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Mpilo tender probed

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) is investigating the awarding of the tender for the controversial multi-million Maloti Mpilo Boulevard Intersections and Links project which has been at the centre of discordant conflicts between Maseru City Council and the ministry of local government and chieftainship.

This move vindicates persistent concerns from various sectors of society who have always maintained the project stank of corruption and had money laundering written all over it. 

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 has always been a closely guarded secret ‘lest it tempted contesting contractors to manipulate their prices’. However, it is said to run into billions of Maloti.

According to sources, the tender to implement the project was awarded to a company (name withheld) on Monday this week. A Chinese national holding a senior government position is believed to have interests in the consortium. The tender panel which allegedly awarded the tender is said to have been cobbled up last Friday, replacing an old one that was dissolved by former local government minister Litšoane Litšoane in August.

DCEO public relations officer, ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko has since confirmed that it is true they are investigating MCC on the Mpilo project tendering, but would not delve into the reasons for the investigations or what it is they are hoping to achieve. “Yes we are investigating and the investigations started on May 30 2019,” she said yesterday.

This could at best be interpreted as a clear indication that the anti-corruption body has always suspected foul play.

Senoko added that since the start of the investigations they never made MCC aware as is their procedure, and that they only alerted the municipality in writing on Wednesday this week after learning that the tender board had already selected a company for the projects.

She also confirmed the letter that has been doing rounds on social media since Wednesday afternoon is authentic but was not for public consumption and had been leaked. She could not however, divulge if MCC had complied with the deadline to submit the information requested by DCEO.

The letter dated October 22 2019 and written by DCEO director general Mahlomola Manyokole is addressed to Maseru Town clerk Moeko Maboee and is titled ‘Requesting for information RCU02/06/2019’.

“The Directorate on corruption and economic offences (DCEO) is empowered in terms of Section 6, 7 and 8 of prevention of corruption and economic offences Act No. 5 of 1999 as amended  Act No.8 of 2006 to request information from any person for the purpose of administering the above Act,

“Your good office is therefore requested to furnish this office with certified copies on the below listed information relating to the Mpilo Boulevard Intersections tender on or before 1600hrs today 22nd October, 2019; Invitation to tender, tender opening minutes, evaluation report, tender board minutes, any other information relating to the tender process should be supplied.

“In terms of Section 6 of Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act No.5 of 1999 as amended by Act No8 of 2006 you are also directed to stop the tender process with immediate effect and revoke any awarding of the tender if it has been awarded pending our advice on the investigation,” the letter reads.

Approached for comment, MCC public relations officer ‘Makatleho Mosala said MCC had not received the letter through proper channels, but admitted to have seen it on social media.

Asked whether MCC was aware of the DCEO investigations, Mosala said she could not rule that out, recalling that institutions such as DCEO, Lesotho Mounted Police Services as well as National Security Service were represented at the opening of the tender box where members of the public and interested people were also invited.

“On Friday last week, the MCC and the ministry did select a new tender board as per the directive of the former minister of local government and chieftainship affairs.

“The new tender board sat for the first time on Monday and that is where they selected the company, whose identity I cannot disclose until after the 15-day cool off period.

“In any event, signs have been there that the Mpilo project was always poised to be a bone of contention. Therefore, we have always braced ourselves for anything to happen during the tendering process, and DCEO investigating us now is not really that much of a surprise,” she added.

A potential cash cow

The latest twist to the Mpilo saga comes just one month after this publication ran a couple of stories illustrating that the ruckus between Litšoane and MCC – which saw both parties intermittently trading harsh words – was actually motivated by a desire to have full control of the lucrative Mpilo Boulevard Intersections and Links project.

It is shrouded in so much controversy that some councillors have previously claimed 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 assemble a tender panel in line with the 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 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.

Court battle over tender board

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 did 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,” he said at the time

He went on to give a reassurance that the Mpilo tendering was not affected by the court battle as everything was 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.

Corruption and secrecy

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, in 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.

Heavy-handed minister

The evidently incensed Litšoane went on to accuse the councillors of awarding big tenders in cahoots with a tender board that they have appointed without taking into consideration the provisions of the Local Government Act, which clearly indicates that councillors do not have executive powers as these are the sole preserve of MCC technocrats. 

“Councillors do have the technical knowhow to award tenders; their mandate is only to shepherd the work of the officers.

“With the powers vested in me by the Local Government act of 1997 Section 97, I have made the decision to dissolve the tender board and direct the town clerk to form a tender panel in line with the Public Procurement Regulations 2007 amended in 2018,” the minister concluded.

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