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Govt yet to pay quarantine centres six months on

Bereng Mpaki

THE government is yet to pay accommodation facilities that it is using as quarantine centres for suspected Covid-19 patients travelling from outside the country six months into their contracts.

While it could not be established how much the government is owing, the Lesotho Hotels and Hospitality Association (LHHA) estimates that the total bill could be in excess of M100 million.

The LHHA says the government owes at least 41 facilities, who are all its members, for accommodation, meals and associated expenses incurred since April 2020. It is unclear how many other facilities who are not necessarily members of the LHHA are owed by the government.

Addressing journalists this week, LHHA president ‘Marethabile Sekhiba said their businesses are in serious danger of collapsing due to severe cash flow challenges because of the government’s payment delays.

She said they have tried engaging the government but there has been no luck.

“None of the engaged accommodation facilities have received any payment from the government to date and this is a huge challenge to our businesses and families,” Ms Sekhiba said.

Many of the facilities raised their working capital by applying for loans from banks to finance their operations in the hope that the government would pay them timeously.

So dire is the situation that the businesses are struggling to pay the skeletal staff that has been working at their facilities for the last six months.

She said they are also struggling to pay their suppliers.

“The costs of taking care of suspected Covid-19 patients are higher than usual considering that we had to provide heating day and night during the winter season.”

Ms Sekhiba said their facilities were engaged without any government procurement orders and contracts and these were only addressed in July 2020 by the Ministry of Health.

“Among other things, the contracts we entered into with the ministry indicated that the facilities would produce monthly invoices which is what we did, and they indicated that we would be paid within 14 days.”

She said they have tried to engage different officials and departments including the Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko, the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) and the Ministry of Health but the efforts have been fruitless.

“We have even written to Prime Minster Moeketsi Majoro seeking his intervention and we are still awaiting his response.”

She said they have also written to the Bankers Association of Lesotho (BAL) and the Central Bank of Lesotho requesting to defer their loan repayments. They are yet to receive the responses.

They have even gone as far as approaching the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but they are yet to get a response.

Contacted for comment, Ministry of Health’s senior spokesperson, Tumisang Mokoai said their hands were tied after the Directorate on Crime and Economic Offences (DCEO) blocked all Covid-19 payments.

DCEO Director General Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole this week said the Ministry of Health officials have a case to answer over alleged corruption and violations of procurement regulations in the awarding of tenders for the procurement of goods and services for the fight against Covid-19.

Adv Manyokole has since ordered the ministry to stop paying suppliers until after the anti-graft body has concluded its investigations into the alleged violations of procurement procedures in the awarding of the tenders.

He gave the directive on 18 September 2020. This after the cabinet principal secretary, Kabelo Lehora, had turned to the DCEO to probe the Covid-19 tenders after being bombarded by the health ministry to expediate payments to service providers last month.

And Mr Mokoai said while they were aware that businesses were struggling, they had no option than to wait.

“This is a sensitive issue which we are aware is hurting many businesses whose services were procured, so the government wants the matter to be resolved as soon as possible,” Mr Mokoai said.

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