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M140 million corruption probe stalls Senate building

…DCEO investigates Chief Accounting Officer

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is investigating corruption allegations into the M140 million Senate building tender that would see the Public Works and Transport Tender Panel and the Chief Accounting Officer, Mothabathe Hlalele questioned over the matter.

Mr Hlalele yesterday confirmed the DCEO has since written to him requesting for some documents, which he has already handed over, with regards to the Senate building tender.

The senate building, earmarked for construction at the Mpilo Hill in Maseru, is expected to cost the Government of Lesotho approximately M140 million which will be utilised in three phases of construction.

The National Assembly has so far received M40 million for the first phase of construction which is already behind schedule as it was supposed to have started at the end of last year.

Work was however, put on hold after the anti-corruption body received a report alleging that the tendering process was flawed.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Express, the DCEO Public Relations Officer, ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko, confirmed that investigations into the senate tender process were in progress.

“I can confirm that we received information pointing to alleged corruption in the Senate building procurement processes which was conducted by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport,” Ms Senoko said.

“Investigations into the matter are ongoing but I cannot divulge the details because that would jeopardise the investigations.”

However, trusted sources close to the tendering process told this publication that all hell broke loose when the Ministry of Public Works and Transport submitted a GP66 Form to the senate office in December last year requesting the latter to sign the document to confirm that the funds were available for construction work to begin on the Senate Office Complex at Mpilo Hill.

This, according to the sources, led to the filing of a complaint by the Senate President, ‘Mamonaheng Mokitimi to the DCEO alleging that there had been corruption in the tendering process.

“The DCEO is investigating the tender process following a formal complaint filed by the President of Senate sometime last year.

“Processes to begin the construction of the building have since been stopped as per the instruction from the DCEO,” one of the sources said, adding that, Mr Hlalele was accused of suspiciously bringing three companies back onto the tendering process despite their previous disqualification by the tendering board at the Ministry of Public Works.

Although the three companies were not named, it is said that the tendering board had already selected one Chinese company as its preferred bidder.

In 2014 Flash Construction (Pty) Ltd sued the Ministry of Public Works and Transport over an alleged flawed tendering process under case number CCA/0093/2014.

Another source alleged that Mr Hlalele instructed the evaluation board to reevaluate all the companies, including the lowest bidders when the Chinese company was selected.

Although the evaluation team from the Public Works ministry followed Mr Hlalele’s orders to evaluate all companies, it is alleged that they refused to sign off their evaluation outcomes.

“Without the signed documents from the evaluation team, the three companies could not be included in the selection process and therefore, evaluating them would have been a waste of time.

“Interestingly, one of the three companies, not selected initially was chosen as a preferred bidder. However, when the Public Works submitted forms to the Senate to confirm that they had funds to enable the ministry to start construction of the Senate building, the Senate President, Ms Mokitimi questioned the whole process,” the source said, adding that Ms Mokitimi accused PS Hlalele of corruptly awarding the tender.

Contacted for comment late last week, Ms Mokitimi refuted allegations that she wrote to the anti-corruption body accusing PS Hlalele of being corrupt.

“I never wrote any letter to the DCEO but what I can confirm is that a man from the DCEO called me on the Senate building issue and afterwards the DCEO wrote to inform me that we should not go ahead with the construction of the Senate offices as they were investigating allegations of corruption in the tendering process,” Ms Mokitimi said.

She said her office then approached the Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, to intervene in the matter.

“This is not the first time that allegations of corruption have been raised over the Senate office complex tendering process. In 2012 when I was the Deputy President of the Senate, some people went to court over the same matter.

“We hope that this issue will be resolved urgently as we are desperate for new offices and we really need the construction to resume as soon as possible,” Ms Mokitimi said.

Although Ms Mokitimi denied requesting the DCEO to investigate PS Hlalele, the latter however, said the investigations had been instigated by people in the Senate.

In an interview yesterday Mr Hlalele said he has nothing to hide with regards to the Senate building tender.

