. . . as DC youths accuse cabinet of blocking corruption investigation
AS the internecine factional squabbles continue to tear the Democratic Congress apart, the party’s youth league says Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was stopped by “most cabinet ministers” from instituting a probe into corruption allegations against Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla.
The DC youth league executive committee also accuses Dr Khaketla of misrepresenting the reasons for cancelling a multimillion-maloti fleet tender for which they allege the minister solicited a M4 million bribe from one of the shortlisted firms.
The government cancelled the tender process in June this year, opting to instead extend its original six month contract with Bidvest Fleet Company into a new four-year contract for the South African company even though it had not bid for the cancelled tender.
Under the new contract, the government would buy 600 vehicles and hire another 600 from ordinary Basotho, with Bidvest only managing the fleet.
A joint venture company, Lebelonyane, which had been shortlisted for the tender to provide vehicles and related services to the government is now seeking a reversal of the decision in the courts. Lebelonyane argues it should have been awarded the contract after getting hold of a revised tender evaluation report that recommended them as the recipients of the tender.
Addressing a press conference in Maseru on Friday, DC youth league President Thuso Litjobo said Dr Mosisili was “shocked” by allegations Dr Khaketla demanded M4 million from Lebelonyane.
He said Dr Mosisili, who is also DC leader, was unsuccessful in instituting a probe into the issue in cabinet following a heated debate.
“We have information from some of our youth league members that when the prime minister was first informed about what transpired during the fleet tender process and the corruption thereof, he was shocked because that was not what he had been told by the Finance minister,” said Mr Litjobo.
“In fact, when Mme ’Mamphono addressed cabinet over her change of heart to stop the tender process and engage Bidvest, the reason she put before cabinet was the tender process was taking too long and that it was long overdue.
“But what she did not inform cabinet was that, at the time, an evaluation team had already finalised its report and recommended Lebelonyane. This prime minister was shocked when we exposed Mme ’Mamphono for presenting wrong information in cabinet and her attempt to solicit a bribe from Lebelonyane.”
Mr Litjobo said after hearing the allegations, Dr Mosisili “immediately” sought to investigate Dr Khaketla.
“However, we are informed a high-ranking minister quickly dismissed the prime minister’s intention to probe Mme ’Mamphono arguing ‘who else has ever been audited’?” he said.
“The issue created heated debate in cabinet, with the ministers ending up voting whether or not the audit should be instituted. Unfortunately for our prime minister, most cabinet ministers, including DC members in cabinet, voted against his decision. What does this tell you? You are the prime minister and your ministers vote against your decision to audit allegations of corruption by another minister!”
The DC youth league’s press conference was in response to Dr Khaketla’s press conference on Wednesday, in which the minister dismissed allegations she attempted to solicit a M4 million bribe from Lebelonyane.
Dr Khaketla repeatedly described the allegations as “baseless lies” saying she was being persecuted for her “strict management” of state and DC coffers as Finance minister and party treasurer respectively.
Dr Khaketla said her “biggest crime” in the view of the youths was not letting them do as they pleased with state and party finances. She has since demanded M6 million from Messrs Litjobo and Chafotsa Letuka (DCYL secretary-general) as compensation for the “defamatory statements” the duo issued against her.
The minister said she had been a “loyal servant” of the government of Lesotho for over 30 years, adding she would not be swayed by the youths’ negative talk.
“My take is there is more to this issue than they are letting on. I am being used as a bridge by these busy bodies in order to achieve their interests,” Dr Khaketla said.
“It is a known fact the DC recently held its elective conference in which I emerged as a winner against their wish; even after the votes were re-counted. It would seem these utterances are meant to continue their onslaught against me in the build-up to the elective conference. They accused me of keeping a tight leash on the party’s finances and, therefore, frustrating their efforts to get their hands on the money.”
However, in a counter-statement during the DCYL press conference, Mr Letuka said: “We are very disturbed by the Finance minister’s statement against us. We wonder if the minister is still one of us in the DC. Much as we don’t want to be personal with her, it is our responsibility to protect our party from acts of corruption within her ministry.
“We don’t have a problem with the fact that the minister has been working for the government for 37 years. But we are saying old habits die hard. If we can notice corruption from the minister today, it means this might have been her modus operandi in the past 37 years she has been in government.”
“The taller the tree, the more wind blows, so the more millions one needs for pension,” added Mr Letuka.
Contacted for a comment yesterday, Dr Mosisili’s Press Attaché Motumi Ralejoe, referred the Lesotho Times to DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, saying it was a party issue and “not at governmental level”.
However, repeated efforts to contact Mr Qoo yesterday were unsuccessful as his phone rang unanswered.
The unprecedented infighting in the ruling party has seen senior officials aligned to opposing factions trading insults and threats.
Two factions have emerged in the party, with Lithope (loosely translated to girlfriends) linked to Dr Mosisili and Lirurubele (butterflies) linked to his deputy and Police Minister Moleleki.