THE government of Lesotho is still using cars hired from Bidvest Bank Limited despite saying it cancelled the controversial vehicle fleet services contract with the South African firm with effect from 1 April 2017.
The Lesotho Times has established that Bidvest cars are still being used because the government had so far only managed to acquire 193 Basotho-owned vehicles of the 1 060 needed to service 26 government ministries as well as parastatals.
According to the Ministry of Finance’s Private Sector Development Manager Folojeng Folojeng even though the Ministry of Finance was grappling with a shortfall of 963 vehicles, they expected to part ways with Bidvest at the end of this month.
This is despite Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane announcing in March this year the cancellation of the controversial 48-month vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited with effect from 1 April 2017.
Meanwhile, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) has vowed to confiscate vehicles belonging to Bidvest Bank Limited if it forms government after the 3 June 2017 to recoup the money the South African firm “fleeced” from Basotho.
In turn, commuter transport operators say they have also shunned the government’s policy of hiring Basotho-owned vehicles since there were no guarantees the next government would continue with the arrangement.
Mr Sekhamane admitted that the South African financial institution had milked government of millions of maloti and the bills were spiralling to a point where it was difficult to pay them off.
However, the minister did not state the amounts owed and already paid to Bidvest. Former minister and Alliance of Democrats (AD) leader Monyane Moleleki recently claimed the government paid M600 million in the last financial year to Bidvest Bank Limited and recently followed this up with another M73 million in penalties after prematurely terminating the controversial vehicle fleet service contract it signed last year.
Government initially awarded Bidvest a six-month contract to run the government fleet from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016 after the expiry of the government’s fleet management contract with Avis.
The government had promised to exclude Bidvest from any new tender to find a new fleet management firm to replace Avis.
However, the government cancelled the tender process, preferring instead to enter a new long-term contract with Bidvest, which had not bid for the tender as earlier agreed in light of its enjoyment of the six month contract.
Then Finance minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla had said while announcing the deal in June last year that the government would buy 600 vehicles and hire another 600 from ordinary Basotho, with Bidvest only managing the fleet.
She also said the government decided to cancel the tender process because it did not have enough money to continue with the route of hiring vehicles.
However, a joint venture company, Lebelonyane, shortlisted for the tender took the government to court seeking an order to stop the government from engaging Bidvest.
The 48-month contract entered into by the government stipulated that Bidvest Bank Limited would provide “possession, use and enjoyment of the vehicles for the contract period” with the government only having the option to buy the fleet at the end of its contract.
The arrangement contradicted claims by several ministers that the government was buying 600 of the vehicles for its direct full ownership from the onset with the remainder being leased from Basotho.
However, the Bidvest contract clearly stipulated that the government would not “acquire any ownership rights of any nature whatsoever” of the vehicles despite being registered as “owner”.
The controversial fleet contract was one of the root causes of the split in the Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-led Democratic Congress (DC) in November 2016.
A faction loyal to then DC deputy leader Mr Moleleki accused loyalists of Dr Mosisili in the party of corruptly influencing the awarding of the deal in Bidvest’s favour.
Their ire was mainly directed at Dr Khaketla, whom they accused of disregarding due process in awarding the tender to Bidvest at the expense of joint venture company — Lebelonyane — that had been recommended for the contract.
Dr Khaketla, who was later reshuffled to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, has vehemently denied allegations of corruption and even sued some of her accusers for M6 million.
Mr Moleleki and his faction eventually left the DC to found the AD in December 2016 after failing to oust Dr Mosisili from the helm of the party.
Mr Sekhamane had also revealed that the government would adopt a new policy of hiring Basotho-owned vehicles with the contracts not exceeding 12 months.
Mr Folojeng told the Lesotho Times yesterday they had earmarked the end of this month to part ways with Bidvest “barring any unforeseen challenges” even though the ministry was yet to sign the contracts with the owners of the 193 vehicles, which the government is already in possession of.
“Our expectation is that May is the last month we use Bidvest vehicles, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” he said.
“We hope to sign the contracts over the next few days once the inspection processes have been cleared.”
He said the government was currently finalising International Police (InterPol) clearances and physical inspection of the vehicles before signing the contracts.
Mr Folojeng said the ministry had failed to get the needed 1 060 vehicles from Basotho because of the applicants’ failure to meet the conditions of the contract.
Among the conditions for hiring the vehicles from Basotho were mileage of not more than 30 000 kilometres, a motor service plan and a comprehensive insurance for the duration of the 12-month contract.
Applications from the following categories of people and their spouses or partners would not be accepted: ministers and deputy ministers, members of parliament, occupants of statutory positions, principal secretaries, all public servants at the level of director and above, chief executives, managing directors and all holders of equivalent positions in government enterprises and parastatals.
The vehicle classes the government wants include sedans, double cab 4×4 bakkies, single cab 4×2 bakkies, Mercedes Benz and Lexus vehicles, trucks and panel vans.
“We received many applications from many people but unfortunately many of them did not make the cut as there were some types of vehicles we needed that could not be provided by the applicants,” he said.
“Such cars include Mercedes Benz, Lexus, buses, vans and Toyota Land Cruisers. Instead, most of the applications we received were for vehicles we did not want such as Toyota Quantums and Fortuners.”
Mr Folojeng said hiccups in implementing the new system should not come as a surprise since it had never been done before “anywhere in the world”. He also urged Basotho to be patient and suggest ideas to improve the system.
“We will actually be the pioneers of the system if it is successful. At the moment, we have no example to benchmark the system on. So it is not easy at all.”
He said another challenge they were facing was the withdrawal of vehicles by some owners citing such reasons as not consulting family members.
“Others complain about the payment rates the government is offering, saying they were too low,” said Mr Folojeng.
Asked whether the vehicle payment rates had been revised, he explained that there was a flat rate ranging between M14 322 to M44, 363 per month for vehicles which will travel up to 4 000 kilometres.
“For those that travel above that distance, it would attract an extra charge of M4.60 per kilometre travelled.
“We also provide our own drivers as well as petrol or diesel. The owner is only supposed to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy by replacing the tyres and providing regular service.”
On the length of the contracts, Mr Folojeng said they could be extended beyond the initially stipulated 12 months depending on the applicant.
“Since we are taking the vehicles as a pilot project in the first 12 months, there will be a possibility to extend the contracts if we deem the 12 months a success.”
To prevent ineligible people from applying for the contracts, he said the ministry had been inviting all the applicants to the tender process to establish their identities.
“We might invite another set of applicants soon to meet the target of 1 060 vehicles,” Mr Folojeng said.
Attempts to contact Mr Sekhamane and his Principal Secretary Tom Mpeta were fruitless yesterday.