Kananelo Boloetse and Lerato Matheka
His Majesty King Letsie IIIâ€™s 60th birthday celebrations have undoubtedly been a spectacle to behold, with a series of grand events organised to mark this milestone.
The government initially announced that approximately M5.6 million had been allocated for organising and hosting the Kingâ€™s birthday celebrations.
However, it has now come to light that there were additional lavish events that were not mentioned in the governmentâ€™s statement.
This extra extravagance came with a jaw-dropping estimated budget of over M13.7 million â€“ a king-sized budget that could probably pay M2,000 in school fees for 6,900 high school students.
But the real star of this show is not the King himself, but rather the mysterious Brand New Vixion (BNV), an agency that seems to have magically appeared out of thin air just in time for the grand festivities.
Newsdayâ€™s inquiries with the Ministry of Trade led to one conclusion, BNV is not a registered business unless it is registered under a different name.
When confronted with this information yesterday, Tlotlisang Setsumi of BNV said he was not going to respond to any more questions from this publication.
â€œDo not ever call me again before you talk to the Royal Palace as it is the one that gave me the job. Go and talk to the Palace,â€ Setsumi said angrily.
He had told Newsday on Wednesday that his company was awarded the contract by the Office of the King and not the government.
When this publication insisted that the office of the King was a public office funded by the taxpayers, he said he was engaged by the â€œKing in his private capacityâ€.
This raises questions about the transparency and accountability of the whole affair. After all, the Royal Palace is a public office funded by taxpayers, and such lavish celebrations should be subjected to public scrutiny.
Newsdayâ€™s efforts to get a comment from the Office of the King on Wednesday and yesterday were not successful.
A â€œconfidentialâ€ concept note prepared by BNV, detailing the series of celebrations and estimated costs, was obtained by Newsday.
WELCOME COCKTAIL PARTY
The festivities, according to the concept note, would kick off with a â€œWelcome Cocktail Partyâ€ where guests would be warmly welcomed with the most luxurious libations, on July 14 at 6 pm.
This party would not just be about raising a toast to the Kingâ€™s milestone birthday but would also serve as a subtle reminder of his role as the Father of the Basotho nation, leading them into the â€œDiamond Era.â€
The guests would be given a brief overview of the Kingâ€™s Trust, taken through the itinerary of the three-day activities, and briefed on how their presence and contributions would be beneficial for Lesothoâ€™s well-being & future through this trust.
ART EXHIBITION AND AUCTION OPENING
Next up was the â€œArt Exhibition and Opening of Auction,â€ a showcase of Lesotho’s culture and unique attributes through exclusive and one-of-a-kind pieces, on July 14 at 7:45 pm.
The concept note stated said these pieces would be created exclusively for this event but would be open for auction to the guests and the public through a live auction.
For the cocktail party and art exhibition, the budget was estimated at M2,791,333.75.
HIS MAJESTYâ€™S CRAFTS MARKET
As if that was not enough, the â€œRoyal Diamond Era Marketâ€ was next on the list. This market, tailored exclusively for the guests of His Majesty, would feature high-end crafts that screamed opulence.
Titled Royal Diamond Era Market, the event would be held on Saturday, July 15, from 9:30 am to 1pm.
â€œThe event is a crafts market catering to guests of His Majesty King Letsie III. To meet their expectations; the arts and crafts will be exclusive, high quality, and durable,â€ read the concept note.
It further mentioned that the market would curate the selection of high-end crafts with a select vendor list offering high-quality, unique, and exclusive crafts; only the best artisans will showcase their work.
The concept note read: â€œAvani Maseru poolside offers ideal space, personalised service, and various VIP amenities such as parcel counters, safety wrapping for newly purchased goods, and delivery to their doorsteps. The Market will not be open to the general public.â€
The budget for the crafts market was M1,489,606.
DIAMOND PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA CONCERT AND DIAMOND GALA DINNER AND DANCE
Now, the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance was undoubtedly the â€œDiamond Philharmonic Orchestra Concertâ€ and the accompanying â€œDiamond Gala Dinner and Danceâ€.
Guests were treated to a mesmerising performance by the Mzansi Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concept note stated that the orchestra concert would be held on July 15 at 4 pm at the â€˜Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru.
But the celebrations did not stop there â€“ a lavish six-course fine dining experience â€“ a six-course dinner menu that included: an hors dâ€™oeuvre, soup, appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert. followed, complete with wine pairings and palate cleansers.
This event was held on the grounds of the Royal Palace. All this in the middle of winter, of course, necessitating usage of elaborate heating arrangements to keep guests warm.
â€œSeating would be made up of 25 ten-seater round tables with 25 roving servers throughout the evening. Due to the expected cold winter weather and the fact that it is an outdoor evening setting, we propose having a clear-span marquee with indirect-fired space heating inside and patio heaters outside to keep guests warm,â€ read the concept note.
