Heads to roll in PM's office

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MASERU – Heads are set to roll in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office after a forensic investigation unearthed serious abuse and manipulation of procurement regulations.

The Lesotho Times can reveal that five senior officials in the department have already received letters asking them to “show cause why they should not be fired” after they were implicated in a forensic investigation ordered by Mosisili late last year.

The Principal Secretary for Administration Kubutu Makhakhe and his deputy Thato Masiloane were served with the letters last week. 

The investigation also fingered finance director ’Marapelang Raphuthing and two other procurement officers in the department.

Government Secretary Tlohang Sekhamane confirmed that the five top officials received the letters on Friday last week.

“All I can confirm to you is that they have received letters demanding them to give reasons why they cannot be suspended, only that,” Sekhamane said.

Sekhamane however refused to reveal the details of the crimes that the five are alleged to have committed.

Sources told this paper this week that Sekhamane wrote the letters at the instigation of Mosisili who is said to have been “shocked” at the findings of the forensic probe that he had ordered into his office.

The source said the officials are accused of manipulating the procurement procedures by buying goods from companies to which they are connected through their relatives and friends.

The officials, the source said, bought the goods at heavily inflated prices.

The bulk of goods bought for Mosisili’s office are said to have been supplied by these connected companies.

Most of the corruption, the source added, relates to goods that were bought without going through tender process.

Government regulations allow civil servants to buy goods under M100 000 without going to tender.

Such goods include office sundries and groceries.

A government official only needs to get three quotations from different companies before making the purchase.

While the arrangement was meant to reduce red-tape, the facility is now being abused by government officials who give contracts to companies they are connected to.

Sometimes they give contracts to companies that are willing to give them kickbacks.

The source said Mosisili sprung into action after he noticed that the price for his groceries, which are bought by the government, was now running into tens of thousands of maloti.

He then instructed Finance Minister Timothy Thahane to hire a forensic investigator, not only for his office but also for other departments.

The source described the findings of the investigators as “shocking”.

“You would see that a small bottle of a soft drink had been bought for as much as M100. Basic things that you can buy over the counter for less than M10 were being bought for as much as M90,” the source said.

During his budget speech on Monday, Thahane alluded to these shenanigans.

He said investigations revealed that one litre of Liqui Fruit brand juice which costs M9 in local supermarkets is sold at a repulsive price of M74 to the PM’s office.

Thahane said a 19kg cylinder of gas, which costs M270 at local retailers, is sold at M900 to the PM’s office.

The examples are not contained in Thahane’s official budget speech because, the source said, he only mentioned them after Mosisili who was sitting next to him reminded him while he was presenting the budget.

An inside source told the Lesotho Times that a company associated with one of the five officials sold flowers to the Prime Minister’s office during a visit to Lesotho by South African President Jacob Zuma last year for a staggering M80 000.

After the state visit, the source said, the supplier came back and took the flowers away despite the fact that they had been paid for.

News of the investigation comes barely five months after parliament’s Public Accounts Committee issued a damning report about an M8 million over-expenditure by the Prime Minister’s office for the 2005/06 financial year.

The report also revealed that in a previous year the PM’s office had overspent by a massive M6 million.

The report says during the 2004/5 fiscal year the office received a budget allocation of M44 592 580 but had to seek an additional M2 097 492 from the treasury after it ran out of money before the end of the year.

But when that fiscal year was closed the office had overspent by M6 036 042.

The following year, the report says, the same office received M52 271 020 but still needed a supplementary budget of M37 963 979 to replenish its dwindling coffers.

Still that did not stop the prime minister’s office from overspending by a staggering M8 358 253.

The report said the chief accounting officer in the prime minister’s office told the committee that the over-expenditures were due to some projects such as Smart Partnership, Poverty Reduction Programme, Food Management Unit and other projects that the office ran but had not been adequately budgeted for.

The chief accounting officer also told the committee that the prime minister’s office administration had also contributed in pushing the expenditure through the roof.

It said while the committee understood this explanation it also noted that books of accounts were not “properly maintained” neither were stores ledgers.

Thahane’s budget speech on why Mosisili instructed him to investigate his office sheds light on the causes of the over-expenditures.

Thahane said the government had tried many initiatives to clean the procurement department with very little success.

Instead, Thahane lamented, things had become worse.

“I have now decided to explore the route of an independent board and incentives,” Thahane said.

He also said he plans to name and shame fraud and corruption culprits.

“For successes we will create a website in which to display cases of fraud and corruption that are before the courts,” he said.

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