MASERU – Former Deputy Prime Mothetjoa Metsing has broken his silence on a controversial M50 million fertiliser tender that was allegedly handed over to Hippo Transport on a silver platter in 2015. Metsing on Tuesday tersely defended the then administration’s decision to award the tender to Hippo Transport, saying the time to supply fertilizer was running out and farmers stood to lose their livelihoods if government did not intervene quickly.
“The procurement process was taking too long because one of the tenderers was challenging the process in the court and the farmers were waiting for fertilisers so that they could start planting their crops,” he said. “Supplying fertilisers to farmers was urgent and when one of the tenderers went to the courts to challenge the tendering process, government decided to cancel the process, started an exceptional procurement procedure and awarded the tender,” he added.
According to the public procurement regulations of 2007, exceptional procurement procedure could be applied when there is a genuine emergency which is not brought about by the procuring unit or its clients. When following this procedure, the procuring government unit first has to approach the Public Procurement Advisory Department (PPAD) to request a waiver. But the PPDA also has to seek approval from the Minister of Finance before issuing such a waiver.
If exceptional procurement procedure was not used, Metsing further explained, farmers’ lives would be endangered and considerable losses incurred. The majority of Lesotho’s population engages in subsistence farming and nearly a quarter of the population (around 350 000 people) were facing severe acute food insecurity in 2019, while more than 50 percent live below the poverty line. Metsing was speaking on Tuesday at a press conference organised by his Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party at its head office.
The presser was also for the purpose of expressing solidarity with African-Americans after the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States of America, and to denounce police brutality in Lesotho. At first Metsing was, however, cagey about the fertiliser deal indicating that the matter was sub judice but added he would speak in depth about it when the time is right. In October 2018, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) charged the managing director of Hippo Transport, Isaac Monokoane, with fraud and corruption over the same tender.
Monokoane was remanded out of custody after being granted a M1 000 bail and ordered to surrender M10 000 in surety. He was charged together with his company and the former Principal Secretary (PS) of Agriculture, Makalo Theko. This was about 16 months after the government in which Metsing was deputy prime minister was ousted and replaced by the government of Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane which promised to clean up corruption. Thabane resigned last month after his government collapsed in parliament, ushering the new government whose new leader Dr Moeketsi Majoro who was Finance Minister in Thabane’s administration.
The Ministry of Agriculture had initially invited bids for the supply of 7 500 tonnes of fertiliser for distribution to farmers at subsidised prices in July 2015. The tender was reportedly closed on August 11 at noon and bids were opened on the same day and six companies had submitted the bids. On August 26, the ministry’s Senior Procurement Officer at the time, Nyatso Maleke, wrote to one of the companies that had submitted bids, Alfa Agro Chem, informing them of their selection as the most favourable tenderer.
Malake also informed the company that it would receive the contract award letter and the contract document within 15 days if no bidder objected to the decision. However, Maleke reportedly wrote to all the bidders two days later telling them that tender had been withdrawn after the ministry encountered an error in the tender process. She also wrote that the ministry had detected an error on the evaluation process. The bidders were later invited to a meeting where they were told that the tender would be cancelled and replaced with a selective tendering process. The tender was subsequently awarded to Hippo Transport.
In its charge sheet, the DCEO stated that the accused shared a common intention to pursue an unlawful purpose together and deliberately gave to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security a false representation that the tender documents that were used for the tender of supply of fertilisers were correct and “in order with the intention that the ministry should act upon such representation to its detriment and thereby causing the ministry to so act.”
The DCEO said Pheko abused his position “in the performance of failure to perform an act by assisting Hippo Transport in violation of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2017 as well as Treasury Regulations of 2014 for the purpose of obtaining an undue advantage for Hippo Transport.”