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Thabane brews another shocker


Premier enlists the services of three foreign advisors — among them South Africa-based Indian businessman Atul Kumar Gupta — without informing his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing

Bongiwe Zihlangu

Atul Kumar Gupta
Atul Kumar Gupta

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has enlisted the services of three foreign special advisors and issued them with diplomatic passports — a move his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, said he was not aware of yesterday.
The Sunday Express has since established that one of the advisors is Atul Kumar Gupta — an Indian businessman who is now resident in South Africa, where he has since made a fortune in mining, air travel, energy, technology and the media.

According to sources privy to the appointments, the other special advisor is another South Africa-based Indian tycoon by the name of Essa Omar Aziz.
The Sunday Express could, however, not immediately establish the name of the third advisor, but who is also said to be of Indian origin and based in South Africa.

Thabo Thakalekoala, the Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, would not reveal the names of the three special advisors when contacted for comment yesterday, but confirmed their appointment and the specific role they are supposed to play.

Mr Thakalekoala said: “As a country still trying to establish itself economically, Lesotho has the prerogative to appoint professionals with the necessary experience to market it internationally.
“It is also the prime minister’s prerogative to appoint people who market Lesotho abroad and who have the experience in sourcing investment for the country.
“Such professionals do not necessarily have to be Basotho and, as such, the three were appointed because they have exerted themselves in their respective professional fields.
“This is not a first. Past governments have done it and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is well aware of this situation.”

According to Mr Thakalekoala, the special advisors would not be on government’s payroll “because they are honorary consuls”.
But he added: “They will not be paid per se, but as with people who execute duties assigned to them, they will be given tokens of appreciation.
“The diplomatic passports are given as proof that they are Lesotho envoys and to give them credibility as they represent Lesotho abroad.
“Those passports are the property of the Lesotho government, to be returned once their job is done.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Express has since obtained a copy of the memo which resulted in the three advisors being issued with the diplomatic passports.
The memo, dated July 18, 2014, was written by Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo, to the ministry’s Principal Secretary, the Director of Passports and Chief Legal Officer.
The memo, which was copied to the Home Affairs Deputy Minister, reads: “The Right Honourable Prime Minister has nominated a number of persons (three to date), as Special Advisors.
The three persons are foreign nationals and will be engaged in various projects as per the Prime Minister’s directive.

“He has requested that they be issued with Lesotho Diplomatic Passports in order to allow them to undertake their actions under Lesotho’s legal protection.
“I require that this process be undertaken in full and proper adherence to the laws of Lesotho. Can the Director-Passport Services and Chief Legal Officer meet to review the request and then ensure that all legal processes are followed.

“I understand that a gazette is also required and I request that it be prepared for publication.”
Contacted for more information regarding the special advisors, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing told the Sunday Express he was not aware of the appointments.
“This is news to me but I will follow up this matter with the Office of the Prime Minister,” Mr Metsing said.
Home Affairs Minister Chief Molapo was not available for comment as his mobile phone rang unanswered.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC), led by Dr Thabane, Mr Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and the Basotho National Party (BNP) led by Thesele ‘Maseribane, formed a coalition government after the May 26, 2012 general election had failed to produce a single party with an outright majority to enable it to form government on its own.

However, relations between the three partners have soured in recent months over Dr Thabane’s alleged failure to consult his fellow coalition leaders when making key decisions with a bearing on good governance and the country’s economic wellbeing.

Mr Metsing has been particularly vocal over this non-consultation, which nearly saw government disintegrating two months ago after the LCD announced it was forming an alliance with the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC).

South African president Jacob Zuma — who apparently is a close friend of the Gupta family — the Southern African Development Community, and Commonwealth, are currently mediating in the fallout between the three partners.

However, despite the intervention, a breakthrough is yet to be made in the impasse.

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