THE organisers of one of the country’s flagship events for the promotion of small businesses, Entrepreneurs Network (TEN), have fired two of their executive directors as the fall-out continues over the alleged misappropriation of funds meant for the well-sponsored Lesotho Entrepreneurship Expo 2017.
Attorney Nonnie Da Silva–Manyokole and Ms Seipati Sekokotoana were last month sacked with immediate effect on the grounds that they had compromised the integrity and good standing of TEN.
The duo’s dismissal follows a bitter fallout with their partner and chairman, Thabo Stephen Monyamane, who they accuse of embezzling funds meant for the expo. Mr Monyamane is also a board member of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC).
TEN, a non-profit organisation registered under the Companies Act of 2011, was established in 2016 with the aim of enhancing growth in the small business sector through networking.
The organisation has become popular in the business sector for organising crowd-funding initiatives dubbed ‘hook-up dinners’ and expos, among others, to promote small businesses in Lesotho.
TEN partnered with the Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO) to organise the 2017 Entrepreneurship Expo which was held at Maseru Mall from 13 to 17 November. The event attracted several sponsors who contributed more than M1.5 million to make it a success. BEDCO was the main donor pumping M700 000 into the event.
Other sponsors included the LNDC, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Standard Lesotho Bank, Metropolitan Lesotho, First National Bank and Alliance Insurance.
Although everything appeared smooth on the surface, the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) established that there were tensions among the organisers, particularly Attorney Da Silva-Manyokole and Ms Sekokotoana who accused Mr Monyamane of misappropriating expo funds.
Mr Monyamane has, however, came out guns blazing against the duo, labelling his accusers “bad sheep” that are hell-bent on tarnishing his image and that of TEN, “because they joined the organisation with expectations of becoming rich”.
The other TEN executive directors are Ms Rethabile Shale and Ms Paballo Moqoko.
Ms Sekokotoana wrote to the LNDC chief executive officer, Mohato Seleke, on 24 January 2018, accusing Mr Monyamane of misappropriating funds as well as non-compliance with the country’s tax laws.
The letter requests the intervention of the LNDC boss “regarding the conduct of TEN chairman Mr Stephen Monyamane”.
“We are a group of five members with Mr Stephen Monyamane as our chairman. We were got along well until the planning of the Expo 2017 (when) Mr Monyamane started acting secretively by making decisions without consulting us,” part of the letter states.
“He became uncooperative and we made surprising discoveries that Mr Monyamane used funds intended to support Basotho at the Expo to purchase the stalls using his own company, Montech Institute.”
Ms Sekokotoana added that all the funds that were given to TEN by different stakeholders had not been accounted for by Mr Monyamane.
“We have been demanding proper financial reporting including invoices and bank statements to the TEN account but to this date we are denied any access to such statements. We are demanding this from him since he was one of the two signatories to our TEN account and because our offices were in his premises where he has attempted to attack one of our members (Da Silva-Manyokole) when demanding these documents,” Ms Sekokotoana noted.
She said there was also an issue of noncompliance with the Lesotho Revenue Authority’s (LRA) laws with regard to declaring the stalls amounting to M600 000 which were bought from South Africa and used at the expo.
“We are aware that Mr Monyamane is one of your board members and we received sponsorship from your corporation. We would therefore, humbly request your intervention in this regard in order for the chairman of TEN to account to us, our sponsors and the public because the money that we collected was from the public meant to enhance entrepreneurs in Lesotho – not to benefit him as an individual.”
Ms Sekokotoana and Ms Da Silva-Manyokole confirmed contents of the letter in separate interviews with the MNNCIJ.
They said Mr Monyamane announced to them and other partners in October 2017 that he managed to pull strings with BEDCO to collaborate for a “more intensive and bigger event which would be of the international magnitude”.
They said they began to suspect shady dealings when Mr Monyamane unilaterally allocated himself 600 shares in TEN, distributing the remaining 400 shares to four other members ahead of the expo – a discrepancy which was however later cleared when it was eventually agreed that each member should be given 250 shares.
“At some point, and without other members knowing, Monyamane paid himself, Moqoko, a certain accountant and the other person who drafted some “unclear” document M30 000, M25 000 and two batches of M10 000 respectively,” Ms Da Silva-Manyokole added.
