…accuses commissioner of witch-hunt
BILLY NTAOTE and MPHO THAA THAA
The Chief Executive Officer of Co-op Lesotho Neo Theoha is under fire from the Cooperatives regulator for allegedly frustrating an audit of the cooperative’s books.
This is after the Commissioner of Cooperatives Maphamoli Lekoetje received insider’s reports that prime land of the cooperative was illegally being developed under shady deals entered into by the Co-op Lesotho Chief Executive without the approval of the full board and membership of the Cooperative.
Lekoetje told the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism she suspects Theoha could have misappropriated some of the funds accruing from the agreements he entered into with developers engaged to develop sites of the cooperative.
She said she has since learned that Theoha’s lifestyle has changed drastically since being appointed to the helm of the Cooperative.
It is as a result of the said suspicions that Lekoetje ordered an audit of the books of the cooperative in 2018 but her decision to have the books audited has since been allegedly frustrated by Theoha.
But, Theoha disagrees and argues all agreements he entered into were within the confines of the rule and regulations governing the Cooperative and within his mandate since being hired by the cooperative and that he has not misappropriated any funds.
Theoha said he is ready and willing to see an audit being undertaken.
Lekoetje told the Centre “the CEO assumed his position in May 2017, however within that period until now, he has accumulated over 4 cars.
“I then decided to find an auditor to look into their financial reports. As the commissioner and the regulator I am enforced by the law to appoint the auditor to look into a cooperative if need be so.
“I ordered a forensic audit and as the law states every society shall pay such audit fees as the commissioner may prescribe.
“However, I did not prescribe the fees, as prescribing the auditor does not mean I cannot invite the board and CEO to negotiate the auditor fees”.
Lekoetje said Theoha was at first reluctant to provide the Cooperative’s books and kept saying that the accounts were not ready for audit.
The Commissioner said eventually when the books were ready, she called in the Cooperative’s board and auditor to arrange when the auditors would start.
To her shock, Lekoetje said the following day she received a call from the auditor that said Theoha was at their premises to let them know that the cooperative does not have money to pay them for the audit.
“He did not even communicate this with me first nor did I get a letter from the board.
“He then wrote to the Principal Secretary that they have chosen a new auditor and asked him to authorise the firm.
“The Principal Secretary informed me about this letter. We were already suspicious in regard to his behaviour coupled with his lifestyle that he had accrued in such a short time, and about his employment background, especially how he left his previous employer.
“I advised the PS that I wished to call a meeting with the Board of Co-op Lesotho members to discuss the status of Co-op Lesotho as per the attempted liquidation from 2002 to 2006. I would go to different districts according to the board members residence to ask for each board member opinion.
“I wanted the board members to decide on the fate of Co-op Lesotho and give us a credible board to work with should they decide to keep it operating,” said Lekoetje.
Lekoetje said the Theoha went before the Public Accounts Committee recently hoping that the parliamentary committee would twist her arm into eventually agreeing with him on the auditor he has hand-picked.
But Lekoetje is adamant she wants to see the cooperative’s books audited by an independent auditor and not one chosen by Theoha.
“In a nutshell, the audit never happened as it was frustrated by the CEO,” said Lekoetje.
But in response, Theoha told the Centre that he approached the Public Accounts Committee to intervene as he believes that Lekoetje was obstructing his day to day running of the cooperative and “most importantly the vision of the organisation which is to breed cooperatives in Lesotho”.
Theoha said when he commenced his work as the Chief Executive of the Cooperative in May 2017, he was tasked to ensure the cooperation undergoes audit procedures through the Co-op Lesotho accountant.
“The Management committee, which is the board, had instructed to only audit the 2016/2017 financial report. This procedure was completed and as the law provides, we asked the Commissioner to send an auditor to review our financial report.
“The commissioner then asked us to go back and include the financial reports on the years 2013/2014, 2014/2015 2015/2016 as opposed to only the financial report of 2016/2017 we had in hand. This attracted a financial strain on the Co-operative, even so, we obliged to her mandate,” said Theoha.
But, Theoha adds that in 2013, there were allegations that the 2012/2013 audit report was prepared by a firm under the supervision of the Commissioner, as a result the audit report was overruled by dissatisfied Cooperative’s board members.
“To establish the financial reports she had ordered, it was important that we had the expected amended 2012/2013 audit report following the one ruled out by the board; however the Commissioner advised that we do not seek the update of the report but rather attend to the bid she made.
“We hired an accounting firm to prepared the books due to the heavy load of work.
“Then invited Commissioner to instruct auditing firm she had picked to scope and give us the quotation,” said Theoha.
He said on August 9, 2018, the commissioner, auditor and his office had a meeting which was meant to illuminate a way forward with the auditing firm, then I postponed to the next day.
“On the August 10, 2018, I was made aware that the directors of the auditing firm have made a decision to withdraw from the work assigned due the difficulties they encountered as they were preparing to perform all the duties assigned.
“They explained that they had communicated their decision to the commissioner.
“I asked if they perhaps could provide these concerns which they claimed to have come across but they explained that they could not because they were not appointed by me but the Commissioner as a result would only communicate such with the commissioner if need be so.
“On August 24, 2018, I made an inquiry update by an email to the commissioner on the progress of her plan B to find us a second auditing firm and she responded by saying that they were still working on the matter,” said Theoha.
Theoha said he waited for a month and ended deciding to contact the Principal Secretary of Small Business Ministry to come to the rescue and was told to go ahead but later on progress towards selection of an auditor was quashed.
“PS wrote a letter to us saying he had been advised by the Commissioner that she wishes to call a meeting with the Board of Coop Lesotho members to discuss the status of Coop Lesotho as per the attempted liquidation between 2002 and 2006 then after the proposed meeting, she would go to different districts according to the board members residence to ask for each board member opinion,” said Theoha.
Theoha said this showed that he had all intentions to see the audit performed but the Commissioner decided that she should rather consult membership of the cooperative about its fate.
This, Theoha said showed the commissioner had hidden agendas within the Cooperative.