Ministers fingered in tender details leak

KHAHLISO KHATALA and

‘MAKERESEMESE LETUKA

MASERU – Two unnamed members of cabinet have been implicated in a suspected leakage of information relating to the controversial tender to rehabilitate the derelict Moshoeshoe I International Airport in Maseru. Threatening to soon name and shame the ministers, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Maile Masoebe, said the pair were the architects of incorrect claims carried by local and South African media outlets last week questioning the award of the tender to a South African company LTE Consulting.

Addressing the media at the airport on Tuesday this week, Masoebe claimed the bad press around the award of the tender for rehabilitation of the facility was being fuelled by the two politicians – who are also cabinet ministers. He, however, failed to divulge the names of the government officials, indicating he was yet to talk to them in person and weigh their responses, before going public with the names.

In setting the record straight, Masoebe tore into a recent news article penned by local journalist, Keketso Mohalenyana Phakela, for the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism claiming the June 2021 award was done yet LTE Consulting had just been liquidated in the neighbouring country a few months earlier, on March 18, 2021. Masoebe, however, said LTE Consulting was the chosen bidder because they scored the highest in the technical and financial requirements of the tender, admitting that the ministry was aware of documents revealing LTE Consulting’s liquidation status – both provisional and final liquidation order – however, “the liquidation was a process which had not been started at the time we were processing the tender.”

“The disagreement with Kontinental Engineering Consulting, which would have seen LTE Consultancy liquidated, was resolved… which means the company, LTE, still exists as there has been no liquidation,” Masoebe told journalists. But, according to the amaBhungane article on March 18, 2021, a provisional liquidation application had been launched by a creditor of LTE Consulting in the Johannesburg High Court.

The application was granted on June 9, a day before unsuccessful bidders were informed about the contract and why it been awarded to LTE Consulting. LTE Consulting was, at this time, facing accusations of failure to honour a M23 million debt to its sub-contractor, Kontinental Engineering Consulting, which built a bus station in 2020 for the City of Ekurhuleni, in South Africa.

The amaBhungane report further asserts that when the Moshoeshoe I Airport tender was being awarded, Kontinental had already won the interim order to place LTE Consulting under provisional winding up.  The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) findings of 2014 forced for the issuance of a tender to rehabilitate the perilous state of the Moshoeshoe I International Airport, leading to several allegations and reports of corruption and underhand manoeuvres in the award of the tender to facilitate rehabilitation of the facility.

ICAO is a United Nations specialised agency, which changes the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.  Its headquarters is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The airport has faced closure for several years due to successive governments’ failure to address concerns raised by ICAO in its 2014 audit of the airport’s facilities. With the sorry state of the Moshoeshoe I International Airport this probe by ICASA scored the airport at 21.82 percent.

This led to the government in 2018 controversially awarding a M2.8 million tender to a Chun Ye (Pty) Ltd, a Chinese construction company, to overhaul the VIP and VVIP lounges of the airport. Chun Ye was awarded the tender in May of the same year, working on the project between June and July 2018. Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has, at some point, been a recipient of this same tender after being awarded a four-year contract, allegedly without a tender process, by then transport minister Tšoeu Mokeretla. However, Mokeretla is on record denying this claim. Subsequent media report suggested that the award was later withdrawn.

In 2016 the then Minister of Finance, Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla, together with the Deputy Director General of Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Hamad Al-Omar, signed a 17-year-loan worth M233.56 million for co-financing the reconstruction of Moshoeshoe I International Airport. This was apart from intended economic support and social development of the country in increasing the handling capacity and improving the quality services at the airport, efficiency and safety to meet ICAO standards. The government has earmarked M500 million for the total upgrade of the airport, with M33 million earmarked for rehabilitation.

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