AG raps Tšolo over home costs
FORMER Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Temeki Tšolo, has been fingered in a fresh scandal over the misuse of M748 160 during his time in government.
According to the acting Auditor General Monica Besetsa, the money was unnecessarily spent on renting accommodation at a Mafeteng guesthouse for the minister, his two bodyguards and a chauffeur from October 2018 to September 2019.
Ms Besetsa questioned why Mr Tšolo had not been given a fully-furnished rent-free government house instead of being allowed to rent the guesthouse at a huge cost to the fiscus. Had he been given a government house, the state could have saved M388 160, Ms Besetsa states in her recently released audit report for the 2019/20 financial year.
The findings come at a time when Mr Tšolo is already in the eye of the storm over his involvement in the government’s botched 2018 M1,7 billion solar energy deal with German company, Frazer Solar.
Mr Tšolo was a cabinet minister in the previous Thomas Thabane-led governing coalition which lasted from June 2017 until it was replaced by the current Moeketsi Majoro-led coalition in May 2020.
In her audit report, Ms Besetsa notes that Dr Majoro, who was finance minister at the time, retrospectively approved the payment of M688 160 to Tip Top Guesthouse, Mafeteng for Mr Tšolo and his bodyguards and driver from October 2018 to September 2019.
This after the latter had opted to stay in his home constituency instead of Maseru which is the seat of government. During the same period, Mr Tšolo drew M60 000 in housing allowances, bringing to the total spending on him and his staff to M748 160, the auditor general notes.
“I noted that the Minister of Finance (Majoro) issued a retrospective approval to the Prime Minister’s Office to pay a total amount of M688 160 to Tip Top Guesthouse in Mafeteng, for boarding and lodging of the former minister (Tšolo), his bodyguards and driver from October 2018 to September 2019,” Ms Besetsa states.
“I could not establish as to why the minister was not given a fully furnished rent-free government house instead of incurring unnecessary expenditure. During the period October 2018 to September 2019, the minister drew housing allowances totalling M60 000. The total expenditure for the minister amounted to M748 160 excluding fuel costs between Maseru and Mafeteng.”
Ms Besetsa indicates that the government could have saved M388 160 if it had rented a house at a cost of M30 000 for Mr Tšolo.
“Even if government houses were not available at that time, other options such as renting a house for him could have been considered with less cost. For example, a rented house at monthly cost of M30 000 would have cost M360 000 per annum and the government would have saved M388 160,” Ms Besetsa says.
She said this was not the first time she had questioned the government’s costly and unnecessary spending on ministers’ accommodation.
“I raised a similar concern in my 2016/17 audit report about the amount of M383 304 paid to a hotel for accommodation, meals and soft drinks for the then Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs who stayed in the hotel for 3 months.
“I then recommended that the law should be amended to cater for a short stay in a hotel or maybe for a period not exceeding 14 days while suitable accommodation is being sought. I therefore repeat my recommendation that government should amend the Members of Parliament Salaries Regulations to cater for the housing of ministers in cases where government houses are not available and ministers’ homes are far from Maseru,” Ms Besetsa said.
Contacted for comment, Mr Tšolo said he was not aware of Ms Besetsa’s findings.
“I know nothing about these issues and I am hearing about them for the first time from you,” Mr Tšolo said.
It never rains but pours for the controversial ex-minister who stands accused of fraudulently and corruptly approving the botched M1, 7 billion deal with Frazer Solar to supply Lesotho with solar power over four years.
The government is challenging the deal in the local and Gauteng High Court. This after Frazer Solar was awarded £50 million (M856 million) in damages by a South African arbitrator as compensation for the Lesotho government’s alleged breach of the deal.
Despite his denials, Frazer Solar insists it had a valid agreement that was signed by Mr Tšolo on behalf of the Lesotho government.