted Mosisili in Malaysia.
Still, all the controversy surrounding the MCA process was seen as attesting to the goodness of an open public tender process as bidders’ actions are properly scrutinised before a final award.
The MCA subsequently announced that it would no longer proceed with the ID project as part of its US$362 million funding programme for Lesotho.
That announcement came as surprise as it meant that the Lesotho government had decided to forgo the MCA’s contribution to the project.
Soon after the MCA’s withdrawal it emerged that the government had awarded the deal for both the IDs and Passports to Nikuv.
The Israeli company proceeded to host a party at a local hotel early this year to celebrate its lucrative under-cover success.
Although experts who have followed the matter closely say that it was only logical for both the e-passports and ID production to be handled by one company, they insist that this is one of those deals in which an open, public tender process was indispensable.
Thabane has the perfect opportunity to prove he will do things differently and serve the Basotho well by immediately undoing all the scams of the previous regime.