She said at some point Mr Monyamane roped in the Small Business Development Principal Secretary, Lerata Pekane, to intervene as the latter was a TEN member before he was appointed PS.
She however, said Mr Pekane’s intervention yielded no fruit as he was “one-sided and seemingly doing damage control”.
In another instance, Ms Da Silva-Manyokole and Ms Sekokotoana said they were phoned by Mr Monyamane to collect what he said were TEN’s financial statements.
“But we were given a draft report which Pekane had posted on Facebook and a file of invoices which were unstamped and had no receipts attached,” Da Silva-Manyokole charged.
Ms Sekokotoana said Mr Monyamane then told them to go to court if they required more information and this did not go well with the duo who then exchanged words with Mr Monyamane over the issue.
But Mr Monyamane has dismissed the allegations against him saying that they were sour grapes by Ms Sekokotoana and Ms Da Silva-Manyokole who joined TEN with “ulterior motives of enriching themselves” at the non-profit making organisation.
“The idea of TEN has never been to make profits. If there is such (misuse of funds), why hasn’t there been any court order issued against TEN? Why wasn’t there any legal attempt to stop the event? Why hasn’t TEN ever been summoned to appear before the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences? And why are these unfounded allegations centred around one individual- me,” Mr Monyamane told MNNCIJ in a recent interview.
He however, said he indicated that for the duo to “do business,” every director was given a chance to supply services needed for the expo as per the TEN’s set procurement procedure.
Mr Monyamane said he considered the letter Ms Sekokotoana wrote to the LNDC CEO, Mr Seleke to be “irrational because the CEO reports to the board members, not the other way around.”
Mr Monyamane is member of the board in question.
He said it was in consequence of the allegations against him that led to the dismissal of Ms Da Silva-Manyokole and Ms Sekokotoana.
In the two dismissal letters dated 16 February 2018 and endorsed by Mr Monyamane, Ms Shale and Ms Moqoko; Ms Da Silva-Manyokole and Ms Sekokotoana are accused of compromising the integrity and good standing of TEN “thus failing in (their) duties as expected of a director”.
The dismissal letters further state that: “We have also found that the conduct of (Da Silva-Manyokole and Sekokotoana) was lacking in good faith and was intended to tarnish the goodwill of the organisation”.
“You are therefore advised that you shall not be acting or speaking on behalf of the company in any way anymore, and to do so would be deemed a misconduct and act calculated to harm the company, which shall not be tolerated.”
Mr Seleke confirmed receiving Ms Sekokotoana’s letter in a recent interview with the MNNCIJ. The LNDC boss also confirmed Mr Monyamane was the board director and that the Corporation donated M175 000 to the expo.
“We are yet to establish the veracity of allegations made in the letter. What we did after receiving the letter was to request TEN to provide us with a full report of how they used the money. They gave us the report but I am not in a position to say whether or not the report depicts a true picture of how the monies were used,” Mr Seleke said, adding it was important for BEDCO to investigate the matter “because they are main sponsors of the (2017) event”.
Mr Seleke said if it could be proved “beyond reasonable doubt that funds were misused, the LNDC can institute harsh measures against the organisers”.
“We do not condone misuse of taxpayers’ money. LNDC, as a public entity, used taxpayers’ monies to support the event,” he added.
Concerning Mr Monyamane’s alleged conflict of interest, Mr Seleke, who was appointed to the helm of the LNDC in December 2017, said that had he been part of the management prior to the expo preparations, “I would have sought an advice from the board concerning the matter”.
He said the extent to which, if any, that Mr Monyamane was conflicted in the matter would be determined by the LNDC board members, “because I report to the board. In other words, I report to Mr Monyamane”.
For his part, BEDCO’s spokesperson, Mr Mzimkhulu Sithetho, told the MNNCIJ that they were satisfied with how TEN had accounted for the money used for the expo.
“The event was a success. Goals were met: out of 100 small entrepreneurs that were invited, the turnout was 80. Their products were successfully exposed to potential buyers. Corporate companies were also given a platform to expose their services as well. The platform for discussions, debates and motivations was actively enabled,” Mr Sithetho said.
Mr Pekane, in a separate interview, agreed with Mr Sithetho.