Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka has accused some principal secretaries of focusing on tenders for personal enrichment instead of their core obligation of ensuring efficient service delivery to Basotho.
Mr Mphaka's accusations come against the backdrop of reports of serious infighting in ministries which have more than one principal secretary, resulting in battles of attrition to control and administer tender budgets.
Ministries that have more than one principal secretary include Education and Training, which has Dr Thabang Lebese (focusing on higher education) and Dr Neo Liphoto (basic education) and that of Public Works and Transport, which has Mothabathe Hlalele (focusing on public works) and Thabo Motoko (transport).
The Ministry of Defence and National Security also has two principal secretaries -- Tšeliso Mokoko (focusing on defence) and Bereng Makotoko (national security). The cabinet also has two principal secretaries vying for control; Advocate Makhetha Motšoari who serves as principal secretary for cabinet administration and Thebe Mokoatle as principal secretary for economic affairs.
Well-placed sources within the government recently told the Lesotho Times that all was not well in these ministries as the principal secretaries battled one another to be designated chief accounting officers of their respective ministries.
Such designations gives them control over tender processes and budgets of their ministries. While the principal secretaries are putting a public show of unity, sources say, in private, they are at each other's throats over who should control their ministries' purse strings.
Mr Mphaka, who rarely talks about controversies surrounding government tenders, recently told this publication that he was unhappy with the principal secretaries' fight for control of the purse strings instead of focusing their energies on ensuring efficient service delivery by their ministries.
He said the co-principal secretaries were fighting to control their ministries' finances so they could influence the awarding of tenders to highest bidders for their own selfish ends.
"They (principal secretaries) want equal powers and when you ask why, you realise that it all boils down to having control of the ministerial funds," Mr Mphaka told the Lesotho Times.
"Principal secretaries are only interested in tenders and that offends me. These are the same tenders that at times put them in a tight corner and negatively affect their performance. They are not performing well because all they care about is selling tenders to the highest bidders. What type of leaders are they?" he asked rhetorically.
He said there could only be one chief accounting officer even in those ministries which had two principal secretaries.
"You cannot have two accounting officers in one ministry. It should be like what used to happen in the past when we had two principal secretaries in the ministry of finance -- one responsible for planning issues and the other who was responsible for issues of finance. But only one of them was designated as the chief accounting officer and that is the message we have communicated to them.
"So for example if the principal secretary responsible for defence has been designated as the chief accounting officer (in the Ministry of Defence and National Security), then his colleague who is principal secretary responsible for national security would have to go to him for funds rather than us having two chief accounting officers in one ministry. For now that is how it should be until we eventually get to the point where we are able to have two chief accounting officers in one ministry."
Mr Mphaka urged principal secretaries in general to focus on their core business of ensuring efficient service delivery than pre-occupying themselves with fights to influence tender processes for self-gain.
"I come from a place where people need bridges to move from one place to another. Learners do not go to school when it is raining and they (principal secretaries) have never come to my office to discuss how best we can solve this.
"When will the Education and Training principal secretaries address many challenges facing their ministry instead of fighting over tenders? When are they going to build schools and ensure that children walk short distances instead of long distances and ending up drowning in rivers?
"All these principal secretaries are just being pathetic... . It is sad. In fact, any one listening to them has a lot of time on their hands.
"They should be asked how far they have gone in terms of addressing education challenges facing this country. The principal secretary for public works should be asked how they are addressing challenges of corruption in the award of tenders. The principal secretary for transport should be asked when they will solve problems within the transport department.
"They first have to stop fighting over the public purse and ensure that they deliver services. Do they think that I am happy that my fellow community members are drowning in rivers? I am just saying because I know the challenges facing my community... You may also be aware of that Likaneng tragedy where (five) people travelling in a taxi were swept by the river (on 22 March 2018). When will they build a bridge there instead of fighting over non-issues like this one? When will they compensate the people of Likaneng who were affected by that painful tragedy?" Mr Mphaka asked.