Govt sets up public procurement tribunal

. . . as tender disputes mount

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – Increasing procurement disputes have triggered the establishment of a Public Procurement Tribunal by the Ministry of Finance to address challenges faced by government service providers. Finance minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, announced during the 2020/2021 budget estimates last week that his ministry has set up the tribunal so as to efficiently resolve disputes arising from government procurement issues.

Majoro said there is need for faster resolution of procurement disputes hence the tribunal. The tribunal comes following an outcry over incidents of flawed procurement practices ranging from fraud, delayed payments as well as alleged political influence, some of which have been reported before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while others have been taken to the courts.

Management of government’s vehicle fleet is one example of controversial procurement decisions that remain under the spotlight to date, having led to the collapse of the seven party coalition government of Pakalitha Mosisili in 2017. The fleet management scandal resurfaced this year when a local company – Fleeters Holdings – sued government over alleged fraudulent tender practices.

Fleeters Holdings alleged a joint venture by Fleet Service Lesotho and Silverstone Fleet Solutions was preferred by the finance ministry despite not meeting basic requirements such as registration. Fleeters took the matter to court in April last year to prevent the fleet tender from being awarded to a rival joint venture but High Court judge, Justice Lebohang Molete, declined to order the suspension of the award of the tender pending the outcome of the case.

The ministry then proceeded to award the tender to the joint venture. Fleet Services Lesotho eventually began with the management of the government’s fleet after Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Motena Tšolo endorsed the contract. Tšolo, in a savingram, wrote to all relevant stakeholders (government ministries and departments) to communicate the decision. “The government of Lesotho, through the Ministry of Finance, has signed a four-year fleet-management contract with Fleet Services Lesotho to manage all government-owned and Basotho rented vehicles,” Motena wrote.

The tender was awarded despite the ongoing court case. Motena said the ministry went ahead to award the tender because the High Court failed to interdict the ministry from proceeding with the awarding process. Fleeters’ complaint remains unsolved while the case is pending. In his budget speech Majoro said the procurement tribunal was important to assist in the longer time that courts take to resolve procurement issues.

“Mr Speaker, the Ministry of Finance has appointed the public procurement tribunal that will address the grievances from unsuccessful bidders, in a timely and less costly manner, compared to the traditional court system, thus leading to a faster resolution of procurement disputes.” He added: “This will also aid in creating transparency and accountability, thus creating a favourable environment for efficient private sector participation in the economy.”

The management of government’s fleet has, over the past few years, been at the centre of Lesotho’s political instability and to a certain extend contributed to the collapse of Prime Minister Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government in 2017.

The then finance minister, ’Mamphono Khaketla, was accused of soliciting a M4 million bribe from the directors of Lebelonyane Fleet Services to in turn award the tender to them. Khaketla denied the allegation, and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) took the matter to court where it remains pending before High Court judge Justice Molefi Makara.

Following an uproar over the tender, Mosisili’s government was brought to its knees by his then party deputy Monyane Moleleki who decided to form his own party and join forces with Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, due to disgruntlement over the award of this fleet tender, among other reasons.

Procurement disputes came under spotlight again when news broke that Yan Xie, the controversial businessman and Thabane’s political and economic advisor, allegedly defrauded a local company M7 million with the help of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The scandal was revealed before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where a director of Legend Building and Maintenance Company, ‘Maamohelang Letsie, revealed that they were advised to work with Xie because of his expertise and that he was able to provide equipment needed by the home affairs ministry with the right specification then.

Xie was mysteriously able to claim money without the completion of the project and the money was transferred to his other business account – First Choice.

The scandal has also landed in court where the Ministry of Home affairs is sued for authorising and facilitating payment of the millions into First Choice`s account.

Local construction company, L & KITI (PTY) LTD, alleges that the ministry, First National Bank (FNB) and the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) are in breach of their (L &KITI) sale agreement with Bafana Construction PTY LTD when they effected payment of M5 630 000 into Xie’s First Choice Supermarket bank account.

Bafana Construction is also owned by Xie and was financing the construction of prefabricated offices in Leribe, Berea and Maseru in 2018 after L & KITI won the tender. The case is also pending before the High Court.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.