The lengthy investigation of alleged corruption of a M140 million senate building tender has resumed under the new Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole, Newsday has learned.
The investigation according to reports were first lodged in January last year, and entail the alleged involvement of the Public Works Principal Secretary, Mothabathe Hlalele where he was to face charges of â€˜corruption and the abuse of power in connection with the M140 million senate building tender.
In those reports, the DCEO revealed it had completed its inquiries and would call Hlalele into questioning.
In a recent exclusive interview with this reporter, Hlalele charged that the investigations were a witch hunt and a personal attack by the previous DCEO boss.
â€œThe senate building could have been near its completion had the DCEO not come after me under bogus corruption charges. We were told to stop all processes owing to the investigations,â€ he charged.
He added that since the senate building case, he took a decision to recuse himself from the tender panel.
â€œI donâ€™t know if the people driving that slanderous agenda got what they wanted. Perhaps they thought that was going to destroy me, but it has made me popular,â€ he said.
He added, â€œI was very shocked to learn that a trusted institution like the DCEO can play its business and flaunt it in the media. I was perplexed and disappointed.â€
â€œIt was clear that the agenda was to have the public prosecute me.â€
â€œMaybe the new director will bring a renewed perspective of the organisation from the previous one,â€ he said charging that none of the bidders were complaining about the awarded tender.
â€œAll the bidders were satisfied with the decision of Qing Jian winning the tender, but now the DCEO surfaced and stopped the construction of the senate building.
â€œAt the time the construction was budgeted M40 million which kept being returned owing to the pending investigations. This years, if my memory served me right, that project was not allocated any funds, and unfortunately as we speak the senate could be nearing completion stages,â€ he said emphasising that the case was a personal attack.
He charged that the then director of the graft body, Adv Borotho Matsoso would say in public meetings that he would fix him.
â€œHe used to speak publicly in his management meetings that he will fix me and I will go to jail, so I know that it was a personal attack lodged towards me as a person.â€
â€œThey investigated and found nothing. I am of the knowledge that they were forcing the ministryâ€™s officers to implicate me of foul play, but they refused.
â€œI think with the new director, the DCEO is going to be a professional institution full of integrity. I trust that the organisation is going to start looking at merits of matters and not individuals as it was previously,â€ he said.
He lashed saying the corruption body was not sitting in procurement panels of the ministry.
â€œIt had turned itself into a part of the Works procurement unit, an act which left one wondering exactly what mandate was it serving.â€
Hlalele added, â€œSomeone needs to clearly define the functions of the DCEO so that it knows its boundaries.â€
In a separate interview with Newsday, the new DCEO boss noted that he requested all prominent case files before his office to learn and re-investigate them to satisfy himself that there was a case to take to court.
â€œI have been given all the prominent file cases and the Public Works case was one of them. I have carried out my investigations and I am yet to meet with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions; Hlalefang Motinyane).
â€œThere is new information but I will not reveal anything as yet until I meet the DPP and my investigators. Soon after that there will be a war forward which will be communicated to all,â€ he said.
The President of the Senate, â€˜Mamonaheng Mokitimi on the other hand confirmed that her office did not receive any funding towards the construction of the senate.
â€œI have inquired of the progress and I was told that project was still on hold pending legal battles.
â€œThis is a project which has been spoken of from 201 if I am right. It was at one point completed with a contract awarded until last year when things turned around.
â€œThe clerk told me that from the last contract awarded previously, he received another letter from the Ministry of Works with a different budget and a new contract all together. I was told that he delayed to sign over the project as the chief accounting officer of the senate, so as far as I know, money has been returned over the years until this financial year where that project was not allocated anything at all,â€ Mokitimi alluded.
The construction of the new senate building according to Mokitimi has been earmarked at the Mpilo Hill in Maseru, next to the National Assembly building and was supposed to have started breaking ground in 2017.
A report by the parliamentary portfolio committee responsible for the Prime Ministerâ€™s Ministries and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information which was presented before parliament in 2017 revealed that a Chinese company, Yan Jian, which was awarded the tender in 2016 could not proceed with construction after Hlalele ordered the re-evaluation of the senate building tender on the grounds that some of the companies which had applied for the job in 2012 had been unfairly disqualified.
The tender was then awarded to Qing Jian Group, a company that was initially disqualified in 2012 along with Sigma Construction and China Shanxi Construction according to the report.
The three companies were disqualified for failing to meet various bidding requirements, and in the case of Qing Jian, the company was declared to have failed to submit tender documents that were translated in English and authenticated by the Chinese Embassy in Lesotho.
The first phase of the senate construction which was budgeted M40 million relayed duo to the re-evaluation.
The DCEO probe came after the committeeâ€™s report indicated that the re-evaluation decision was contemptuous of the High Court which had ruled in 2016 that the tender must not be re-evaluated.
The re-evaluation to the budget escalated from M40 million to M140 million in 2017 according to the report.
But in a new turn of events early this month, the Prime Ministerâ€™s Ministries and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information parliamentary portfolio committee ruled that PS Hlalele was in contempt of court when he ordered the re-evaluation of the M140 million construction tender in 2017.
â€œContrary to the court orderâ€¦and without any appeal application lodged before the court challenging the order, the PS Works (Mr Hlalele) made a unilateral decision to order the re-evaluation of the tender. This act is tantamount to a bare contempt of court emanating from a chief accounting officer who is expected to respect and observe the rule of law of the land,â€ the committee said in its report which was tabled before parliament early this month.