Row over consultant’s recruitment

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 Pascalinah Kabi

THE Ministry of Health has come under fire from the parliamentary Social Cluster Portfolio Committee for engaging former Tšepong Consortium member, Victor Litlhakanyane, as a government consultant in the quest to solve challenges at the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) saga.

The parliamentary committee noted that there could be a conflict of interest on the part of Dr Litlhakanyane as he was the executive director of Netcare, a South African company which is the majority shareholder in the Tšepong Consortium. He was at the helm of Netcare when the consortium was awarded the contract to finance, build and operate the hospital in 2008.

Popularly known as Tšepong, QMMH and its four clinics make up the Lesotho health network under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement which the government and Tšepong Consortium entered into in 2008. The hospital opened its doors to patients in 2012.

Netcare, formed the Tšepong consortium in partnership with local companies – Excel Health (20 percent shareholding), Women Investment Company (10 percent) and D10 Investments (10 percent) and a South African company, Afri’nnai, (20 percent).

However, the government wants the Tšepong contract revised as it feels it has no say in the running and monitoring of the hospital despite provide budgetary support.

According to the chairperson of the Social Cluster Portfolio Committee, Moshoeshoe Fako, “One of the most painful things about the hospital is that they outsource certain services and if you critically look at these outsourced services you will discover that such services are provided by the same people under a different company name so that they can claim huge amounts of money from government”.

Mr Fako said they needed full information on the QMMH issue or the National Assembly would not approve the Ministry of Health’s 2018/19 budget estimations.

For her part, the ministry’s PPP Officer, Ntoetsi Mofoka, said that PPP agreements were very complex in nature and that government had entered into the agreement ignorant of those complexities.

“Therefore there is no ownership of this project. It is as if it is an individual project yet it is a government project. We don’t even have a monitoring team as stipulated in the contract. As government we didn’t do enough to understand and monitor this project and that is the challenge we are facing.

“Tšepong (QMMH) offers clinical services yet we don’t have clinical monitoring team. It is only now that the PS Health and Finance have assembled a monitoring team made of clinical and revenue experts,” Ms Mofoka said.

Dr Litlhakanyane who has since been hired as a government consultant to help find lasting solutions to the QMMH problems, was the executive director of Netcare when Tšepong Consortium was awarded the PPP contract which appears to be haunting the government.

Mr Fako, said he was surprised that Dr Litlhakanyane had been engaged to work with the Health ministry on the Tšepong contract which he had helped negotiate.

“The fact of the matter is that Litlhakanyane was at the forefront of the signing of this PPP contract which has now caused us a headache,” a visible irritated Mr Fako said.

“I was in Bloemfontein at the time and I know him. He is one of the people who dragged us into this mess. Explain to us who gave Litlhakanyane the contract? To do what? We need that Litlhakanyane to come before this committee. We don’t want to find ourselves in mud that we never created,” Mr Fako said.

The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Monaphathi Maraka, defended the decision to engage Dr Litlhakanyane, saying the latter would lead a team tasked with helping the government solve the Tšepong issue.

“This Litlhakanyane is a medical doctor, a Mosotho child who is experienced and knowledgeable on the PPP issues. He no longer has a stake in the five companies with shareholding in the Tšepong consortium.

“He is now on our side and he will teach us how we can best handle the Tšepong issue. We have satisfied ourselves that he is suitable because he is now an international consultant on PPP issues and it is in our interest for this Mosotho child to work with the ministry in strengthening our oversight mechanisms at Tšepong.

“We selected the best candidate with experience on the PPPs and Tšepong issue. If we were to engage a foreigner it would be an issue because we love people who truly understand our cultural practices,” Mr Maraka said.

In response, Mr Fako said a person’s nationality should not be a basis for being hired.

“Mr PS, this Tšepong agreement was drawn up, negotiated and signed by Basotho. This mess we are in today was created by Basotho and you know the people who created this mess very well,” Mr Fako said, adding, Mr Maraka should exercise caution when dealing with the issue to avoid putting himself in “hot water” which he would not be able to get out of.

Another, portfolio committee member, Mohapi Mohapinyane, asked why Mr Maraka was so sure that Dr Litlhakanyane would “do an exceptionally good job since he was once part of the consortium and jumped ship”.

Mr Mohapinyane also asked if the ministry knew the names of each of the individuals behind the three local companies in the Tšepong consortium.

“I am asking this question in reference to the issue of Dr Litlhakanyane who has now jumped ship. We don’t want to find ourselves deploying an individual to Tšepong only to find out later that he is part of the problem,” he said.

Ms Mofoka, said they will research to find out the identities of the local shareholders.

 

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