By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- The former Principal Secretary (PS) in the Cabinet Dr Neo Liphoto could find himself in hot water following some of the actions he took while in office.

He faced intense scrutiny yesterday during the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) sitting to give an account of his actions related to payments authorised for the supplying companies who were engaged during the height of the COVID-19.

PAC is currently  scrutinising the Auditor-General’s report ‘On the Consolidated Financial Statements of the Government of Lesotho for the Year Ended 31 March 2021’ that has flagged the alleged irregularities related to the funds earmarked for the COVID-19 in 2020 at what is now National Emergency Command Centre (NECC).

NECC was established to coordinate all activities related to the pandemic as well as advise the government on the mechanisms to fight this disease.

The parliament’s oversight Committee has summoned people who were directly involved at the NECC and NACOSEC to answer on the alleged irregularities raised in the Auditor-General’s report.

Former PS Dr  Liphoto testified before the PAC that he joined the Cabinet office on  October 16,2020 and left April 1, 2021 during the time which he said he was “under pressure” to see things happen.

“It was not easy to resist some of these things,” he confessed.

He continued, “I authorised the payments under the impression that due diligence was exercised,” he said when asked if he did not interrogate the price anomalies of the food items as reported by the Auditor-General.

The Auditor-General said some of the companies that were engaged to render services were not registered with the Ministry of Trade while some had their traders license expired.

Dr Liphoto said some he queried yet he authorised them anyway despite this initial doubts that due diligence may not have been made.

The one he refused to authorise was of payments of a rock that had landed on the road and the contractor was sourced to remove it.

He also said he declined to sign for the person whom he was told had facilitated the workshop at a district he did not mention.

In its external investigation, the PAC said it has established that in excess of M50 million was spent on only seven companies during the time.

He conceded that he might not have “gone into the details” before making authorisations for payments.

“I had no particular interest, mine was to ensure that businesses who have rendered services are paid.”

Dr Liphoto continued: “I worked as instructed. However, there could have been oversight [on my end].”

The Committee asked who had given him directives to authorise payments.

He said he was asked during the Ministers’ meeting “why he is not paying and if he wants to collapse people’s businesses “.

In emotionally charged proceedings, Hon ‘Mamarane Matela accused him of having a “casual relationship with the truth”.

On Mashapha Transport that Dr Liphoto said he was called to the Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro’s office to pay him lest he “collapse” his business.

“Quotations were not sought from at least three suppliers and the evaluation process was not done to ensure economic spending of public funds instead Mashapha Transport was the only provider the Unit showed interest during COVID-19, which portrayed biased monopoly, ” reads the report

Former Maseru District Administrator (DA) Mpane Nthunya said he first sought Mashapha Transport requesting them to transport Basotho who were distressed at Maseru border gate free of charge. He distanced himself from the procurement processes saying his was to coordinate and utilise the equipment at NECC and NACOSEC in the fight against pandemic.

On Mashapha’s Transport, he said over 200 Basotho from South Africa who were deported and had COVID-19, NECC directed that those Basotho who were distressed in the border gate to be helped.

He said he took the initiative of requesting the transport companies but others such as Mdlokovana and Lekhooa Transport declined his requests and Mashapha Transport responded in the affirmative.

Mashapha Transport he said indeed transported the people to St James Primary School in Maseru and after that he told the Ministry of Health (MoH) who also proceeded to engage their services.

This he said is how he got in contact with Mashapha Transport.

The former DA then said after the takeover by the MoH, took the matter further and said people were transported to their respective districts and places.

Nthunya said when people were about to pay, as DAs across the country they would make endorsements on the performance of such entities in their district. This he said when the Committee asked why he endorsed the Mashapha Transport as reads a letter where he had endorsed them.

The Auditor-General report had revealed that there was no contract that was entered into between the government and Mashapha Transport.

“If it means requesting a rescue from transporting people from the [Maseru] border gate to St James Primary, then it may be that I have surreptitiously engaged Mashapha Transport,” he said when pressed with the questions about Mashapha’s engagement.

Meanwhile, at one point following some authorised payments for Mashapha Transport, Dr Liphoto requested the “retrospective approval of waiver for payment… “.

Former Principal Secretary (PS) Lefu Manyokole who was also summoned by the Committee said some of the things he queried when asked to effect payments he asked about authorised payments that he made.

The former PS said the following day he was given the transfer letter to National Security Services (NSS) from the Cabinet.

At one point, Manyokole said he received a letter to the then Minister of Finance writing him a letter apprising him of an account opened on March 31, 2020 specifically to address the issues of COVID-19 pandemic and was told that he would not become a signatory of that account.

He also said he “had a problem” of handing over to who was then coming in on appointment as the CEO of National COVID-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) Thabo Khasipe.

He said the feeding at the NECC was not inherited from the board and denied knowing where they were initiated. He said the payments he authorised were during the process when the companies had been engaged.

“It was difficult to have a correlation between the board [of DMA] and the Command Centre [NECC],” he said.

Meanwhile, this is contrary to the previous witness testimony when they said the DMA board never sat down, while Manyokole said the board would sit regularly.

Also the former PS in the Cabinet, Thabo Motoko said at one point he was summoned to a meeting to discuss him resisting to issue payments. In this meeting among others he said were the former Ministers of Health and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Motlatsi Maqelepo and Keiso Mosenene respectively.

Motoko also PS Cabinet said he was ordered by then Minister of Finance, Thabo Sophonea to effect payments.