A vicious power-struggle between the Ministry of Forestry’s Director of Forestry, Elias Sekaleli, and Acting Financial Controller, Limpho Phafoli, has brought a M1.4 million project to a complete standstill.
The project is being funded by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), and was launched in October last year and seeks to find out why Lesotho is failing to develop meaningful forests despite engaging in numerous tree-planting initiatives.
However, squabbling between Ms Phafoli and Mr Sekaleli has stalled the initiative which was expected to open doors to bigger land reclamation-related projects and employment opportunities to thousands of Basotho.
A letter dated 14 January 2016 written by Mr Sekaleli to Ms Phafoli highlights the bad blood between the two and how the infighting has affected the Forestry Initiative for Landscape and Livelihoods Improvements (FILLI).
In the letter, Mr Sekaleli accuses Ms Phafoli of being the “culprit for the complete halt to the entire project implementation”, allegedly through refusing to release funds for assessors.
Reads Mr Sekaleli’s letter to Ms Phafoli, titled Abnormal appropriation of NEPAD (FILLI) project funds and untimely stalling of the project: “The Department of Forestry is weary of the fact that the NEPAD-funded (FILLI) project has stalled despite repeated series of warnings from NEPAD and indeed myself (Director of Forestry) that we have to do everything possible to ensure that this project is successfully completed by mid-March (ie, the 15th of March 2016).
“The first culprit for the complete halt to the entire project implementation is yourself (Senior Accountant Ms Limpho Phafoli). For record purposes, let me tell you why.
“First you claim that you were assigned by the principal secretary (PS) to accompany the forestry team of experts in order to monitor progress (which according to you, includes checking activities that are being carried out and doing the head-count of participants every day).
“That is my responsibility, and not yours, but because you are very powerful, you have the courage of telling me that you cannot release the funds that I request if you are not part of the team that goes to the field. You also claim the same entitlement to the Daily Subsistence Allowance (100 US$/night) which the resource persons get, yet you are not a resource person. I honestly find this very weird, indeed.
“Since I have now brought this abnormal practice to a halt, you have effected the threat that you will not release the money. I am sure you are happy now that the project has come to a complete halt because you are holding the purse.
“You told me before the PS that if I do not furnish you with the names of forestry officers who will be engaged in the different sessions, you will frustrate the process by not releasing the funds. Since I was not able to entertain that instruction which you gave me, you have indeed refused to release the funds.”
Mr Sekaleli also takes issue with what he believes to be Ms Phofoli’s insubordination.
“To be honest and very candid with you Madam, over and above the fact that it is not normal for a Senior Accountant to leave his/her office and go to the countryside to do the headcount of people who are working, you are a very junior officer to me to contemplate that kind of responsibility where I am engaged. This headcount which you insist on doing, do you carry it out even on Fato-Fato projects which carry millions of dollars?” Mr Sekaleli asks.
He also accuses Ms Phofoli of “irregularly” appending her signature as one of the officers who will authorise the release of funds for the NEPAD project.
“I urge you to correct that graphic and gross irregularity by withdrawing your signature immediately. I am saying this because you have already authorised yourself to go and release money twice where you were also the beneficiary. You know financial regulations better than myself. You know very well that this is illegal,” he further charges in the letter.
Mr Sekaleli also notes in the letter that from the financial statements Ms Phofoli submitted to his office, M22 596 .50 was unaccounted for.
“It is now three weeks down the line and you have still not deposited it back,” Mr Sekaleli noted.
Asked about the issue, Mr Sekaleli refused to comment, while Ms Phafoli said she had to follow certain ministerial procedures before she could respond to the Sunday Express’ questions.