“As the ministry’s Chief Accounting Officer, it is my responsibility to make sure that my actions are in accordance with the laws of this country, which include the Public Service Act, the Constitution of Lesotho and regulations that govern tender procedures. In executing all my tasks, I consult with my Minister and other actors. And in this Senate tender, all operations were conducted within the confines of the laws of this country,” Mr Hlalele said.

He explained that while the ministry was smoothly managing other mega tenders of constructions in other ministries without any interference, he did not understand why some people from the Senate office were interfering in the tender proceedings for the construction of the building.

“I don’t understand why because we even requested them to send their representative when we were doing the re-evaluation and they did not respond.

“If truth can be told, I would like to indicate that we have been confronted with some challenges pointing to resistance and undue interference by some elements within the office of the Senate. My question since I noticed this disturbing interference is, which company is the Senate representing, because only the bidding companies should complain if they are not satisfied with the process? As far as I know, none of the companies have officially written to us to complain that we flouted some tender regulations or procedures,” Mr Hlalele said.

He also indicated that the meddling by some people from the Senate office was an open secret because the instruction for the GP66 form not to be signed was issued by one senior employee of the senate, despite not having legal authority to do so.

“We know this is what has been happening, but it is a good that there is an investigation by the DCEO and I am confident that they will get to the bottom of this matter. In fact, the DCEO wrote to me requesting some documents that could assist them in their investigations and I have handed them over. It is important for all those who expected me to be a rubber-stamp PS to know that I am not going to rubber-stamp corruption. It is my responsibility to question everything that passes through my desk and if I am not satisfied, it is my responsibility to make sure set procedures are followed.”

He said when he was appointed PS, he knew there were issues surrounding the Senate building construction tender and that proceedings were stagnant as a result.

“I analysed the documents and noticed that there were certain issues that were not adding up, and when I sought clarity, I could not get a satisfactory answer. Importantly, because of issues related to value for money, I wanted to understand why one of the lowest bidders were not awarded the tender. And I got strange excuses on why certain actions, which are mandatory were not taken. There is no reason why the government should spend a lot of money paying for a service that another company can equally execute and charge us reasonably. This ministry is not in the business of facilitating some people to milk the government. I am here to protect the government and ensure that all business transactions are transparently conducted. The buck stops with me as the Chief Accounting Officer of this ministry,” Mr Hlalele said.

He added, he had officially written to the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka and Attorney General’s office alerting them that there were “too many issues at play in the Senate office tendering process”.

In a separate interview, the National Assembly Prime Minister’s Ministries and Departments Cluster Committee chairperson ‘Matšepo Ramakoae said she was unable to comment on the matter as she was on holiday.

“I am on holiday and I am not be able to comment on the matter as the committee sat in my absence and was scheduled to meet again last Wednesday over the same issue. So it would not be proper for me to comment as I am not aware of the new developments in the matter,” Ms Ramakoae said.

After completing its investigations, the committee is expected to table its report to the National Assembly to adopt its findings and recommend the way forward.

The government’s initial plans to construct the Senate building had to be put on hold when allegations of corruption were made in 2014 by Flash Construction who sued the Ministry of Public Works and Transport over “a flawed tendering process”.

The lawsuit prompted the Attorney General’s office to write to the Clerk of Senate on 16 September, 2014 on the matter.

Part of the 2014 letter reads: “We have also noted, upon perusal of your savingram that the Senate is not happy with the manner in which the tendering and re-tendering process for the construction of Senate offices was carried out, such that an impression created is that Senate could even support Flash Construction”.

“On the basis of the foregoing, our advice is that, Senate and Ministry of Public Works and Transport should not be seen to be fighting each other, as they are both government departments,” reads part of the letter.

“There is no need for Senate to be joined as a party in the case before court. The challenge in the court case is directed at how the Ministry of Public Works went about the process of tendering. Senate was not involved in the process. While Senate has a vested interest in the construction of the offices, it should not be seen to be having an interest in which the company is awarded the works or which one has not been given the opportunity to tender. That will be going beyond the interest which the Senate should be expected to have in the matter.”

The AG’s office then advised the Senate and Public Works Ministry to resolve the matter internally.

 

 

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