Nacosec denies gobbling billions

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By ‘Majirata Latela

  • Nacosec allegedly blew money on non-essential expenses
  • Country facing corona catastrophe as a result
  • Nacosec insists its spending was above board

The National Covid19 Secretariat (Nacosec) which has gained notoriety for being an ineffectual yet keen money guzzling body, claims to have only used M341 848 400 of its M698 000 000 budget that was approved by parliament. It goes on to allege that thus far only M403 514 64 was disbursed to it by the Ministry of Finance.

Nacosec was formed by the current coalition government to spearhead the fight against the global Covid-19 pandemic in Lesotho, but it has not covered itself in glory as it has been consistently hounded by claims that it has instead become a get rich quick scheme for politicians, corrupt civil servants and shady service providers (also known as tenderpreneurs).

It made this public denial of financial transgression at a press conference on Wednesday this week, following recent media reports of a leaked preliminary report of the Auditor General which showed ‘evidence’ that Nacosec had embezzled M1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money, most of which was spent on non- essential services.

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The report, which was allegedly leaked to the media in August last year, revealed that M161million of the M168million of the budget had already been used by the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) which was replaced by Nacosec.

theReporter at some stage reported that at least M40million of the money allocated to the then NECC – which was headed by communications, science and technology minister Thesele ‘Maseribane – to prepare for the pandemic between March and June last year, had not been accounted for, and there was no paper trail for it.

The minister of health Motlatsi Maqelepo later admitted that the rate at which people are dying from Covid-19 could have been avoided if NECC had done its job. Coordination, or lack of it, he said, proved to be NECC’s major downfall.

“Bureaucracy when it comes to financial decisions seems to have been the biggest challenge that affected negatively the running of the Centre leading to its failure to deliver what was required of it,” Maqelep was quoted.

Maqelepo continued to show that things like personal protective equipment (PPE) and quarantine facilities were the first things that NECC should have procured and made sure they arrived on time. However, he said they are still waiting for a report of how the funds were used, and they will take that up with the Accountant General.

Now in addition to the Auditor General’s preliminary report, the principal secretary (economic affairs) in the Prime Minister’s Office, Kabelo Lehora indicated that, as the Disaster Management Authority, the budget that they had been given had been used to pay for essential services, contrary to what the media reports show.

“Eighty-six percent of the money that DMA was given has been used to pay for essential services, while the remaining 14 percent was used to pay for supporting services.

“Nacosec has been formed under DMA and there is no way it uses public funds, it only uses the budget that has been awarded to it in line with the DMA regulations,” Lehora said, adding that they do not at this point have a breakdown of the M341 848 400 that Nacosec has used and that would require them to be given time to do that.

Also coming to Nacosec’s defence with an indolent attempt to refute the Auditor General’s report was the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mosito Moqhekoana, who said the M1.5billion was only a ‘proposed figure while the amount approved and allocated was only M698million’.

Even though Nacosec is adamant that it used the mentioned amount of money for essential services, is still a mystery wat those expenses were; it was only last week when there was a public outcry triggered by the inability of the Berea and Mafeteng Government Hospitals to admit patients, shortage of oxygen at the hospitals. The two hospitals have been specially designated as Covid-19 patients’ treatment facilities.  Reports from different sources indicated that the country is battling with a serious shortage of oxygen leading to a surge in Covid-19 deaths.

Meanwhile, health professionals from different hospitals countrywide have been complaining that there is a dire lack of oxygen and people are dying because of that. Nurses, for instance, have even threatened to down tools, to pressure the government to provide oxygen for Covid-19 patients.

In an open letter to the government on Tuesday, the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) said it will soon call for a massive stay-away if the situation is not urgently addressed.
The nurses gave the government a week’s ultimatum to fix the crisis or they will strike.

The nurses said there has been a surge in Covid-19 deaths in the last two weeks as hospitals battled a serious shortage of oxygen.
They said patients are being sent back home because of a lack of oxygen.

“We are losing the capacity as health centres. The situation is getting out of hand. Worse, there is no oxygen. You go to a health centre only to be sent back either because there is no bed available or there is no oxygen,” the letter reads.

The LNA went on to dismiss the current statistics of Covid-19 deaths in Lesotho, published by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec), as a gross understatement.

In what is viewed as a desperate attempt quell fears emanating from the crisis of oxygen shortage and capacity to nurse people who are sick from the virus, Minister Maqelepo earlier this week announced that: “the ministry has added 45 beds at LDF clinic. It has also added 50 beds capacity by engaging Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hosptal to help and will gradually grow to 200. We have engaged over 400 health care professionals to increase our human resource capacity.

“We have established a relationship with Fox Solutions which will ensure that we do not run out of oxygen. Two contractors have been awarded through LMDA for oxygen plants at Mafeteng and Motebang hospitals.”