MASERU — The battle for the control of the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) turned nasty on Friday when members of the two warring factions almost came to blows at a press conference.
Tempers flared when the new PSFL board that claims to have voted out Osman Moosa as chairman on May 24 hijacked the press conference called by the former board.
Moosa had called the press conference at Lancer’s Inn to deny claims that he and his board had been booted out.
He wanted to explain that according to the PSFL regulations he was still the chairman.
But he did not get the chance to address journalists because the new board hijacked the press conference, arguing that Moosa had lost the authority to speak on behalf of the foundation after his removal as chairman.
The new board is led by businesswoman Leonia Mosothoane who had been fighting to have Moosa removed since he was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in August last year.
Journalists were waiting for the PSFL chief executive officer, Thabo Qhesi, to start the conference when the drama started.
Lebohang Thotanyana, who claims to be the deputy chairman of the new board, sat at the front table and announced that he was starting the press conference.
That announcement angered Moosa who sat fuming on the other side of the hall.
“Who are you to announce that you are starting our press conference? What you are doing Ntate Thotanyana is unwelcome,” Moosa said.
Thotanyana tried to explain that he was entitled to address the press conference because he was a member of the new board but Moosa would have none of that.
“Those who want to hear what we were going to say are invited to the Selkol boardroom. We have to change the venue,” Moosa said.
Selkol is Moosa’s company that was heavily fined for tax dodging and fraud.
Moosa and members of his faction walked out of the hall but the argument continued in the lobby.
One Sethathi, a member of the ousted board, approached Thotanyana and started pointing a finger at him.
“Don’t point a finger at me,” Thotanyana retorted as Sethathi kept advancing towards him as if he was just about to punch him.
“I hate what you are doing. I don’t want men pointing fingers at me,” he said.
Sethathi only stopped when Montsuoe Lethoba, a newly sworn-in MP for Pela-Tsoeu, who is also of Moosa’s board, urged him to leave.
Lethoba also shouted at Thotanyana but quickly turned away when Thotanyana told him that he should behave like an MP.
“What kind of an MP are you? I am going to report you to parliament for misbehaving in public,” Thotanyana said.
Sources close to the issue told the Sunday Express that the factions are fighting because whoever controls the PSFL will be well positioned to benefit from lucrative tenders in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP)’s M7.3 billion Polihali Dam project in Mokhotlong.
Both factions are reportedly eyeing contracts from the project.
The fight intensified after the foundation formed a special committee to explore business opportunities in the project.
The plan is to form a large consortium of local businesses that will be able to muscle in on the contracts.
The problem, however, is that some members of the foundation believe that if Moosa remains chairman he will use his financial muscle to monoplise the contracts.
Moosa has won big government tenders even after his reputation as a businessman had been tainted by a conviction.
Some PSFL members fear that his criminal record might jeopardise the consortium’s chances of winning big contracts in the Polihali Dam project.
“It is feared that Basotho constructors and other small businesses will get very little from the profitable dam project while Moosa and foreign investors will benefit at the end of Polihali construction,” said a PSFL member who refused to me named.
Qhesi told the Sunday Express on Friday that it was not true that Moosa was positioning for contracts in the project.
“As we speak now the details of the Polihali project are not known and it is wrong to assume that members of the PSFL are positioning themselves for what they do not know,” Qhesi said. Moosa, his son Shameen Moosa and their company Selkol 1983 (Pty) Ltd were convicted of 198 counts of tax evasion in August last year.
The High Court ordered the company and its directors to pay M6.1 million in fines and taxes owed to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
The High Court sentenced Osman Moosa to six years imprisonment or pay a fine of M500 000 for 51 counts.
He was also sentenced to a further six years in jail which was suspended for five years on condition that he shall not be convicted of fraud involving taxation or contravening the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act.
Last year Lesotho and South Africa signed an agreement to start the LHWP Phase II.
The project will include the construction of the Polihali Dam and the expansion of the ’Muela Hydropower Station in Butha-Buthe to generate more electricity for the two countries.
Water from Polihali will be used to generate electricity at ’Muela Hydropower Station.
Polihali Dam is expected to be completed in 2017.