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Corruption watchdog comes under fire

MASERU –– The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) has been accused of allegedly declining to investigate a big company and another case involving the police.

The two separate cases involve the Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) and the police.

In the first case, an insurance broker, ’Mathabo McCloy, wrote to the DCEO urging it to investigate the government-owned Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG)’s relationship with a local law firm, Webber Newdigate.

McCloy filed the complaint on September 14, 2007.

McCloy wanted the DCEO to investigate allegations that Webber Newdigate was helping LNIG to avoid paying compensation to third-party motor vehicle accident victims.

LNIG is supposed to pay third-party insurance to road accident victims.

The funds for third-party accident victims come from a portion of money that is taxed on every litre of fuel sold in Lesotho.

Potential beneficiaries of this compensation are passengers and people knocked down by vehicles.

Other potential beneficiaries include people injured in an accident in which the driver is at fault.

McCloy told the DCEO in her 2007 letter that she suspected that the Motor Vehicle Insurance Order of 1989 was being misused to benefit LNIG.

“We have reason to believe that the administration of this order is practised in the most corrupt and unfair manner which warrants your intervention to avoid more suffering to those it affects,” McCloy said in the letter.

McCloy said LNIG wrongfully declined to pay or settle 250 claims of her clients “under cover of a legal technicality”.

She accused LNIG of refusing to settle the claims on the basis that their time had lapsed despite that it received all necessary information prior to the expiry date but “deliberately withheld settlement till prescription date”.

McCloy wanted the DCEO to investigate whether there had been any information without which LNIG could not pay the motor vehicle accident victims or whether it did not settle the claims for no reason.

She also requested an audit of amounts paid in the form of fees to LNIG’s lawyers, Webber Newdigate, for the claims they have left to prescribe.

“What were they paid for? Could it be for having saved LNIG money?” McCloy wrote.

“We see no reason why only Webber and LNIG should benefit from the fund in cases where they have not performed their duty as expected or as prescribed by the relevant law, while the injured persons get no compensation at all.”

McCloy complained that Webber Newdigate left the claims dates to expire and alleged that summons should have been issued earlier before the expiry date as prescribed by the law.

“This is most unreasonable since this law was passed to make settlement of claims easier without having to resort to courts unless it is necessary,” she said.

“It is most unfair bearing in mind the fact that going to court requires money.

“Most claimants cannot afford this expense while LNIG have a huge fund at their disposal from which their legal representatives are paid for every step they take, every letter they write and every court appearance.

“In this circumstance why can’t victims of motor vehicle accidents draw from the same fund to defend?

“How else can they afford to go to court?”

McCloy said in some cases summons were issued to stay claims’ expiry dates but victims could not afford to pay further fees to continue their cases, Webber Newdigate sued them for cost of suit.

“If your investigations should reveal that LNIG and Webber have been acting properly, fairly, justly, in good faith and in compliance with the law and with the best interests of motor vehicle victims, then it would mean the law itself is not just,” she said.

McCloy told the Sunday Express that the DCEO declined to investigate this matter on the grounds that it did not fall within its mandate.

“When they did not respond in writing I went to their office to ask why and I was verbally told that this case did not fall within their mandate,” she said.

The second case involved the Police Commissioner ’Malejaka Letooane who two local firms sued for awarding a contract to supply the police with uniforms to a United States company that had been disqualified during tender process.

Smally Trading Company and Noko Enterprises wanted the DCEO to investigate how Letooane and the home affairs ministry reached the decision to award the contract to Ferrini USA Inc despite it having been disqualified because it did not meet the set requirements.

Ferrini was disqualified on the basis that it failed to provide mandatory formal requirements such as tax clearance, licence and samples to show how it would comply with the technical specifications.

Eight local companies had also tendered and complied with all requirements, according to court papers.

The tender panel told bidders that it would meet and consider if the qualified companies met the technical specifications.

The companies were later invited to a debriefing session where they were informed that none of them qualified.

They were given reasons for their failure.

They were also told that the procurement unit had recommended that a re-tender had to be issued and the tender panel approved the recommendation.

The companies told the court that they were surprised to later learn that Ferrini had been identified as the supplier.

The DCEO said it could not investigate this matter because it did not see anything warranting investigation.

The companies told the High Court in their affidavits that the DCEO said it did not see any corrupt activity in the dealings of Ferrini and the police commissioner.

The DCEO spokesperson, Litelu Ramokhoro, said he could not comment because this paper approached him on Friday after lunch (2:30pm) –– a time he said was after his working hours.

Ramokhoro when contacted earlier, had asked to be called after lunch because he was in a meeting.

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