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Finally, out in the open: NACOSEC, NECC illegally abused state funds – PAC

Business

Ntsoaki Motaung

The cat was let out of the bag this week on the legality of the infamous NACOSEC and NECC.

The current Acting Principal Secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister and Chief Accounting Officer, ‘Mapeo Matlanyane, made a shocking revelation that the two structures were introduced and formulated without a cabinet’s decision.

She was making her submissions in a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where the Office of the Prime Minister was grilled about the existence of the infamous National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC).

Matlanyane was asked to go back and collect all information that communicated a decision behind the formulation of the two infamous bodies but she confirmed there was never such a decision.

Her evidence drove ‘Mamarame Matela, a member of the PAC, to make brave and startling claims that the two structures were illegal manoeuvres aimed at misappropriating government funds.

PAC summoned the office of the Prime Minister to respond to queries raised in the Auditor General’s report on COVID-19 expenditure and management of donations.

Matela, a vocal critic during the meeting, raised concerns that the two structures were used to re-channel the funds allocated to the impoverished Disaster Management Authority (DMA) which according to Matela has been underfunded by the government for years.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the DMA had been an overlooked and underfunded institution.

“The formation of NECC and NACOSEC was a funnel for money to go somewhere else other than at DMA, which has been there for years, and should have been capacitated to do the work of those two structures during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

She emphasised that Lesotho has always been prepared for disasters, thanks to legislation in place to support such readiness. However, Matela pointed out that mere legislation is ineffective without adequate funding.

Matela criticised the government for creating institutions without providing sufficient financial support. She argued that this approach allows the government to establish institutions that do not function effectively, only to later form new entities to siphon off available funds.

Matlanyane, confirmed and acknowledged that when COVID-19 emerged, it was an unprecedented global crisis that prompted the government to establish a new structure to work alongside DMA in addressing the pandemic’s challenges, however said the then government did not make a decision ascending the establishment of the structures.

“For that, the government decided to form a structure which would work with DMA to respond to all the problems that were brought by COVID-19. That is why a new structure was formed while DMA was already there, but unfortunately I have never seen a cabinet paper of the government’s decision to establish the two structure.”

Matlanyane was given time to recollect all evident to prove the government’s decision but today (Wednesday, 6, Sept, 2023) she returned empty handed saying such a formal and documented decision to establish the two structure does not exist.

Thabo Ntoi, the former Deputy Chief Executive for NACOSEC, in defence indicated that COVID-19 was a unique disaster, particularly in terms of its scale, which warranted a different approach.

Ntoi cited other countries that had also formed new structures to manage the pandemic.

“The other issue was to look at what is being done in other countries, and it was realised that other countries do not only use their existing structures but others (similar to NECC and NACOSEC) were formed to help, and Lesotho was no exception,” Ntoi said.

Montoeli Masoetsa, another member of the PAC, lashed that even the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) flagged the irregularities surrounding NECC and NACOSEC.

“DCEO had previously reportedly that these structures were operating outside the country’s legal framework,” he said.

He questioned the need for the establishment of new entities when the DMA existed and argued that the Ministry of Health could have handled the situation if the DMA lacked the necessary resources.

He expressed skepticism about whether these new structures were motivated by a genuine need or an opportunity to access funds.

“It is very surprising to say COVID-19 was frightening and therefore new structures needed to be formed while there was DMA. Even the Ministry of Health could have dealt with it if it looked like DMA was not capacitated enough. Instead, people looked for an opportunity to syphon money,” Masoetsa charged.

The Auditor General’s report for 2020 emphasised that Lesotho had enacted laws and regulations to ensure preparedness for disasters.

These included the Disaster Management Act 1997, Disaster Management Regulations 1997, Disaster Management Manual, and the National Disaster Management Plan.

These legal frameworks, according to the audit report, aimed to guide disaster management efforts.

The report concluded that the existing laws, regulations, operating structures, and operational frameworks were sufficient to respond to emergencies or disasters.

However, instead of reinforcing these existing structures, the report noted that the government opted to establish NECC and NACOSEC during a crisis, resulting in non-compliance with national laws and regulations.

“Instead of strengthening the existing structures, the Government opted to establish new ones such as the National Emergency Command Centre and the National Covid-19 Secretariat at a time of emergency, and in the process, there was non-compliance with national laws and regulations,” read the audit report.

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