…Deputy PS institutes legal action against parliament’s accounts committee after damning police uniform tender report
The Ministry of Police and Public Safety’s Deputy Principal Secretary (DPS), Ezekiel Senti, has instructed his attorney to institute legal action against the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for alleged defamation of character.
The move follows parliament’s adoption of the PAC’s report on 29 May 2019 which alleges Senti influenced the procurement process and fraudulently awarded a M3.6 million-tender for the supply of police uniform to Naledi Outdoor Advertising (PTY) Ltd and Cubana Shell (PTY) Ltd.
It was revealed during the proceedings of the PAC that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) is stuck with uniform that cannot be used because of its small sizes, with some of the clothing fit for 13-year-olds.
The committee unearthed controversial changes to the tendering process, and noted: “…the dubious fact was that the process started as an open tender but was later changed to selective tendering on account of security reasons as cited by DPS Police Ezekiel Senti.
“These companies delivered sub-standard uniform and low-quality t-shirts that did not meet the tender specifications.”
But Senti is disputing this finding and wants his name cleared by the committee.
“I am suing the PAC,” Senti told the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, saying his lawyer, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika, had given the committee chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, until Saturday 30 June 2019 to either remove his name from the report or face legal action.
“My lawyer told me this morning that he (Mochoboroane) failed to do so despite having received the letter,” Senti said on 1 July, adding this marked the beginning of his court battle with the PAC.
On 11 July, Senti said the case was ready to be filed in the High Court the same day.
The Investigative Centre has since established that while correctly arguing the tender was fraught with irregularities and the companies delivered substandard work, the PAC erroneously or purposefully misdirected itself in arguing in its report that Naledi Outdoor was not yet registered at the time it was awarded the lucrative tender and even its subsequent registration was done on 1 January 2016, which was a public holiday.
According to the companies’ registry records, Naledi Outdoor Advertising was incorporated on 30 January 2013 and not 1 January 2016 as argued by the PAC in its report.
Earlier on 14 June, Senti had told the Centre that the parliamentary committee “deliberately misled itself when it said Naledi used the license dated 1 January 2016 to apply for the tender because the license referred to in the report was for footwear and not apparel.”
Senti further said when he appeared before the PAC during its proceedings, he backed his submission with documents that Naledi’s license, which the committee is referring to [issued on 1 January 2016] was just submitted as part of the documentations but not for tendering for the police uniforms.
“I presented before the committee, a copy of the Naledi license issued on 1 February 2013 that was specifically for apparel-tendering, which I suppose the PAC does not even have its copy because they never asked me to give them one,” Senti said.
The Investigative Centre has a copy of the license which both Senti and Naledi Outdoor Director, Seithati Moletsane, say was used by the company while bidding for the apparel tender. The license is dated 1 February 2013 and lists corporate apparel as one of the company’s activities.
In an interview with the Centre on 19 June, PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, insisted the tendering process was shady. “One of those companies was registered on a public holiday,” he said.
The Ministry of Trade Public Relations Officer, ‘Mantletse Maile, blamed the controversial holiday registration on their companies’ recording system.
“The system we are using is too old and gives us problems when it comes to dates and time of registration, so it is possible that a company could appear to have registered on a public holiday,” Maile added.
She also reasoned that it was possible that a company might appear to have registered on a holiday, if such an organisation had registered online. “Registering a company online could be done from anywhere and at anytime, including on holidays,” she said.
But Mochoboroane says the sudden change of tendering process from open to selective was another suspicious issue. “Companies had been called to apply for open tendering, but a day after they submitted the requirements and samples of their work, the process was changed to selective,” he said.
By this time, Mochoboroane claimed Naledi Outdoor and Cabana Shell had already been selected, despite not having bid during the open tendering. “The ministry should have selected from companies which had already been in its database; companies with recorded experience and not bring new ones into the game,” Mochoboroane said.
He added the question that was left unanswered was “where the ministry selected the companies from.”
Mochoboroane was also quick to reveal that members of the tender board had told the PAC that Senti instructed them to offer the job to the two companies in question.
“He should not deny the fact that he had influence in the tendering process because even before he could be summoned to testify before the committee, he already had a case where he was being investigated by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) on the same matter,” said Mochoboroane.
But Senti argues otherwise, insisting: “I may have been a member of the tendering panel, but there was no way I could have influenced the panel. After all, I am not the PS but his deputy. I am in no position to make final decisions in the ministry, including those relating to tendering processes.”
