BLOEMFONTEIN — Bothatha Mahlala, the middleman accused of helping himself to millions of maloti meant for rentals for Basotho students studying in South Africa, says the Lesotho government is lying.
Mahlala said the allegations that the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) paid him in advance for this year’s rentals are false because the government still owes him money.
For three years Mahlala has acted as a middleman between the NMDS and South African landlords who provide accommodation to Basotho studying in South Africa on government bursaries.
For every Mosotho student who stayed at a property under his management, Mahlala would get a commission.
He would raise an invoice with the NMDS which in turn would deposit the rentals into his account for payment to the landlords.
Mahlala would transfer the money to the landlords after cutting his share of the cake.
So when news last week that 500 Basotho children studying at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein were stranded and facing eviction because the NMDS owed rent, the government went on the offensive and pointed fingers at Mahlala.
The Ministry of Finance — under which the NMDS falls — rushed to defend itself.
The ministry accused Mahlala of receiving payment for rent from the government but keeping it for himself instead of forwarding it to the property owners according to a standing arrangement.
The ministry’s acting principal secretary, Liengoane Lefosa, said at a meeting on Tuesday, also attended by NMDS officials, Mahlala had admitted that he received this year’s rentals in advance but failed to explain why he had not given the landlords their share.
Lefosa said Mahlaha had failed to deliver on his promise to settle the rental arrears by Wednesday.
She said apart from receiving this year’s rentals in advance Mahlala had also been overpaid.
But in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express, Mahlala has fired back, accusing the government of lying that it had paid the rentals in full.
Instead, he said, the government “owes me just over a million rands”.
Mahlala said although the meeting that Lefosa mentioned did take place it was not true that he had admitted having been paid in full.
“They tabulated the money that they said they paid me and we agreed on the amount,” said Mahlala, who claims to be the “first black person to enter into this business of providing accommodation to students”.
“I never admitted that they paid me in full,” he said.
Mahlala said he had not paid some of the money to the landlords because he was still waiting for the government to pay the outstanding amount.
“It is also false that I was overpaid,” he added.
“If anything, the government owes me money.”
Mahlala, who claimed to be charging a commission of between six and eight percent for every student, said he was shocked when government officials told him that they had been overpaying him for the past three years and that they were expecting him to repay the money.
“I told them that I did not understand why they were saying I had been overpaid because student accommodation cannot be charged like a hotel (per night),” he said.
“They wanted me to charge for 10 months (the time that students actually stay in the hostels) instead of 12 months as is the case everywhere.”
“You charge per term,” he added.
Asked what he claimed the government owed him, Mahlala said: “It should be a million but I don’t have the exact figure.”
Mahlala alleged that the government’s claims that the NMDS had paid in full were also false.
“I billed them M20 800 per every student for this year but they paid M19 000 per student,” he said.
“That means they still owe me money.
“It is therefore false that they have paid in full.”
Mahlala said this was the first time that he had been told that he had been overpaid.
“I have been submitting my invoices for the past three or four years,” he said.
“How can they possibly try to tell me now that I have been overpaid?
“And they told me this verbally.”
He alleged that some officials at the NMDS and other landlords in South Africa were trying to sabotage him so that they could benefit from the same business.
Mahlala said during Tuesday’s meeting, Omni Estate — an agency in charge of properties accommodating Basotho students studying at CUT — had overstated the amount he allegedly owed it.
This, he said, was part of the plan to sabotage him.
“They are part of the group of people who are trying to destabilise me so they could get the business,” he said.
He also accused some of the landlords of switching off power to student residences “so that they give the impression that I have failed”.
Mahlala alleged that some officials at the NMDS could be bringing allegations of overpayment to frustrate him because he refused to bribe them.
He said a senior female official at the NMDS had approached him sometime last year with an offer to give him more students in exchange for M100 000 in cash.
“They were two but the senior official was very upfront,” Mahlala said.
“She said she wanted to give me more students for my flats but she wanted me to pay her M100 000 first.
“She was adamant but I refused because it was not right.
“She said I should think about it.
“I cannot name her at the moment but I believe she is the one who is now trying to make me suffer.”