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State workers steal COVID-19 donations

  • Health ministry engages army to guard and distribute equipment as a result of the theft

Limpho Sello

Police have arrested a National Reference Laboratory (NRL) employee and another from the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Services (LBTS) for allegedly stealing surgical masks and other protective equipment donated by Chinese businessman and philanthropist Jack Ma.

The stolen equipment is meant to help Lesotho to combat the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has infected more than two million worldwide.

The first batch of the equipment arrived in the country three weeks ago and the theft of some of that equipment has resulted in the Health ministry engaging the  Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in the storage and distribution of the second batch of donations to ensure it is not misappropriated and used for the benefit of criminal elements.

The second batch of donations arrived in the country on Friday.

According to the Police Spokesperson, Superintendent (Supt) Mpiti Mopeli, the two suspects are a 46-year-old woman employed as an office assistant at the NRL and a 45-year-old male employed as a driver at the LBTS.

Supt Mopeli said the suspects allegedly stole two boxes of surgical masks and another box containing an assortment of other protective gear from the NRL on Tuesday. He said upon their arrest, the duo had already sold the surgical masks for M3200 and they were still looking for buyers for the other protective equipment.

He said the police recovered one box of surgical masks from the person it had been sold to. The police also recovered only M800 of the M3200 realised from the sale of the surgical masks and another box of surgical masks allegedly stolen by the driver from Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru.

“By the time they were arrested, the suspects had already sold each box of surgical masks for M1600 and they were still looking for buyers for the other personal protective gear,” Supt Mopeli said.

“However, one box was recovered from the person who had bought it from the suspects and we also recovered M800 out of the proceeds the suspects received for the sale of the equipment.”

Supt Mopeli said the suspects had since been arrested and the police were now awaiting a directive from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane to charge them with theft.

The stolen equipment is part of the consignment donated by Mr Jack Ma to Lesotho and other African countries late last month.   All in all, Lesotho received a consignment of 20 089 COVID-19 test kits, 741 personal protection equipment (PPE), 100 000 surgical masks and 1111 face shields from the Chinese businessman’s Jack Ma and the Alibaba foundations.

Supt Mopeli said following the theft of some of the equipment, the police have started their own follow up investigations to ensure the equipment reached all the intended beneficiary public health institutions and it is being used for its intended purpose.

Meanwhile, the Health Minister, Nkaku Kabi, has said his ministry has resolved to engage the LDF in the storage and distribution of the donated equipment to ensure it is not misappropriated and used for the personal benefit of rogue state employees.

He made the remarks on Friday when he received the received the second batch of donations by the Jack Ma foundations at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport.

Flanked by LDF officials, Mr Kabi said, “we decided to involve the LDF because we encountered challenges of theft of the first batch of donated equipment by some of the state employees”.

“When we received the first batch, the National Drug Service Organisation (NDSO) distributed it to all the facilities and in the process some of the equipment was stolen. That is why this time we have involved the LDF so that we don’t burden the NDSO with having to answer some tough questions about the disappearance of equipment.”

He said the LDF would keep the equipment safely before its distribution to beneficiary public health institutions.

On her part, the Deputy Minister of Health, Manthabiseng Phohleli, expressed shock at the theft of the first batch of equipment.

The Director General of Health Services, Dr Nyane Letsie, said the law should take its course and they were waiting to be informed when the suspects would eventually appear in court.


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