… Public Accounts Committee comes under the spotlight for its role in Home Affairs staffer’s death
EMOTIONS yesterday ran high at the burial of the late Ministry of Home Affairs procurement officer, Khahliso Soro, in Ha-Pita, Maseru as relatives and friends told of how traumatised he had become in the days leading up to his death.
The 39-year-old Mr Soro, who also headed the government’s celebrations committee, was found dead early this month near his home in Ha- Pita almost a week after he went missing. His decomposing body was found in an unoccupied house near his own residence by children who had been playing nearby.
Soon after his death, his family said they suspected that he could have been murdered after he allegedly received death threats from some high-ranking officials in the ministry.
His mysterious death has left tongues wagging as he died a few weeks after he promised the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that he would name and shame high-ranking officers in the Home Affairs ministry who had embezzled public funds.
The alleged embezzlement is said to have occurred during the first Thomas Thabane-led coalition government that comprised of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). The first coalition lasted from 2012 to 2015.
Yesterday the Principal Secretary in the Home Affairs ministry, ’Machaba Lemphane-Letsie, joined Mr Soro’s relatives and friends in appealing to the PAC to conduct its business in private to ensure greater protection for officials who expose corruption.
“I hope that PAC will look into the way it conducts its sessions so that Mr Soro will be the last person to die after they have named and shamed corrupt officials,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie said.
Ms Lemphane-Letsie said before Mr Soro’s disappearance, she had approached the chairperson of the PAC Selibe Mochoboroane and requested that they hold the session off camera to avoid victimisation of ministry officials but to no avail.
“I could tell that some of the officials were cracking with pressure from the questioning and thus had asked that the sessions be conducted off camera to get more information but unfortunately my plea was not heeded.
“That was the last time I saw Mr Soro alive. I feel very small to be standing here because he was not sick,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie said.
Mr Mochoboroane yesterday confirmed receiving the request.
“Yes, she (Ms Lemphane-Letsie) approached us and requested that we hold the sessions off camera and we agreed that we would do so after lunch as it was towards the lunch break. However, their (the ministry’s) legal officer refused and insisted that the sessions commence on camera,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
Mr Soro’s friend, Zongezile Dlangamandla said the PAC was portraying public servants as thieves while the committee enjoys being televised.
“I hope that the PAC will look into the way that it conducts its business and the damage it is causing the relatives and their kids. Our kids are tormented by their peers in school and no one says anything about their suffering.”
Mr Dlangamandla appealed to principal secretaries to protect their subordinates whenever they are taken for questioning by the PAC.
“Please don’t put us in the spotlight. Let’s help one another and we will always be there to give you the documents that you require from us,” Mr Dlangamandla said.
“Soro was a genius and a quick thinker. He made swift decisions and he is irreplaceable. We believe that with his death, PAC shall review the way it conducts their sessions,” Mr Dlangamandla said.
Early this month, the Soro family said it suspected that he could have been murdered after he allegedly received death threats from some high-ranking officials in the ministry.
And yesterday Habasheane Soro said his brother troubles started after his appearance before the PAC on 15 August 2018.
“His problems started after he appeared before the PAC where he was told to bring some documents to support what he had said before the PAC,” Mr Habasheane said.
“He went for a break on that day and was expected to return when he received a phone call from an anonymous caller who told him that he was monitoring his every move. The caller also told him to go back to the PAC and retract everything that he had said.”
Mr Habasheane said the anonymous calls continued during the PAC proceedings and the deceased ignored them.
“The caller even proved that they were indeed monitoring my brother as they told him where he was. It is against this background that my brother tried to flee the country because when we called him later, he told us that he was at the border leaving the country and had said he could see that it would not be easy for him to go back to the session,” he said.
Mr Habasheane said on the day his brother never made it home.
“He only came home around 3am the next day. He didn’t have his phone on him and his hands were full of blood and he looked very frustrated and it’s then that we took him to a psychiatrist as he seemed a troubled man even after his return.”
According to Mr Habasheane the deceased was supposed to go back to PAC.
“He went out of the house on that morning and we thought he was going to buy a cigarette but he never came back. Days went by without a trace of him and we didn’t know where to find him as he no longer had a phone until his body was found.”
Mr Habasheane says Mr Soro’s body was found in the house which was still locked but had broken windows.
“From our observation we inferred that he had been dumped in that house through one of the broken windows because his face was covered in blood and we could tell that he had bled through the mouth and the nostrils.”
“We were told (by the pathologist) that both his lungs had blood in them and clung to the ribs and there was also a deep wound at the back of his head,” Mr Habasheane said.
He said the pathologist also said there was something abnormal in his stomach though it could not be associated with poisoning while his face was swollen.
Another relative, Mohau Soro said when his brother’s body was found, he was dressed in unfamiliar clothes.
“When he resurfaced he was not wearing his clothes and we still wonder what happened to him.”
’Makutloano Lekoane, the late Mr Soro’s colleague lauded the latter for his hard work and dedication to his work.
“He was a brave person given the risks that come with our job. It is a shame that he had to die this way. Our job is very risky and we have just come up with a proposal to ask the authorities to make our office autonomous as we always strive for accountability,” Ms Lekoane said.