. . . John admits paying tjotjo to govt officials
MASERU – A key advisor to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and a principal secretary have been placed at the centre of a scam in which an emerging construction company was duped of M7 million, the Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday.
Yan Xie, also known as John, and Machabane Lemphane of home affairs were yesterday accused of concocting a plan to cheat Legend Building and Maintenance Company out of its earnings for building animal parks in Thaba Tseka and Qacha’s Nek.
In a narrative that left the committee and audience gobsmacked, distraught Legend directors spoke of how the government payment system was short circuited to expedite surreptitious payment.
The directors told the PAC John had admitted paying “tjotjo” (a bribe) to unnamed government officials to secure the release of the payment while work on the projects was yet to be completed.
The money was paid into an account managed by one of John’s acolytes who transferred it into another account in the controversial naturalised Mosotho’s name.
Former home affairs minister Tsukutlane Au last night said he does not remember the case but conceded skipping inspection procedures was a breach of the law.
“Giving out tenders and paying them is not my job. I am not much involved in those but if the company feels aggrieved, it should consult the Minister of Home Affairs to resolve the issue. This, they should do if they have failed to receive any help from the ministry’s officials,” Au said.
Legend had now turned to the PAC in the hope of getting relief after being stonewalled by home affairs officials, including Lemphane and John.
John reportedly told the directors all the money had been swallowed by the heavy losses he had incurred procuring material for the projects from China.
To bolster his case, he had dropped piles of receipts on their laps and told them to reconcile them, they alleged.
The pile, they told the Selibe Mochoboroane-led oversight body, included some ‘fictitious’ receipts.
Maamohelang Letsie, one of the directors, recounted how they were lured into a web of deceit last January after landing a tender they believed would launch them on the path to prosperity.
The contract – one of five awarded to five local companies – compelled the firm to build the animal treatment and sanctuary homes within three months.
The terms of the contract specifically stated payment would be made after they had completed the project.
Letsie said the project hit the skids from the outset when they struggled to find the correct park homes the ministry demanded.
Their problem was exacerbated by the fact that specifications were written in Chinese.
“We went to all our suppliers and even went to Johannesburg but none of them had the park homes with such specifications. We then approached Lemphane who told us that we should consult Yan Xie, the prime minister’s advisor, noting that he would supply us with the material.
“When we contacted Xie, he was very friendly and promised us that he would supply us as he had already ordered (the material) from China.
“Judging from his reaction, he already knew even before we contacted him that we would go to him seeking such help because he already had the materials that take long to arrive in the country when ordered from China,” she said.
Xie though demanded shares in the company and also to appoint the project manager, primarily to keep an eye on the cash flow.
Pushed against a wall, the directors accepted Xie’s offer but inserted a clause in the agreement stating two signatures were required for any transaction to go through.
However, this clause and the statutory requirement that payment would only be made on submission of progress reports and a tax certificate was ignored.
Letsie added while they were in the middle of the project, they heard through the grapevine that other companies had been paid.
Xie confirmed M7 million had been deposited into the Legend account when the directors confronted him, which surprised them as they had neither claimed nor submitted the required documents to trigger payment.
Further investigations revealed that the money had been immediately transferred to an account held by First Choice which belongs to Xie.
He said when queried about the transfer, Xie flew into a rage and told them he had lost a small fortune procuring the material they had ordered.
Xie, who seems to attract controversy wherever he goes, told the directors to forget payment but, instead, promised to secure more work for them in future.
“We were expecting that before the payment was made, at least Ministry of Home Affairs will inspect our work, demand a progress report, tax certificate and keys to the buildings but to date, these are still in our possession.
“We therefore consulted Home Affairs Minister Ntsukutlane Au and his deputy who were surprised because their PS told them that we had submitted all the needed documents and had already been paid. Very unfortunately Au left the ministry while in the process of resolving this issue,” he said.
Bataung Thulo, also a director of the company, said the company also appealed to Lemphane who promised to help them.
She did nothing but asked them to be patient and hope Xie would release their money.
He charged there was a direct relationship between the PS and Xie.
Letsie said they demanded invoices with a view to reconciling expenditure but were frustrated when Xie dumped a pile of receipts on them.
“The invoices were so many. When we were going through them, we found out that it was not just for the materials he supplied us but he also bought textile machines, needles, toilet paper, pots, solar panels and others which he sells at his shop.
“There was another pile of invoices that he said were for assessment fees he alleged to have paid to Home Affairs but refused to say to who exactly.
“On January 30, he was invoiced M133 333.33, on January 13 he paid M21 666.66, on March 4 he paid M6 666.66, on March 22 he paid M500, and on March 25 he paid M4000.
“Asked what the assessment was for Xie referred to it as ‘tjotjo’ asking us whether we do not know that in Lesotho for things to happen one has to pay money,” Letsie said.
Lemphane yesterday denied complicity in the matter and releasing money in breach of laid down procedures.
“There is no way in government ministries that a payment can be made without an invoice. If these people believe that they were paid before they finished their work, why didn’t they return the money, if it is not there and Xie has taken it as they allege, how does that have anything to do with us? We paid the money into the account they gave us when they signed the agreement.
“Whatever agreement they had with Xie does not concern us. They should consult their bank maybe they will get a better explanation.
“I do not pay people but as far as I know, payments cannot be done without them invoicing the ministry,” Lemphane said.