By Billy Ntaote
MASERU — A feud over the control of the Maloraneng Lodge has since seen a company contracted to manage the lodge accusing former Letšeng Diamonds Mine General Manager, Moruti Mphatsoe, of defrauding the Mokhotlong community.
Arts Industry, the firm managing the lodge, accuses Mphatsoe of taking over control of a majority 51 percent shareholding in a Corporate Responsibility Social Investment (CRSI) project by enticing Tlokoeng Tourism Association (TTA) — an association representing Mokhotlong community — into forming Khubelu Valley Tourism Ventures Joint Venture with Mphatsoe’s company called Khubelu Valley Developers Holdings (PTY) LTD.
The CSRI project is a lodge named Maloraneng Lodge (Chalets in the Sky) whose construction was wholly funded by the Alluvial Ventures as its CSRI project.
The lodge’s maintenance is finance by Letšeng Diamonds Mine.
The Alluvial Ventures funded the construction of the Maloraneng Lodge as part of the company’s CRSI to the Mokhotlong community.
Mphatsoe is now accused of defrauding the Mokhotlong community into forming a joint venture he entered into with the TTA over the control of the lodge.
Advocate Thabo Lerotholi, Manager of Arts Industry said the lodge was put under TTA’s control, comprising eight villages, but they were surprised to find that Mphatsoe had a 51 percent shareholding in it as he had entered into a joint venture with the association.
Lerotholi alleged it was only when Mphatsoe realised his actions were a conflict of interest as the Alluvial Ventures is a subcontracted company of the Letšeng Diamonds Mine that he ended up saying he had transferred the shares to Alluvial Ventures.
He, however, said there has not been any documentation or letter that shows there has been a transfer of shareholding to Alluvial Ventures as Mphatsoe claimed upon realising the conflict of interest.
Lerotholi said a recent development over the control of the lodge has since seen Mphatsoe confirming he did defraud the Mokhotlong community even after alleging he had handed over the 51 percent shareholding to Alluvial Ventures.
He accused Mphatsoe of recently sparking outrage at the Maloraneng Lodge when he signed a letter expelling Arts Industry.
He said this came after the community were informed that Mphatsoe had defrauded them by taking over shareholding that was supposed to have been wholly owned by the Mokhotlong community only.
Lerotholi said Mphatsoe never presented any letter with the power of attorney from the Alluvial Ventures to show he was acting on behalf of Alluvial Ventures which he had claimed was controlling 51 percent shares in the joint venture.
He said Mphatsoe’s involvement and decision to write a letter expelling Arts Industry as the manager of the lodge shows that Mphatsoe still controls 51 percent shares of the lodge and he never transferred them to the Alluvial Ventures as he claimed.
When contacted for a comment Mphatsoe dismissed Lerotholi’s claims as baseless, saying he gave his shares in the joint venture to Alluvial Ventures when Letšeng Diamonds showed interest to contribute to the project.
“As I was still under the employment of the mine, I ended asking Alluvial Ventures to take over my shares as I realised there could be conflict of interest,” Mphatsoe said.
“When I ceased working at the Letšeng Diamond Mine I talked to Alluvial Ventures and they said I should represent them in the project at the level of the management committee, not that I own any shares,” Mphatsoe said.
“Lerotholi is a contractor hired by us and he is not doing the job he is supposed to be doing but wants to takeover control of the lodge for himself and, as a result, his contract has been terminated for bad performance,” he said.
Speaking to the Lesotho Times Chairman of the TTA, Malebohang Mothokoa, corroborated Mphatsoe statements, saying Maloraneng Lodge is only owned by the association and the alluvial ventures.
She said the eight villages represented by the TTA have clearly stipulated that they do not want anything to do with Lerotholi and he should leave the lodge premises.
“He has failed to fulfill his mandate as the manager of the lodge and we have since given him two months notice to vacate the premises,” She said.
She said on January 2, about 177 people from eight villages under Chief Makhaphela Sekonyela petitioned Lerotholi demanding that he leaves the premises of the Maloraneng Lodge.
Mothokoa said since receiving a letter terminating his contract, Lerotholi went on a campaign to solicit support from the Lichecheng village in an attempt to stir confusion amongst villagers.
“He promised these villagers’ jobs with some whites who are mining in the area as the majority of the people he talked to, we have learnt, were youths,” Mothokoa said.
She said what is surprising is that the members of the TTA committee are now barred from entering the premises of the lodge by Lerotholi even though he is hired by the same association.
“What Lerotholi has done is only to divide this community through his unsubstantiated claims and the people of Chief Makhaphela are now suspicious of one another,” she said.
Letšeng Diamond Mine CSRI Administrator, Tšepo Hlojeng, said Letšeng Diamond Mine funded the lodge as it was understood be pro-economic and financially beneficial to the eight villages but never assumed any shareholding.
“Alluvial Ventures started the lodge as part of its CSRI and retained 51 percent shareholding not for its benefit but such that the revenue or dividends attributable should be utilised to incentivise the operator as they could receive part of it,” Hlojeng said.
Hlojeng however said Art Industry is a service provider engaged to run the development and has no role to play regarding issues of shareholding.
He said from the onset the lodge’s operational costs, including Operator Management fees, were covered by Letšeng.