PS stammers in defence of dubious airport tender

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Ministry of transport principal secretary Maile Masoebe

By ‘Majirata Latela

The principal secretary of the ministry of transport Maile Masoebe has responded to an exposè of corruption in the awarding of a tender to renovate the dilapidated Moshoeshoe I International Airport, by threatening to ‘name and shame’ two politicians who allegedly leaked information on the scandal to the media.

The South African Centre for Investigative Journalism recently reported that the tender to refurbish the moribund airport had been awarded to LTE Consulting, a company which is reported to have been liquidated in South Africa.

The company is owned by South African businessman Thulani Majola who is widely believed to be a financier of Lesotho’s Democratic Congress’ election campaign and South Africa’s the African National Congress (ANC).

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It is not clear why the ministry did not respond to the media outlet, instead electing to do so through a hastily arranged damage control press conference which it used to ‘set the record straight’ and insist LTE had not been liquidated.

“I want to put it to you that LTE Consulting is not liquidated and will never be, that is what I am saying.  

“I am saying that because coincidentally, while I was reading the article on the same day, I found correspondence in my email that the issues between the two companies Kontinental Engineering Consulting and LTE, have resolved amicably by way of settlement of an agreed amount,” Masoebe harangued.

He said the ministry did its due diligence and had established that the company was very much operational.

He showed that during the ministry’s investigation, they found that the liquidation of LTE consulting never happened because the two companies ended up resolving their issues.

“What we found out is that the provisional of the final liquidation order, came after LTE Consulting moved offices and was served with a letter for hearing after the two Kontinental Engineering Consulting and LTE had issues of payment between them.

“After doing our investigation of what really transpired between the two companies, we stablished that the two companies solved the issue that let to provisional liquidation amicably and settled out of court.

“I want to also show that we would not have the grounds to interfere in the fight between the two companies but if LTE Consulting was indeed liquidated we would then have the grounds to interfere because that would mean the company is no more.”

The South African Centre for Investigative Journalism AmaBungani wrote in its article released on Friday last week that after a questionable tender process, in June 2021 the Lesotho ministry of transport awarded Majola’s LTE Consulting a contract to oversee the refurbishment of Lesotho’s dilapidated airport as the country raced against time to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)’s standards, following ICAO threats to shut it down.

But already on 18 March 2021, a provisional liquidation application had been launched by a creditor of LTE Consulting in the Johannesburg High Court. The application was granted on 9 June, a day before unsuccessful bidders were informed the contract had been awarded to LTE Consulting.

The company was accused of failing to honour a R23-million debt to its sub-contractor Kontinental Engineering Consulting, which built a bus station in 2020 for the City of Ekurhuleni.

An attempt at a settlement a month later failed and Kontinental went back to court, arguing that LTE Consulting had paid R14 million but still owed R8.9 million.

In court papers, Kontinental’s managing director, Dare Adediran, suggested that Majola had acted deceitfully.

“I verily believe that the respondent entered into the agreement of settlement only to avoid final liquidation and had no intention of paying the full indebtedness.”

Majola had resigned his directorship from LTE Consulting and changed the name of the company to Lesedi Technical Engineering Consulting, in what Adediran argues was an attempt to postpone the application “on a contrived basis”.

“Notwithstanding that the respondent was placed into provisional liquidation on 9 June 2021 the respondent continued to operate its business with impunity and it was only when a provisional liquidator was appointed and the respondent’s bank account frozen… that the applicant was able to secure part payment of its indebtedness.”

When the Lesotho tender was being awarded, Kontinental had already won the interim order to place LTE Consulting under provisional winding up.

On 24 February this year, after LTE had apparently disappeared from their own premises, Judge Marcus Senyatsi ordered the company’s final liquidation.

Three months later, the Lesotho government was still oblivious to the fate of their airport tender winner. It took a phone call from AmaBhungane to reveal this to them.

The principal secretary to the ministry of transport, Masoebe, who oversees the airport refurbishment project, seemed taken by surprise.

“We have only started the investigations this morning,” he told AmaBhungane on 23 May. “The matter is now with our legal division which has just written to LTE about this. Until a clear position is established, we may not discuss that. I will revert, said Masoebe.

Masoebe later refused to answer any further questions, telling AmaBhungane: “It should be enough to say we are in the middle of investigations.”

Majola has told AmaBhungane that he disputes the liquidation order.

“The order is false and all I want is for the contractor to complete the job as per the appointment letter, that is all, then we will pay them. The matter will be going to court and then you will know that they are claiming false amounts,” he said.

“Lesotho is also a sovereign state which has nothing to do with a tender where I am fighting with another company (Kontinetal). My work in Lesotho will not be affected in any manner.”

How Majola squares this with the fact that the company awarded the tender has been liquidated is unclear.

The timing of the provisional liquidation – ahead of the tender award – poses questions about the due diligence carried out by the Lesotho transport department and about whether Majola was under a duty to disclose the precarious position of the bidding company.

However, those are only some of the questions raised by the oddities of the tender process and the opaque nature of Majola’s cross-border political and business relationships.