- Demands cancellation of Bidvest vehicle fleet contract
- Distances itself from last Sunday’s protest march
Lekhetho Ntsukunyane and Pascalinah Kabi
THE Democratic Congress (DC) has dramatically broken ranks with the government over its decision to award a vehicle fleet contract to Bidvest Fleet Company, calling for its termination so it can be awarded to a joint venture company fighting the deal.
In an escalation of the internecine fights in the coalition government’s biggest party, the DC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has also distanced itself from a protest march organised by outspoken politician Bokang Ramatšella last Sunday and meant to show solidarity with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and the coalition government.
Addressing a drama-packed press conference at Lesotho Cooperatives College on Friday, the DC NEC members urged the government to “do the honourable thing” and award the vehicle fleet contract to the joint venture company comprising Fleet Service Lesotho (Pty) Ltd and Lebelonyane Fleet Solutions (Pty) Ltd.
The press conference was continually interrupted by the police who demanded a permit for holding the event. However, the DC officials refused to budge, saying a press conference did not require the police’s permission.
On behalf of the NEC, DC Deputy Secretary-General Refiloe Litjobo said the press conference was in line with the committee’s resolution during its sitting on 26 August 2016.
He said the resolution was necessitated by “unrelenting accusations and counter accusations of rampant corruption” relating to government tenders.
“The most topical of these polemics was the government fleet service tender, which has been awarded to Bidvest Bank Limited, under what appears to be very controversial circumstances,” said Mr Litjobo, who is also the brother of DC Youth League (DCYL) President Thuso Litjobo.
He said as the leading partner in a seven-member coalition government, it was the DC’s responsibility to ensure “transparency, accountability and good governance” in all public affairs in line with the Coalition Agreement of 2015.
The other parties in the coalition are Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Popular Front for Democracy, Marematlou Freedom Party, Basotho Congress Party, National Independent Party and Lesotho People’s Congress.
Turning to the vehicle fleet saga, Mr Litjobo noted the government decided to outsource fleet services from the private sector following the demise of its Pool Vehicle Plant Service (PVPS).
“This started with Imperial Fleet Services in 2002, followed by Seahlolo/Avis Joint Venture in 2007, which ended 30 October 2015.”
He said the country was now enduring a “heavy and unsustainable” burden of transport services from the Bidvest deal, “which appears to have been awarded the contract without having followed due process, as mandated by Procurement Regulation of 2007”.
“This unfortunate episode has adversely affected the fiscus, disturbed the economic equilibrium by overstretching the already high budget deficit by an additional three percent of the gross domestic product,” said Mr Litjobo.
“This leaves a very dark cloud hanging over the nation’s economic and financial health.”
He said the government had a “chequered” relationship with Bidvest.
“The current coalition government assumed office in April 2015. Cabinet offered a six-month transient fleet service provision with Avis on a month-to-month basis in order to make room for the appointment of a subsequent service provider.
“This transitory six-month period was to commence from October 2015. However, on 25 October 2015, the honourable Minister of Finance (Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla) made a statement in a press conference, whose effect was unilateral cancellation of that six-month transient contract arrangement with Avis Fleet Services and without following the due process replaced it with Bidvest Bank Limited.”
Mr Litjobo said during the 25 October 2015 press statement, Dr Khaketla had assured the nation that, since Bidvest had been given the six-month transitory contract without submitting any competitive bid, the South African firm would not be submitting any tender proposal for the government tender No. 7/2015-2016.
“To its credit, government did advertise to tender for long-term service provider, which ended with Fleet Service/Lebelonyane Joint Venture as the preferred bidder, as early as 26 May 2016,” he said.
“It should be noted that relentless efforts were made thereafter to circumvent the due process. In the event the processes had to be run twice in an effort to award the tender to a different company. But both times Fleet Service/Lebelonyane Joint Venture won the race and remained the winner. Thus they are clearly the preferred bidder.”
However, to the DC NEC’s “utter dismay”, Dr Khaketla announced to the National Assembly on 13 June 2016 that cabinet had on 7 June 2016, cancelled government tender No. 7/2015-2016 process, for which the joint venture firm had already been identified as the preferred bidder.
“In its place, the honourable Minister of Finance informed parliament that government had decided to revert to the old PVPS system, where government would buy 600 government vehicles and 600 more to be rented from the general public. On 30 May 2016, the cabinet sub-committee on the fleet services had apparently been advised that Fleet Service/Lebelonyane Joint Venture had been identified as the preferred bidder,” asserted Mr Litjobo.
“Ignoring these developments, the honourable Minister of Finance went on to inform parliament that cabinet had cancelled the tender process, against the spirit and letter of the Procurement Regulations of 2007; long after the tender panel had concluded its evaluation and identified the preferred bidder to tender No. 7/2015-2016.”
He added: “In her 13 June 2016 statement to parliament, honourable Minister of Finance also informed the nation that Bidvest had been afforded the four-year contract to supply the government with computerised fleet management system, which is a subcomponent of the government tender No.7/2015-2016, for which Bidvest had not tendered, in line with honourable minister’s earlier announcement in her press statement.
“It is of major concern to us that it is Bidvest again, which has been singled out to provide Lesotho government with 600 vehicles, without any competition with other vehicle finance houses in the country, in gross violation of Procurement Regulation of 2007.”
