17 August 2017

Lesotho: DCEO Grills Rakuoane, Mochoboroane

Photo: lejecos
(File photo).

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) yesterday grilled former ministers Lekhetho Rakuoane and Selibe Mochoboroane as part of its probe of the controversial vehicle fleet tender the previous government inked with Bidvest Bank Limited.

Advocate Rakuoane and Mr Mochoboroane were summoned in their capacity as former members of a cabinet subcommittee that awarded the tender to Bidvest.

The Pakalitha Mosisili-led previous administration decided to cancel the deal in March this year after admitting that the South African financial institution had milked government of millions of maloti and that the bills were spiralling to a point where it was difficult to pay them off.

While then Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane did not state the amounts owed and already paid to Bidvest, Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki has claimed that the Dr Mosisili-led government paid M600 million in the last financial year to Bidvest Bank Limited and followed this up with another M73 million in penalties after prematurely terminating the contract.

The former government initially awarded Bidvest a six-month contract to run the government fleet from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016 after the expiry of the government's fleet management contract with Avis.

They had promised to exclude Bidvest from any new tender to find a new fleet management firm to replace Avis.

However, the former government cancelled the tender process, preferring instead to enter a new long-term contract with Bidvest, which had not bid for the tender as earlier agreed in light of its six month contract.

Then Finance minister Dr 'Mamphono Khaketla had said while announcing the deal in June last year that the government would buy 600 vehicles and hire another 600 from ordinary Basotho, with Bidvest only managing the fleet.

She also said the government had decided to cancel the tender process because it did not have enough money to continue with the option of hiring vehicles.

However, a joint venture company, Lebelonyane, shortlisted for the tender took the government to court seeking an order to stop the government from engaging Bidvest.

The controversial fleet contract was one of the root causes of the split in the Dr Mosisili-led Democratic Congress (DC) in November 2016.

A faction loyal to then DC deputy leader Mr Moleleki accused loyalists of Dr Mosisili in the party of corruptly influencing the awarding of the deal in Bidvest's favour.

Their ire was mainly directed at Dr Khaketla, whom they accused of disregarding due process in awarding the tender to Bidvest at the expense of joint venture company -- Lebelonyane -- that had been recommended for the contract.

Dr Khaketla, who was later reshuffled to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, has vehemently denied allegations of corruption and even sued some of her accusers for M6 million, after they accused her of earning a M4 million bribe in the Bidvest morass.

Advocate Rakuoane, who is also Popular Front for Democracy leader, confirmed being summoned by DCEO officials in an interview yesterday.

He also confirmed that Mr Mochoboroane, who is also Movement for Economic Change party leader, had also been summoned for questioning.

"I was told (by the DCEO) that the cabinet erred in meddling in the allocation of the Bidvest tender deal, a matter which ought to have been dealt with by junior officials," Advocate Rakuoane said, adding that they failed to implicate him in any impropriety in the awarding of the tender.

"If only they had shown my direct involvement in accepting a bribe as I was a part of the Fleet Management Sub Committee that would be understandable. They failed to show if I benefited in any way from the awarding of the tender to Bidvest.

"There was also suspicion that I had once acted as a Finance minister, a charge I have strongly refuted."

Efforts to contact Mr Mochoboroane were fruitless yesterday as his mobile phone was not accessible.

However sources privy to the matter said Mr Mochoboroane refused to cooperate with the DCEO officials.

"Mochoboroane was called to give evidence that would incriminate the previous cabinet on its decision to engage the Bidvest fleet," the source said.

"He came out very clearly that he would not incriminate anyone as he took an oath of allegiance when he was sworn in as a minister. He would have incriminated himself by admitting that cabinet was wrong in its decisions."

Another source also said Mr Mochoboroane ended up taking the DCEO officials to task over their handling of the investigation.

However, DCEO spokesperson 'Matlhokomelo Senoko denied the two men appeared before the directorate.

"It is not true that the duo appeared before the DCEO. Even though I was out in the field, I can safely say they were not summoned since I asked my colleagues at the office," she said.

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Times understands that former Public Works and Transport minister Tšoeu Mokeretla might be the next in line for grilling by the DCEO.

Lesotho

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