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Govt speaks on PM’s new trade adviser

by Sunday Express
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. . . amid uproar over appointment

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE appointment of Maseru businessman Xie Yan as Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s special projects head and trade adviser is meant to foster foreign investment in Lesotho and thereby create jobs.

This is the stance of the four-party coalition government in light of the outcry over Mr Yan’s appointment this past week.

Mr Xie, who is a Lesotho citizen of Chinese origin, was appointed as Lesotho Head of Special Projects and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy and Trade Advisor on China-Asia Trade Network last Monday.

The appointment has torched a storm, with opposition parties and other stakeholders arguing that the controversy surrounding Mr Xie’s business dealings disqualified him from assuming such a position.

Critics of the move have also argued that the government risked being “captured” by influential people akin to the Gupta family in South Africa.

According to Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) spokesperson Teboho Sekata, there were many experts who qualified for the role without Mr Yan’s “baggage”.

Mr Xie has been linked to a controversial M7 million tender to supply police uniforms allegedly without following the requisite procurement processes.

Mr Xie promised to get back to this publication when contacted by this paper yesterday to comment on the allegations, but had not done so at the time of going to press.

“The appointment is an insult to all the people who qualify for the job,” said Mr Sekata.

“It, however, does not come as a surprise since we have previously seen foreigners being appointed to such high ranking positions. We have seen it happen before with the appointment of the Guptas.”

In 2014, Atul Gupta was appointed as a special advisor to Dr Thabane along with his nephew, Essa Omar Aziz. The duo were given diplomatic passports which were later cancelled by former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.

The LCD publicist said they “expected better” from the government in light of the controversial vehicle fleet tender the previous government inked with Bidvest Bank Limited.

The Dr Mosisili-led previous administration decided to cancel the deal in March this year after admitting that the South African financial institution had milked government of millions of maloti and that the bills were spiralling to a point where it was difficult to pay them off.

“The Bidvest fleet management tender caused such an uproar mainly because it was controlled by outsiders and contributed to the demise of the previous regime,” Mr Sekata said.

“Yet, today we are expected to turn a blind eye to the appointment of a foreigner in such a high ranking office.”

Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention cobbled together parliamentary seats with the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) after the 3 June 2017 National Assembly elections resulted in a hung parliament.

They ousted a seven-party coalition government which had unravelled over infighting in Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress primarily over the Bidvest deal.

Dr Thabane’s Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, said it was not true that Mr Xie was a foreigner as Mr Sekata alleged, since he was a naturalised Lesotho citizen of Chinese origin.

Mr Thakalekoala said the appointment was meant to leverage Mr Xie’s “extensive business connections” to foster foreign direct investment in Lesotho and create jobs for Basotho.

“The prime minister has appointed him (Mr Xie) because he has extensive business connections in the Far East and can connect Lesotho with investors from that region to better the lives of Basotho and the economy of the country,” he said.

Communications Minister Joang Molapo echoed the sentiment in an interview with LeNA, saying the appointment would open doors for foreign investments and job creation.

BNP spokesperson, Machesetsa Mofomobe, said it was Dr Thabane’s prerogative to appoint anyone he feels advances his agenda.

“I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. What’s important for us as a people is to get investors for the benefit of Basotho,” said Mr Mofomobe, who is also Home Affairs deputy minister.

“We live in a democratic dispensation where everyone is innocent until proven guilty and we can’t have Xie being convicted by the public while the courts of law have never convicted him of any crime.”

AD Secretary-General Mokhele Moletsane concurrd with Mr Mofomobe saying Dr Thabane reserved the right to make appointments in his office.

“The appointment was made in the prime minister’s office. Even though we are in a coalition, we don’t meddle in the areas under the purview of other parties,” he said.

For her part, RCL Deputy Secretary-General ’Maseithati Mabeleng expressed “total support” for the decision.

“We fully support this appointment as we want to believe it will benefit Basotho through investments and jobs. We can’t think of a better person than Mr Xie as he already has connections in China in particular and Asia in general,” the RCL official said.

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