M400 million roads tender takes off


. . . project leaves behind trail of legal challenges



MASERU – The Mpilo Boulevard intersection project was officially launched this week after a long battle which even cost former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane his government. The multi-million Maloti tender was at the centre of the then All Basotho Convention (ABC) government fracas where the warring factions tussled for suitors as the rightful beneficiaries of the project – probably for fat kick-backs and other individual gains.

The construction, which was initially planned to take off in 2019 and estimated to cost M340 million but now inflated to almost M400 million, was yet again at the centre of a new controversy at the Moshoeshoe I Memorial Statue where Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro arrived late from an international trip to lead the sod-turning of the upgrade. Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who was all set to do the official task, had to step back as Majoro’s hurried jetting-in was announced.

Although the sod-turning was this week, the construction of these roads upgrade began in December 2021 after a long court battle since 2019 when the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) former Director General, Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole ordered Maseru City Council (MCC) to stop the processes of awarding the multi-million tender for the improvement of Mpilo Boulevard intersections pending the investigations to determine if the tendering process was above board.

Advocate Manyokole also ordered former Maseru Town Clerk, Moeko Maboee, to hand over all documents relating to the tender. In an interview with Public Eye, former Minister of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chalane Phori, said he was content with the company that has been awarded the tender after long court battle.

He said his involvement was not mainly on the tender awarding process, instead he was fighting the situation in which other members of the ABC who hold high positions publicised information that the party discussed in secrecy. “Even though it appeared as though I was fighting the tender process, I was not. I was fighting the fact that some people in the party leaked the party’s private discussions,” Phori said.

Nonetheless, Phori withheld his comment when asked if, in his view, the awarding of the tender was in favour or influenced by the fact that he is friends with one of the construction company owners that won the tender. But Phori was adamant: “My involvement was mainly to fight the situation as I explained; I did not have any interest in the tender awarding process and I am happy that finally the road construction will continue as per government’s plan under that ABC-led government.”

Phori’s involvement in awarding this tender was said by former local government principal secretary, Khothatso Tšooana, to have been influenced by his support for the former first lady’s directive to award the tender to a preferred company. Tšooana told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2019 that former First Lady, ’Maesaiah Thabane, directed that the lucrative tender be awarded to a Chinese company.

According to Tšooana, the former First Lady and the two former ministers (Mahala Molapo and Phori) delivered the order in a private meeting at State House, Maseru on October 15, 2019. This was just three days before the MCC’s tender board met to study the tendering evaluation report before deciding the winning bid. Speaking at the event Majoro noted that the plan to upgrade the Mpilo Boulevard intersections have been on the government’s drawing board since 2014 in a document called the “Maseru Urban Study”.

He noted that the plan includes but is not limited to intensifying roads and to build a government complex that will house all government ministries. Majoro said every so often the major delays of government’s big plans are caused by litigation against the government as contractors who failed to win the tender for the road lodge legal proceedings, and this particular infrastructure was not without such a challenge.

He therefore appealed to contractors to deliver quality work while aiming to complete within the set time. “As we launch the Mpilo Boulevard intersections, I can say that all other roads leading to towns outside the capital city will also be upgraded as per already existing plans,” Majoro explained. Majoro said with these intersections, there will be better vehicular traffic movement in the capital city. Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship, Moshe Leoma, said the construction of these roads aims at assisting to reduce the number of car accidents.

He said the construction is expected to be completed in three years where in the first year the government will spent M120 million of which M70 million will come from the Road Fund each year of the project’s period. The remainder of the cost will be covered through other government funding. The project consultant, Molefe Nthabane, said this project is aimed at reducing the number of car accidents along the road and relieve pressure on traffic.

He said although the project is designed to be completed within 31 months, he doubts it will be finished within the set time due to challenges including having to negotiate with site owners where the road will affect private individuals’ sites. Nthabane said as a local company they have been working only in Lesotho and so far they have designed roads in Mathokoane, Tsikoane foothills and some in the district of Quthing. Explaining how the upgrading will be structured, Nthabane said the intersections will cover almost the entire Maseru central to relieve traffic and will be built in six zones.

He added that the project is a joint venture comprising five companies and two consulting firms named Nam and WSP – one from Lesotho and the other from South Africa. Three construction companies named Shanxi Construction Investment Group (SCIG), Shanxi Mechanization Construction Group (SMCG) and Tim Plant hire and construction – two from China and one from Lesotho, are involved.

The Mpilo Boulevard tender appeared to be one of the issues at the centre of the government’s stand-off with the MCC which saw the then local government minister, Litšoane Litšoane, disbanding the MCC tender panel in August 2019 only for the panel to be reinstated by a High Court order. Justice Molefi Makara ruled that Litšoane had no right to dissolve the panel without giving it a chance to defend itself. Litšoane dissolved the panel on the grounds that councilors who sat on the panel had awarded tenders in contravention of the Local Government Act of 1997 which specifically prohibits councilors from being part of the tender panel.

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