Take a domineering ministry, a dissenting municipality and a multimillion Maloti road project. Stir Well. What do you get? A storm in a tiny thimble.
Such is the scenario, after allegations emerged that the recent ruckus between local government minister Litšoane Litšoane and the Maseru City Council – which saw both parties engaging in an acrimonious public spat – is actually motivated by a desire to have full control of the lucrative Mpilo Boulevard Intersections and Links project.
The project entails construction of new road links, vehicles’ flyover bridges, underpass, exclusive pedestrian bridges and signalisation. The amount of money involved in the project remains a closely guarded secret ‘lest it tempts contesting contractors to inflate their prices’.
It is shrouded in so much controversy that some councillors claim the MCC city engineer was forced to resign amid allegations of corruption committed by unnamed people in the ministry.
Tendering for the project was opened in April and closed in mid-May. Two months after the tendering process was done, Litšoane dissolved the MCC tender board and directed the Town Clerk to form a tender panel in line with Public Procurement Regulations (as amended in 2018).
This, Litšoane said he was doing because the councillors were working in cahoots with the tender board to award big tenders without taking into consideration the provisions of the Local Government Act. He also charged that councillors do not have the technical expertise to make informed decisions on tenders, as their mandate is only to shepherd the work of technocrats.
When theReporter asked him on Tuesday if the dissolution of the tender board would affect progress that has been made on the Mpilo Boulevard Intersections and Links project, the minister went ballistic, telling this journalist that he had never at any point mentioned the project in a previous press statement and that he did not understand why the journalist wanted to talk about it.
“I did not talk about Mpilo and I fail to understand why you want me to talk about issue which is not even important as I do not have anything to do with what MCC will decide on.
“If you recall, in my speech I never said anything about that road, I can even read you the statement again, I do not know what MCC will do about the Mpilo tendering and that is not where my interest is,” he harangued.
After he had cooled down he told us he was not in a position to comment on the matter as it is still before the courts of law, and they are waiting for the judgement.
He, however, said he does not believe MCC will have to start the whole tendering process all over again after appointing a new tender board. He insisted it was up to the MCC administration to decide what to do with the tendering process.
On the other hand, Town Clerk Moeko Maboee indicated that even though he had been given a directive to reassemble a new tender panel altogether, the matter was thrown into disarray when councillors who did not agree with the minister’s decision to dissolve the tender panel, sought recourse from the courts.
“The matter is still before the courts so I cannot say anything about it. All I can say is that the court on Tuesday directed the two parties to go and resolve the matter internally. They were told to do it on Wednesday.”
Yesterday, Maboee told us nothing had come of the negotiations and that the matter gone back to court, and it would now be heard as an urgent application on September 11.
He went on to give a reassurance that the Mpilo tendering was not affected by the court battle as everything is still on track for the project to finally kick off.
When asked why the city engineer had resigned, Maboee said he resigned in April but could divulge reasons for his resignation, as he insisted it was not in his brief to talk about staff movement.
“At the moment, we do not have a city engineer and that is one of the things that the municipality is still looking into. It is too early for me to talk about it,” he said.
In an interesting turn of events, the chairperson of the dissolved tender board, Metsing Mothetsi, said he was relieved that it had been disbanded as he ‘feared for his life’.
“I have heard that there was a lot of corruption at play in the Mpilo project, according to the mayor. As the chairperson of the tender board I made sure that everything was done by the book.
“If it is true that there is corruption, then I will be very happy not to be part of the tender board because I do not want to be part of corruption of any kind.
“Corruption is a dirty game that does not usually end well for some people. Some end up dead or fleeing from their homes. I do not want to be a victim of such, I do not want to leave my family,” he said.
Mothetsi added that he had been sent by the community to represent them as their councillor. So if I start fighting over tenders and lose my job, I would have a lot of explaining to do. I am still happy to be a good councillor even if I am no longer chairperson of the tender board.”
He said after the advertisement of the tender, 11 submissions were made after which the applications were all opened in the presence of all the applying companies. The board later met to discuss the tenders before making recommendations which were then sent to a consultant to advise on the winning company.
“The consultant was due to give us his recommendations for the two tenders which, kin his opinion, were the best.
“I do not know how the new board will act in regard to some of the decisions that have already been reached while the process of tendering was put on hold. I want to assure you that the process was fair and clean, as far as I am concerned,” Mothetsi indicated.