By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU —Two senior procurement officers working in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture were suspended this week over suspected irregularities in the purchase of goods and services.
According to a senior employee in the ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Tuesday’s suspension of the officers followed an internal audit called last month by the ministry’s Principal Secretary, Thato Mohasoa.
“There were suspicions that some procurement officers were deliberately delaying payment procedures to suppliers to create confusion so that there would be a last-minute rush to make payments before the end of the 2013/14 financial year. You are aware that the financial year in question ended last month,” the official told the Lesotho Times yesterday.
Mohasoa yesterday confirmed suspending the two officers, adding the action was in line with government’s resolve to eradicate all forms of corruption.
“Disciplinary processes are being worked on while we also try to establish the full extent of what was happening in the ministry’s procurement unit,” Mohasoa said. “We hope a fully-fledged audit for the whole financial year would give us a better picture of who was doing what, how and why.”
However, investigations by the Lesotho Times have revealed that the internal audit found out several irregularities, top among them the “ridiculous” inflation of prices.
“In one instance, a supplier of white folders overcharged the ministry by M7 000. We were shocked to learn that the correct price of one folder was M84, yet the ministry was made to pay M154 per folder.
There were also no three quotations sourced to avoid inflating prices by one supplier,” a source close to the case, who refused to be named, said.
According to the source, an employee of the ministry, the procurement unit is also expected to explain a M21 000 payment for “lunch packs”, which nobody appears to know about.
“There was no handwritten requisition for the packs, and the auditors could not find the list of officers who were supplied with the meals, while it is also not clear at which event the food was served,” the source said.
Another anomaly the audit reportedly unearthed was that some goods were being delivered to the ministry without the obligatory purchase orders.
“As a result of this situation, these suppliers may not be paid because the funds are not there,” the source further said.
Added to this, another irregularity unearthed by the audit allegedly took place on March 12 and 13 this year, when paperwork to confirm the delivery of non-existent goods was signed to ensure payment was processed before the end of the financial year, the source said.
“The undelivered goods were stallion high-back chairs worth M14 364; 2 100 white folders worth M15 400 and three glass-shelves worth M5 500.”
On the other hand, various office furniture bought by the ministry was not recorded as per requirement, the source added.
“According to the storekeeper, the asset register is missing. What this means is that the ministry will not have a record of assets and goods bought.
“These can easily be lost or stolen without being noticed.”
Some ordered goods such as cleaning material, stationery and refreshments, were not delivered although they had been signed for, the source further said.
“It is fraudulent to claim that certain quantities of goods were delivered while in actual fact, they were not.
“The ministry can lose funds because of dubious suppliers who might eventually fail to deliver the outstanding goods,” the source said.
The audit also revealed a supplier, with an expired catering licence, was offered work at the expense of those operating legally, while on another occasion, the procurement unit is accused of falsifying the description of goods bought.