Looters off the hook

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 MASERU — If there is anyone who looted the block farming fund they should not lose sleep as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has refused to investigate the matter.

In January, former trade minister Mpho Malie called for an urgent investigation into the block farming scheme after alleging that some prominent people could have looted the funds which were meant to assist farmers.

He alleged that the government-guaranteed loans could have been used for money laundering purposes.

Around the same time the opposition Basutoland African Congress (BAC) wrote to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences and the DPP requesting them to investigate Malie’s allegations.

The Lesotho Times can reveal this week that the DPP has declined to investigate the matter.

The DPP, Leaba Thetsane, told the BAC in a letter dated March 3 and seen by the Lesotho Times this week that there was nothing he could do about the allegation because the issue was beyond his jurisdiction.

“In response thereto I humbly refer you to the Criminal Procedure & Evidence Act, No. 9 of 1981 more particularly section 5 thereof vesting the powers to ‘institute and undertake criminal proceedings’ with the Director of Public Prosecutions,” Thetsane says in a response to the letter written by the BAC on February 26.

“In discharge of such powers the DPP only acts on the strength of the investigations and/or evidence submitted by the office of the Commissioner of Police (per criminal docket).”

Thetsane then suggests that the BAC refers the matter to the police for further investigations.

“The only advice I would give at this stage is that the matter be referred either to the office of the Commissioner of Police (the investigatory arm thereof) or the office of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences for action.”

He then commends the BAC for its confidence in his office.

“Hope this brief explanation serves to straighten the state of affairs as concerns the powers and functions of the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions,” Thetsane says.

When contacted by the Lesotho Times yesterday, the anti-corruption’s director for public education and corruption prevention, Litelu Ramokhoro, said they had received the BAC’s request to investigate the alleged looting of the scheme but could not give more details.

“I do acknowledge that my office received the BAC letter,” Ramokhoro said.

He however could not be drawn into disclosing when the BAC could expect his department’s response

“Understand that I cannot disclose as to when and how we will issue a response to the BAC,” Ramokhoro said.

“You should also note that our obligation is to respond to the one who wrote us the letter, in this regard being the BAC.

“Never for once did the author of BAC letter hint to us an interest to have our response to him brought into the public domain.”

Ramokhoro said since issues addressed in the BAC letter were of public interest “they should be treated with dignity”.

“Issues of public interest such as this one should be treated with sensitivity and the dignity they deserve,” Ramokhoro said.

In a letter dated 21 April 2010, the PAC clerk, under the instruction of the committee’s chairperson, also acknowledges the PAC’s receipt of a letter from the BAC.

“The chairperson has also appreciated your effort and interest in this regard,” the letter said.

When contacted for comment yesterday, the PAC committee chairperson, Moeketse Malebo, was not willing to comment on why the PAC’s response to the BAC’s request was abrupt and avoided addressing the core issue.

“All I can tell you now is that the matter is being handled,” was all Malebo could say.

Malebo is the leader of the Marematlou Freedom Party.

This paper however understands that the committee has also launched an investigation into the issue.

In his strongly worded letter to Standard Lesotho Bank, which facilitated the loans that were guaranteed by government, Malie said he was not happy that the bank had continued to provide loans to farmers that had persistently failed to pay their loans.

Malie also alleged that some government ministers who were supposed to be mentors for the block farmers had actually turned out to be the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme.

These allegations have however not been proven.

The two ministers who were mentors and therefore were perceived as the target of Malie’s allegations have vehemently denied benefiting from the scheme.

Finance minister Timothy Thahane who was mentoring a group of farmers from Mpharane in Leribe told this paper that at no time did he get a cent from the scheme.

He said his role was to help farmers keep proper books and assist them procure inputs.

Thahane said the farmers were willing to pay their loans but they had been affected by the 2007 drought.

He however said the farmers had arranged with the bank to repay their loans “bit by bit”.

Forestry Minister Ralechate Mokose who was the mentor for a group of farmers from Ha-Molelle in Kolonyama also said he never benefited from the scheme.

Like Thahane, Mokosi said his role was to help the farmers keep their books.

“At no time was it ever stipulated that as a mentor my job would be to look after funds allocated to farmers under block farming in Ha-Molelle,” he said.

He said he was “only a gateway for the farmers and was there to ensure those people grouped themselves”.

Last week this paper revealed that Thahane’s efforts to recover the loans had spewed a bitter fight with some farmers.

The farmers told the ombudsman that they were not able to repay their loans because the government had not paid them for their equipment which it hired to help some villagers till their fields last season.

The farmers said Thahane had threatened to sue them if they did not repay their loans.

Thahane however said “it was not a threat but the truth as they know it”.

 

 

 MPs to meet auditor today

 

MASERU — Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will today meet the Auditor General, Lucy Liphafa, to discuss the alleged misappropriation of the loans given to block farmers by the government.

The Lesotho Times can reveal that the PAC had initially scheduled to meet Liphafa yesterday at 11am but had to reschedule the meeting to today citing other commitments.

Liphafa confirmed that the meeting had been rescheduled to today.

She confirmed that the meeting was meant to discuss the “block farming issue” but said she was not aware of the specific agenda of the meeting.

“They are the ones who asked for the meeting so they are better placed to tell you about it,” Liphafa said.

Sources close to the issue said the PAC wanted to consult Liphafa on how they could track and recover the money.

Asked what would be her response if the PAC asked her to investigate the matter, Liphafa said: “That won’t happen because we are not mandated to carry out investigations into fraud and money laundering issues.

“Our role is to audit public accounts,” she said.

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