Gender, Sports and Recreation Minister, Mahali Phamotse, was on Tuesday charged with corruption for allegedly influencing the awarding of a 2015 high schools textbooks tender to Epic Printers and Molumeli Pty (Ltd).
The case was heard on Tuesday by Chief Magistrate 'Matankiso Nthunya who immediately released Dr Phamotse on free bail, saying she believed the minister would not abscond but would stand trial to finality. Chief Magistrate Nthunya then postponed the case to 21 February 2020.
At the time of the alleged offence, Dr Phamotse was the Education and Training Minister and a member of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's Democratic Congress (DC). She is now the secretary general of the Alliance of Democrats (AD).
The AD is the second biggest in the four-party coalition which also features Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC), Communications Minister Thesele Maseribane's Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rant'so's Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
Dr Phamotse arrived at the Maseru Magistrates' Court at about 9.30am on Tuesday and 30 minutes later, she addressed AD members who had come to offer her moral support. She told them that her lawyer, Advocate Salemane Phafane, had informed her that her case would be delayed because it had not yet been filed in the magistrates' court register and therefore, she was free to leave.
She subsequently returned at about 11.30am and shortly afterwards, the Prosecutor, Advocate Sefako Seema whose Directorate of Corruption and Economic offences (DCEO) conducted the investigations, came in and filed the charges. The matter was then allocated to Chief Magistrate Nthunya who read the charges to Dr Phamotse.
According to the charge sheet, the minister stands accused of acting together with her then Principal Secretary, Mapaseka Kolotsane, and Deputy Principal Secretary, Ratṧiu Majara, to influence the awarding of the schools' textbooks and teachers' guides tender to awarded to Epic Printers and Molumeli Pty (Ltd) between May and December 2015.
"That the accused are guilty of contravening section 21(3)... of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act of 1999... in that during the period of May to December 2015, the accused person, Mahali Phamotse, employed in the Public Service as the Minister of Education and Training; Mapaseka Kolotsane, employed as the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Ratṧiu Majara, employed as Deputy Principal Secretary, in furtherance of a shared common intention and purpose, did intentionally, for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for, inter alia, Epic Printers and Molumeli Pty (Ltd), abuse their respective positions and functions of their respective offices in the performance and discharge of their respective offices and positions. They did this by influencing an amendment to the Ministry of Education and Training's tender bid document titled: Development, printing, supply and delivery of textbooks and teachers' guides for grade 5 for the National Curriculum Development Centre.
"Secondly by influencing the evaluation panel in relation to the tender ... to hold a second evaluation, contrary to the prescripts of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2007," the charge sheet states.
Dr Phamotse was charged alone with Chief Magistrate Nthunya saying her two co-accused would soon be joined to the charges.
"I considered your bail application without payment and I have reached a conclusion that there is no need for you to pay.
"You are released on your own cognisance as I believe that you will not abscond not unless you will prove me otherwise. Furthermore, we cannot continue with the case today because your two accomplices are yet to be joined to the charges. Come back to court on 21 February 2020," Chief Magistrate Nthunya said.
The free bail was granted despite Adv Seema's objections on the grounds that Dr Phamotse should be made to pay because she was facing serious charges.
"We do not object to bail. We however, object to the issue of the accused being released on own cognisance. We appreciate that she is not a flight risk and a serving minister but we wish to submit that those cannot be the only considerations for bail.
"One requirement is the consideration of the seriousness of the crime. We are talking of a minister who is entrusted to supervise a government ministry and is alleged to have abused her powers to commit a crime. It is a serious act of corruption.
"Her actions interrupted the implementation of the curriculum of the nation and consideration has to be placed on the impact her offence had on society," Adv Seema said.