Director grilled over M170 000 Nikuv ‘loan’

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Keiso Mohloboli and Billy Ntaote

THE Ministry of Home Affairs Director of National Identity Civil Registration, Tumelo Raboletsi, is in hot water over a M170 000 “loan” he allegedly received from Israeli firm, Nikuv International Projects.

According to a letter written to Mr Raboletsi by the ministry’s Principal Secretary (PS), Ranthomeng Matete on 4 November 2014, the director had 24 hours to respond to allegations that he received the money from Nikuv — a company which was controversially awarded a M300 million contract to computerise the country’s border-control system and produce electronic passports, national Identity Documents (IDs), birth and death certificates for Lesotho in 2012 without an open public tender.

Reads Chief Matete’s letter to Mr Raboletsi, a copy of which the Lesotho Times has managed to obtain: “I am directed to bring to your attention that there are allegations to the effect that you have been a recipient of funds amounting to M170, 000. 00 (One hundred and seventy thousand maloti) from Nikuv International, possibly as a loan from the company.

“In view of your senior position in the Ministry, and the contractual relationship between Nikuv and the Ministry of Home Affairs, I am further directed to request you to respond to these allegations.

“Your response would enable the Ministry to form an opinion concerning the possibility of a conflict of interest.

“Kindly submit your response to my office on or before 4:30 pm on Wednesday November 5, 2014.”

Mr Raboletse yesterday confirmed receiving Mr Matete’s letter, but would not discuss its contents.

“I received the letter this morning and made sure I responded right away in line with the deadline given by the PS. But I cannot go into details regarding the issue since it’s an internal matter, suffice to say that I heard about this letter about a week ago and its contents are exactly what the people who told me about it, speculated,” Mr Raboletse said.

PS Matete, on his part, refused to comment on the issue, and demanded to know how the Lesotho Times had managed to obtain a copy of the letter.

“The letter was between me and Raboletse, so unless you tell me how you got it, I won’t comment on it,” Mr Matete said.

However, according to sources close to the case, Mr Raboletse’s alleged loan was mentioned by “persons of interest” who have been interviewed by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) regarding the Nikuv deal.

According to highly placed sources, it is suspected Nikuv paid M60 million in bribes to land the lucrative tender.

Former Home Affairs PS, Retselisitsoe Khetsi has since been charged for allegedly receiving a M5 million bribe from Nikuv in return for the tender, and his trial is currently underway before the High Court. Mr Khetsi is charged alongside Motsotuoa Makoa, who allegedly acted as Nikuv’s agent and facilitated the payment of the bribe.

Government has since fallen out with Nikuv due to the company’s “exorbitant” maintenance charges.

According to Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, government has already paid Nikuv  M300 million, but is not going to pay the M34.7 million the company is now demanding as maintenance fees.

Nikuv had threatened to withdraw from the project if the money was not paid within two weeks beginning 1 August 2014, prompting the Ministry to seek an interdict in the High Court.

Chief Molapo argued: “The cost of maintenance work being invoiced for bears no relation to prevailing market conditions and is disproportionate to charges tendered by other service-providers in the region for similar work”.

The minister further explained: “In February this year, Nikuv issued invoices totalling M34.7million to the Ministry for maintenance work on the passport, ID, birth certificate and border control systems. This invoice was for the full maintenance of the system despite the fact that the passport and ID programme is still being made fully operational and that the border control system has only been installed in three of the 12 border posts. To date, Nikuv has been paid over M300 million.

“We will continue to pay Nikuv as and when we are satisfied that we have received appropriate services. So far, no proper training of Basotho has been undertaken as per the terms of the contract; we insist this be done.

“In July 2014, an injunction was sought and granted by the High Court of Lesotho, preventing Nikuv from interfering with the proper operation of the system, but despite this injunction, Nikuv has proceeded with disrupting the system. They have done this on the instigation of some in Lesotho who wish to take advantage of the current political situation for their own selfish interests. They wish to turn the public against the excellent work done by the government in resolving the problems of passports and identification systems.

“But we will not be blackmailed or coerced into parting with the tax monies of Basotho in violation of principles of good governance and accountability.”

Asked about allegations against Mr Raboletse, Chief Molapo said: “The real issue is that people who gave statements to the DCEO when they were being investigated, mentioned Raboloetse received certain monies from the company. So that has nothing to do with what is happening now between the Ministry and Nikuv.

“However, as a high-ranking official in the ministry, he has been compromised by this allegation.”

Chief Molapo further said he would not be surprised if the allegations against Mr Raboloetse prove to be correct.

“Nikuv officials have been trying to give me a bribe so that I can release the M34.7million they have billed us. We have the money to pay this company but we will not release the money until they have given us what we demand,” Chief Molapo said.

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