Health ministry denies duplicating NACOSEC

RELEBOHILE TSOAMOTSE

MASERU – There seems to be a duplicate structure parallel to the National COVID-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) within the Ministry of Health, Public Eye has learnt.

Known as the Lesotho COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project, the entity does exactly what NACOSEC was mandated to do, which is “to prevent, detect and respond to threats posed by COVID-19”.

This includes supporting routine COVID-19 services such as testing, case management as well as large-scale deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.

While not much is known about the project, according to worldbank.org, the Bank approved US$7.50 million (approximately M107 003 250) on May 9, 2020 towards the COVID-19 response in Lesotho which would then be utilised through the Lesotho COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project.

The project is implemented by the Ministry of Health.

It is said the objective of the project is to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness. On the other side, government had already established the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) meant to respond to all corona virus issues.

NECC’s tenure was short-lived as Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro disbanded it when his government assumed power in June last year and established NACOSEC instead. It was headed by LRA’s Commissioner’s General, Thabo Khasipe but he resigned due to squabbles around its formation.

There was controversy surrounding its legality and the institution was, as a result, unable to directly access government funding. The alarm was first raised by the Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office Administration, Kabelo Lehora.

He feared there would be complications after NACOSEC was given powers of the DMA Chief Executive and the Minister responsible for disaster.

“My office is aware that after the establishment of NACOSEC, it is seen to be advertising tenders and appointing personnel without informing the office of the Principal Secretary Cabinet (Admin). I am also aware that the legal notice No. 61 of 2020 establishing NACOSEC does not make any mention whatsoever of the office of the Principal Secretary Cabinet (Admin), who is currently Chief Accounting officer for Heads 009 . . . The legal notice gives NACOSEC Executive secretariat both the powers of DMA Chief Executive and the Minister responsible for disaster. Therefore, the secretariat can incur costs and report directly to the task force of ministers,” Lehora said in a letter to finance.

“Can you kindly advise on the financial implications of this legal instrument? Whereas COVID-19 funds have been allocated through a fund under the Office of the Prime Minister, does it not mean that nonetheless the Chief Accounting Officer of Head 009 will not account for expenses incurred by NACOSEC? What procurement regulations should NACOSEC follow?”

No money was released directly to NACOSEC as it even struggled to open bank accounts as government sought to remedy the situation with a new legal notice but it was not enough to fix their legal standing. The then NACOSEC CEO said cabinet had resolved to establish NACOSEC through an Act of parliament but it never happened.

The latest announcement was that NACOSEC had been absorbed by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) but no legal instrument was availed to that effect. Rather, the institution has moved from the rented space at Avani Maseru and is now at the Ministry of Health Headquarters.

Their website has also been suspended.

NACOSEC is or was known to be a structure responsible for responding to the corona virus pandemic in the country.  Public Eye sought information about the role of Lesotho COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project and how its mandate differs from that of NACOSEC this week, but Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Khothatso Ts’oana referred this publication to Dr. Makhoase Ranyali who is said to be spearheading the fight against the virus.

Ranyali said she has no knowledge whatsoever about the Lesotho COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project.

“Do you know about the project you are asking about? I do not know about it, it is my first time hearing about it, I only know about NACOSEC and the Ministry of Health,” she said.

Just this week, the Health Ministry published a job advertisement wherein they are seeking a Public Health Specialist who is expected to work under the Lesotho COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project.

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