By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- In an usual turn of events at the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, Hon ‘Mamarane Matela took on the Chairperson, Hon ‘Machabana Lemphane Letsie in full view of the Committee’s visitors.

During the PAC’s sitting, Matela confronted the Chairperson accusing her of disregarding the questions she had posed to the Cabinet staffers.

At one point, Matela threatened to walk out of the meeting and kept making interjections as the visitors were answering the questions.

One of the Committee members, Hon Napo Moshoeshoe suggested they should be excused while they address the seemingly unyielding tension between Letsie and Matela.

She described the Chairperson’s conduct as “uncouth”.

Letsie did not answer her despite.

Meanwhile, Cabinet’s Acting Principal Secretary, ‘Mapeoa Matlanyane and Chief Legal Officer Advocate Seeng Mats’osa had provided contradictory accounts on the establishment of now defunct National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), a structure that was mounted to coordinate and advise the government on COVID-19 pandemic.

These differing accounts, they gave to the PAC yesterday.

While the Chief Legal Officer said there was no document establishing the NECC, the acting PS who is also Chief Financial Officer said there was a legal document establishing the NECC.

The Auditor-General report painted a gloomy picture on the establishment of the NECC and also the legality of such a structure, said it was done illegally as the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) is the structure lawfully mandated to address disaster issues in the country.

Following its breakout in December 2019 in China, it spread across the world in early 2020 and countries had to devise measures to contain its spread.

PAC is a parliament’s Committee mandated to conduct an investigation within its functional mandate of oversight, focusing on the Auditor-General’s report “On the Consolidated Financial Statements of the Government of Lesotho” for the year ended 31 March 2021.

The report found that the NECC was not legally established as per the laws and regulations.

The Acting PS told the Committee that the NECC was established by the Cabinet decision, and was told at the Government Secretary’s office that such a document is with the office of the Attorney-General.

A member, Prof Nqosa Mahao who was the Minister then, said the process in government of establishing a structure starts with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that emanates from the Ministry concerned and then should be taken to the Cabinet for consideration and possibly approval.

He also told Matlanyane that she failed to undertake a rigorous assignment to find that document.

The Chairperson also threatened the Acting PS that there will be “consequences” if they find that she is misleading the Committee.

Advocate Mats’osa denied any Cabinet decision that was made to set up the NECC.

Meanwhile, then Deputy PS at the Ministry of Health, Advocate Lesimolle Moletsane could not be drawn to answer if the NECC was established through due processes.

The NECC was later disbanded and the similar structure was constituted called, National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) which also came under fire. 

The report also established that there was duplication of duties between NACOSEC and the government ministries as some staff were headhunted yet the Ministries had personnel with the required expertise.

Former NACOSEC Director of Human Resources, Reatile Elias said he was headhunted by then NACOSEC Chief Executive Officer, Thabo Khasipe to help recruit and establish the organizational structure.

He also swore to answer the recruitment of Dr Catherine Lephoto based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who is the microbiologist specialist.

Also the issue of an interest that the Committee interrogated was the “big” salaries of the NACOSEC staff. The Director of Human Resource was for instance paid M90 000 monthly and Dr Lephoto about M120 000, the figures higher than that of the Prime Minister as stipulated in government salaries gazette.

Addressing this matter, Elias said benchmarking was done and that the process was legalized introspectively as the salary structure was submitted before the Cabinet’s “task force” of Ministers for approval.