By Lerato Matheka
The government of Lesotho intends to sue a South African property agency, Ebilox (Pty) Limited, for its alleged failure to pay rental revenues collected from the former’s properties in Johannesburg amounting to over M10 million since 2013.
The revelation was made this week by principal secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, ’Mamonyane ’Maphunye Bohloko, before the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probing government ministries and departments.
According to Bohloko, the government ought to be receiving well over M1.2 million in annual rental collections from Johannesburg, but while Ebilox had been contracted since 2013 to collect the revenue and deposit it into the ministry’s bank account, the company had allegedly failed to do so.
Different reports seen by MNN Center for Investigative Journalism show that the government owns 19 properties in Johannesburg, ten of which are leased out residential houses.
The government staff based in Johannesburg occupy the other eight houses, plus an additional indent house.
The government, according to Bohloko, engaged Ebilox to manage the properties in 2013 after terminating contract with another agent known as Mrs Richie.
Reports show that the responsibilities of Ebilox include collection of rent, maintenance of houses and payment of levies and other municipal expenses with the company paid 10% of the income collected.
“The ministry is in the process of suing the agent and the office of the attorney general is going to help us take further legal steps. The office of the Attorney General has already appointed Advocate M.T. Matsau from South Africa to help us take legal actions against Ebilox,” Bohloko told PAC on Wednesday.
The PS said the indent house, which comprises seven floors, made a loss of M700 000 in 2015 alone.
Ebilox, according to the ministry’s legal officer Toka Mashoai, has not paid money into the Lesotho’s bank account since signing of the contract in 2013.
“We as officers have made several attempts to advice the office of the PS towards taking legal measures against the company. We went as far as advising that since the contract is renewable every 12 months, it was easy to terminate it. Our advices were not implemented. We are junior officers with no power to make any enforcements,” Mashoai told the PAC.
Teboho Mapetla, the chief communications officer in the ministry, told the committee that in August 2015 there was a report compiled which recommended termination of the contract submitted to the PS’s office “but no action has since been taken.”
Meanwhile, the 2016 Auditor General’s report noted observed with concern that terms and conditions of engagement of Ebilox could not be verified in the absence of a contract between the company and government.
Further, the report noted there were illegal occupants at the indent house. Bohloko, who only has a month in office, said the ministry had sought assistance of the South African Police Service to remove the said occupants.
The PS said Ebilox claimed it was not able to provide the government with the rental collections because it used the money for maintenance.
The 2016 government audit report further observed that the statement of rental revenue and disbursement from the property manager, which were going towards monthly payments of maintenance, did not have supporting invoices or contracts.
The report recorded M92, 803.00 paid towards maintenance between April 2014 and March 2015.
“It could not be determined whether the payments were only made for that period or even in subsequent periods, as the information provided was restricted to the mentioned period,” the audit report said.
It further added, “The status of the house has not improved despite the issue raised in the previous reports that could have cost such an amount.”
In the 2014/2015 financial year the budget for the property revenue was M1 765, 392 and according to reports Ebilox rental revenue and disbursement statement showed a total of M 1 281, 196,92 as collections for the same financial year, however the company’s statements reflected M 133, 323.68 as net revenue deposited to the Lesotho government bank account despite no availability of prove for such a deposit due to the absence of bank statements.
With the absence of bank statements reports have shown no records of rental revenue collected from all the properties of Lesotho in Johannesburg.
Despite numerous attempts to search the existence and authenticity of Ebilox Pty Ltd company in South African different company registry and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, the company showed no records of existence.
The Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo confirmed to MNNCIJ that his office would be suing the South African company on behalf of the ministry.
Adv Phoofolo explained that his office gave a directive to the ministry of foreign affairs to sue Ebilox for breach of contract.
“That company is not doing what it has been contracted to do, instead money keeps disappearing. I ordered them (foreign affairs ministry) to seek legal representation which my office will work closely with in pursuing the legal route.
“My reason to give this order is because this agent has failed to give Lesotho its dues but instead he keeps saying the money has gone towards maintenance which is not the case. Our buildings are rotting without maintenance while the government is missing millions of maloti.”
On authenticity of the company’s existence, Advocate Phoofolo said: “Now you are raising a new issue which we will have to visit. I don’t know its authenticity of this company, I don’t even know it, it was engaged into business by the previous government and I really have no idea,” Adv Phoofolo said.