TWELVE Maseru-based entrepreneurs were on Thursday arrested for allegedly defrauding the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) of electricity units worth over M36 million over a period of three years.
The business owners were suspected of buying electricity units at a lower domestic rate instead of the commercial rate. The businesspeople allegedly bought the cheaper units from some LEC staff and not the company’s service centres or sales agents as should be the case.
“Over 30 businesses have been identified to be part of this scam in Maseru only, thereby costing the Company a loss of over M1 million per month over the three years that were investigated,” said the LEC in a statement.
The 12 business people who were arrested included nine Chinese, two Basotho and one Indian. Six LEC staff members have since been suspended on suspicion of involvement in the scam.
LEC Public Relations Manager Phumla Moleko told the Sunday Express the businesses found guilty of the offence would be given an opportunity to pay the money they owed, although criminal procedures would follow as investigations continue.
She said more arrests would be made since they had so far only covered Maseru, with the blitz set to continue in other districts of the country.
“LEC would like to appeal to all beneficiaries of the scam, be they businesses or domestic users, to report to the LEC headquarters in Maseru, in order to make arrangements to pay back the money worth the electricity units they consumed under this scam.
“This is the first operation by the police, it will extend to all districts and all categories of users until all of them have been arrested and/or reported themselves to LEC.
“The loss hinders the Company’s growth and ability to provide reliable electricity at all times due to the ageing electricity network which is expensive to maintain owing to such losses.”
Meanwhile, the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) has condemned businesses involved in such practices, saying they gave themselves an unfair advantage over their competitors.
“We cannot tolerate such behaviour as the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho. It gives the perpetrators an unfair advantage since they are able to incur lower production costs over other businesses that operate in a legitimate manner,” said PSFL Chief Executive Officer Thabo Qhesi.
“We, therefore, expect to see the law running its course on unscrupulous business owners.”
The Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) echoed the sentiment, saying such behaviour tarnished the image of the business community.
“Let us not forget that it takes two to tango in corruption. However, we do not condone what those businesses have done. We cannot be party to their acts which tarnish the image of our business community. We are expected to be exemplary in the community,” said LCCI General Secretary Fako Hakane.