â€œThere will be a covered veranda with lounge and cocktail seating outside for those who will be smoking. 3 x three counter full mobile bars will be set up with two bars inside the marquee and one bar on the outside for ease of access and efficiency,â€ it added.
It also stated that dinner would be accompanied by a live performance by Basotho artists Maleh and Leomile accompanied by a five-piece band.
It said the evening would culminate in an open dancefloor inviting guests to enjoy the music and dance to fusion band performances and DJing.
â€œ20x Shuttles will be on standby and rotating from 22h00 transporting guests from the venue to their places of accommodation,â€ it read.
M6,743,332 was budgeted for the philharmonic orchestra concert and gala dinner dance.
As the celebrations continued into the next day, the â€œChampagne Brunchâ€ took center stage. This event, held in Matsieng on July 16 from 12:30 pm, was an opportunity for guests to experience the treasures of Lesotho â€“ the land, resources, and people â€“ while sipping on bubbly.
â€œInvite only VVIP guests will be escorted to the garden in Matsieng for a champagne brunch inside a clear span marquee with lounge seating, cocktail tables, and high chairs,â€ read the concept note.
It stated that there would be serving stations with seafood braai, salad bar, sushi bar, and spit braai (lamb, pork, chicken) on a four-part rotisserie.
It read: â€œFood and drinks will be served by roving waitrons throughout the afternoon. 3 x three counter champagne bars will be set up inside and outside the marquee and drinks will be served by bartenders and waitrons. DJ will be playing a selection of jazz, afro-soul, and afro beat music as guests mingle and network.â€
M2,739,496.25 was budgeted for the champagne brunch, bringing the total estimated cost of the activities to M13,763,768.
Principal Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police, Tumelo Raboletsi, confirmed that the events were not organised by the government.
â€œThey (Brand New Vixion) were organising their own events separately from the government, and I have no idea how they were engaged or by whom,â€ Raboletsi stated.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is charged with organising, planning, and executing state ceremonies and events.
What the government had organised to mark the Kingâ€™s birthday was the conferment of civilian and disciplined forces awards on July 12, at the Royal Palace Grounds.
It also organised a church service at Matsieng St Louis Roman Catholic Church on July 16 and a national celebration on July 17 at the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru.
Lunch for the dignitaries was served at the Royal Palace and arrangements were made with schools near the stadium for public feeding.
â€œAn estimated M5,604,232.50 is requested for the above-mentioned expenditure,â€ read a savingram from the Government Secretary (GS) to Raboletsi dated June 14, 2023.
Setsumi told Newsday on Wednesday that his company, BNV, was engaged by the Royal Palace to organise celebrations for the King because the events organised by the government previously were disappointing and embarrassing.
He confirmed the authenticity of the concept note and also confirmed that everything went swimmingly as planned.
He stressed that the events were privately organised to mark the Kingâ€™s birthday and were unrelated to official government ceremonies. â€œThese had nothing to do with the government, the events were organised privately,â€ he said.
WAS BNV GIVEN THE JOB ON A SILVER PLATTER?
The unease with the situation finds further expression in an opinion piece titled â€œDiamond Era IIâ€ written by Kabelo Mollo and published by The Reporter on July 14.
Mollo claims that the idea of grand celebrations for the Kingâ€™s diamond jubilee originated from a casual conversation with Setsumi, suggesting the possibility of BNV being favoured without due process.
Mollo stated that it was around June last year when he got a call from â€œthe short but brilliantâ€ Setsumi.
â€œWe need to talk he told me. I made time for a chat, which actually turned out to be something of a presentation. It was a pie-in-the sky idea of creating epic events for His Majestyâ€™s diamond jubilee.
â€œTurning 60 he told me is no small feat. We agreed that the conversation needed to progress in the presence of my old man who would be better placed to advise on a way forward,â€ he wrote.
He said he duly organised a meeting with his father who immediately cottoned on to the plan.
â€œHe absolutely loved it and said come hell or high water heâ€™d play his part in ensuring His Majesty gets a celebration fit for a king. Tlotlisang and I were both excited and anxious when Ntate Joe organised a presentation for us in front of His Majesty. It went well and the diamond era was born,â€ he wrote.
â€œBrand New Vixion is the agency charged with executing His and Her Majestyâ€™s vision for what ought to be an epic celebration and a recalibration for the nation. A chance for us to redouble our efforts to take the kingdom and put it in its rightful place.
â€œThe season of abundance ushered in by our figure headâ€™s diamond celebration. We are working hard, literally day and night to ensure the diamond era kicks off with a bang,â€ Mollo stated.