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Cabinet deeply divided over Sole’s appointment

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — Cabinet is sharply divided over a decision to rehire convicted fraudster Masupha Sole at the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC), the Sunday Express can reveal.
Sole, a former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2003 for receiving bribes from companies involved in the construction of Katse and Mohale dams.
He was released on May 5 after spending only nine years in jail.
Four months later he was appointed chief technical advisor to the LHWC.
The LHWC supervises the LHDA which was established by Lesotho and South Africa to run the water project.
South Africa has objected to Sole’s appointment.
South Africa’s Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told her parliament two weeks ago that her objection to Sole’s appointment had been supported by a “comprehensive legal opinion”.
That legal opinion was submitted to the Lesotho cabinet which is said to have discussed it last week.
Sources say the move to oust Sole has ruffled feathers within the government of Lesotho with some backing Sole while others want him out.
“Last week some ministers wanted Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki to explain why Sole was appointed in the first place,” the source said.
“Even Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili himself was concerned although he did not expressively show his discontent.”
He added: “A number of ministers said the decision should be reversed.”
Government secretary, Tlohang Sekhamane, said he was not aware of any discussions involving Sole’s appointment as the matter was not discussed during last Tuesday’s formal cabinet meeting.
Sekhamane however said cabinet often holds informal meetings and he did not know if the issue was discussed during those meetings.
The Sunday Express understands that there is a group of ministers who are adamant that Sole has been rehabilitated and that he should be given a second chance to oversee the multi-billion water project.
Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla told the Sunday Express that cabinet was still “seriously discussing the matter”.
“The cabinet has not made a decision on the matter yet,” Lehohla said on Friday.
“Once a decision has been reached it will be published in the government bulletin.”
Sole, 60, was convicted of 13 counts of corruption and bribery. Dozens of international consultancy firms that gave bribes to Sole were also convicted and fined various amounts.
Some of the companies were barred from World Bank funded projects.
At that time Lesotho was praised for fighting graft.
Sole’s case was used a case study of countries that have fought graft amongst its senior officials and international companies.
The decision to hire was roundly criticised by opposition leaders who felt that it sends a wrong message to the world about Lesotho’s commitment to fighting corruption.
All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane said the decision to rehire Sole smacked of double standards by Moleleki.
He said when Sole was jailed Moleleki applauded the move saying “corrupt officials must suffer the full wrath of the law”.
Thabane said Moleleki should explain why Sole was now “being rewarded with such a critical position after he was convicted of corruption and fraud”.
Sello Maphalla, the deputy leader of the Lesotho Workers’ Party, described Sole’s appointment as “an insult and a mockery to everyone who is up in arms against corruption”.
Senkatana Party leader, Lehlohonolo Tšehlana, said when he first heard that Sole had been appointed he thought “it was a joke because it was unbelievable that someone could make such a decision”.
“I’m just wondering what Sole could have done right to deserve this appointment. Was he falsely convicted? Is he being returned a favour?” Tšehlana said.

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