Lebelonyane is now seeking a reversal of the government’s decision in the courts, arguing it should have been awarded the tender after getting hold of a revised tender evaluation report that recommended them as the recipients of the tender.
Mr Litjobo said after whistle-blowers gave information pertaining to allegedly corrupt practices and illicit money transactions, “police were set on them in a desperate attempt to have them silenced”.
Mr Litjobo’s young brother Thuso and DCYL Secretary-General Letuka Chafotsa in July this year accused Dr Khaketla of attempting to solicit a M4 million bribe from the joint venture company.
However, Dr Khaketla, who is also DC treasurer, has denied the allegations, and since lodged a civil suit demanding M6 million from the duo as compensation for the “defamatory statements”.
Last month, three DCYL officials and six Lebelonyane directors skipped the country claiming they had received death threats and a tip off the police had been given “strict” instructions to torture them into disclosing who gave them a confidential evaluation report of the original fleet tender. The nine returned on 22 August after a three-member task team comprising the DC NEC officials fetched them from South Africa.
“It shall be recalled that such whistle-blowers included executive committee members of the DCYL. These youth leaders had to flee the country because their safety could not be guaranteed,” said Mr Litjobo.
“To rub salt to the wound in this Bidvest saga, a bribery attempt at honourable Minister of Finance’s residence was made to a senior government official, in order for the official to condone this clearly corrupt practice. We are reliably informed that very senior people in the coalition government have been privy to all these shenanigans.”
He stressed the DC had committed itself to a constitutional and parliamentary democracy that is characterised by a “transparent, responsive and clean government”.
“We are committed to ensuring a service delivery oriented government, with no room for perceived or real corrupt practices,” states Mr Litjobo.
“These principles are clearly articulated in the DC founding document – the party’s constitution – as well as the country’s constitution.
“When the DC became a leading member of the coalition government, it prominently articulated these principles in the Coalition Agreement. Our position is:
- We condemn in the strongest terms possible, any act of corruption within Lesotho’s government service, its parastatals and within private institutions;
- We condemn the persecution of the DCYL and NEC members, who are our trustworthy whistle-blowers, in exposing acts of corruption apparently perpetrated in our very own government;
- DC NEC wishes to implore the Lesotho government to terminate its contractual relationship with Bidvest Bank Limited, as far as government fleet services is concerned. In its place, the government should do the honourable thing and award the contract to Fleet Service/Lebelonyane Joint Venture, since it has won the said tender fairly, where due process was followed;
- DC – NEC disassociates itself fully from these articulated corrupt practices, associated with this government fleet provision and any others that may yet to be uncovered;
- NEC does not have powers over appointment, disciplinary and removal of ministers and government officials. However, NEC recommendation that those identified as contravening procurement procedures should severely be dealt with accordingly. We also recommend that parliament should hold government to account by vigilantly exercising its oversight function, over government ministries and institutions, including the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences and the police, in order to ensure they investigate all matters of corruption reported to them. In particular, we wish to see the Bidvest case being investigated expeditiously and thoroughly;
- We wish to assure Lesotho’s development partners, who continue to support the nation’s development efforts that DC will not countenance any level of corruption, irrespective of who the perpetrator might be. We appeal to these valued partners to continue to offer technical assistance to the country’s oversight institutions, in order to ensure a corruption-free society;
- While DC promotes the notion of civilian control of the various security forces, the party maintains its position on its policy of non-interference by any political formation in the affairs of the Lesotho Defence Force, the Lesotho Mounted Police Services, the National Intelligence Services and the Lesotho Correctional Services.
The DC NEC also lent its weight to party Secretary-General Ralechate ’Mokose’s letter distancing the party “from the arrangement, preparation and execution of the 8th September 2016 march, which was planned to show support to the Prime Minister and government”.
The DC’s snub of the march escalated the unprecedented infighting in the ruling party which threatens to tear the party apart.
Conspicuous by his absence at the march was DC deputy leader Monyane Moleleki who, instead, held a rally in his Machache constituency. The Police minister told supporters he felt “insulted” by Mr Ramatšella’s invitation to participate in the protest march.
Meanwhile, in his address to coalition government supporters who participated in the march, Dr Mosisili said it was worrying that “a minister” had chosen not to attend the protest march held in solidarity with the “prime minister and the same government that minister is part of” without elaborating.
Two factions have emerged in the DC, with Lithope (loosely translated to girlfriends) linked to Dr Mosisili and Lirurubele (butterflies) linked to Mr Moleleki.
Contacted for comment yesterday, police spokesperson, Superintendent Clifford Molefe said: “I cannot say much about what transpired at the DC press conference yesterday because they didn’t invite the police.
“But what the public should know is the Lesotho Mounted Police Service is only controlled by Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa and no-one else. He is the only one vested with powers to instruct the police, as per the Police Act of 1998. It is not true the police are being used by politicians – no. The commissioner is the only person who says ‘jump’ and any police officer will say ‘how high, sir?’ He calls the shots.”
Efforts to reach Dr Khaketla were fruitless yesterday. The minister has repeatedly requested the Sunday Express to stop contacting her over the vehicle fleet tender matter.
However, in her answering affidavit to the joint venture’s court challenge filed last Monday, Dr Khaketla argues the government was within its rights to cancel the multi-million maloti vehicle fleet tender adding she made the decision together with the entire cabinet.
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