According to Senti, the decision to change the tendering procedure from open to selective was instructed by then Commissioner of Police, Molahlehi Letsoepa, who is currently at large and facing murder charges in Lesotho.
“The then Commissioner of Police [Letsoepa] had advised the Chief Accounting Officer [then PS Selloane Qhobela] that the tendering process should not be an open one because there were security features planned to be made on the uniforms.
“The PS [Qhobela] thereafter, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Finance which, in response, gave several options to decide on and selective tendering was among them. That’s how the decision was reached,” Senti said.
Asked about Senti’s explanation, Qhobela reserved her comment on this matter, and referred the Centre back to the office of the incumbent PS, Matela Thabane.
Repeated efforts to talk to Thabane were futile as he did not respond to our questions sent though his secretary on 18 June 2019. His secretary has, since then, been saying Thabane was busy to meet with the Centre’s reporters.
On the other hand, Senti failed to back up his argument with documents for more than two weeks before publication of this story.
Although the parliamentary committee reported to have seen samples of the delivered t-shirts in “poor quality,” Senti said the ministry never found anything wrong with the said apparel.
However, Senti’s claim is in sharp contrast with what Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, told the Centre on 18 June. “There were, indeed, unused police uniforms stored because they were not fitting the owners, even though I am not sure of the exact number,” Molibeli said.
Molibeli further said he noticed such uniforms in 2017 after his appointment as commissioner. “The people who received the uniforms should have noticed that they were small and therefore, wouldn’t be useful. And the first action was for them to take the uniforms to the supplier, which they did not do.
“As for me, my hands were tied because there was already a filed case on the matter, and the DCEO was working on it,” Molibeli also said, adding he could not comment on the quality of the uniforms because he did not “go deeper” to examine them.
On her part, the DCEO spokesperson, ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko, told the Centre that a “tender-manipulation” case against Senti was brought before the organisation in February 2014. “Investigations are on-going, and we are hoping to report progress to the PAC in due course,” she said.
The PAC, on the other hand, has recommended the DCEO to complete this case and report to parliament within 60 days.
This matter was preceded by another High Court case lodged by one of the aggrieved bidders, ‘Maposholi Mosothoane of Smally Trading Company (PTY) Ltd, who had applied for the same contract during the open-tendering.
Speaking to the Centre on 18 June, Mosothoane said she suspected all was not well after the sudden change of tendering from open to selective.
“As soon as I noticed this sudden change, I confronted Ntate Senti because I felt we were unfairly treated. He cited security reasons, which I doubted because security does not apply on uniforms but to things like firearms.
“As I kept on complaining to him, he told me it was too late for me because the companies had already been selected and the contract signed. That made me more suspicious and I then did my own research and found that Naledi and Cubana were the selected companies,” she said.
She added: “I filed an urgent application in the High Court, seeking the court to stop the process. One of my arguments was that the companies were new in this business, while selective-tendering was only for companies with the required experience.”
Meanwhile, at the height of this case, Mosothoane claimed she had been harassed by the police. “Police officers raided my place claiming to be searching for illegal firearms and police uniforms. That made me more suspicious and I thought they just wanted to harass me for wanting to expose them. However, they searched until they were satisfied and left.”
However, Senti said that search was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with the disputed tender.
“I did not know of the police who went to search her place. I am not a commissioner and I do not have the authority to deploy officers in their daily duties,” Senti said.
But the fact that the uniforms seen by Molibeli were never returned to the suppliers has since become the suppliers’ safe-haven against the accusations that they were of poor quality.
For Naledi Outdoor, Moletsane said they were disappointed by the PAC report. “We were just shocked and disappointed by what the PAC reported to the public because nothing they said about us was true. If we had supplied uniforms of low-quality, it would be reasonable that we got a complaint from the Ministry of Police.
“Even if out of the 5000 goods supplied, 600 were rejected by a client, we could have fixed that had it been reported to us,” added Moletsane.
Moletsane is daughter to the late All Basotho Convention (ABC) deputy-leader Maboee Moletsane,
On the other hand, the owner of Cubana Shell, Lekhotla Matšaba, who supplied the police with epilates boots, said he fairly won the tender because his company had met all the standard requirements.
Matšaba accused the PAC of politicking instead of being honest and transparent in their duties. Matšaba is an active member of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), which is one of the parties in the coalition government.
“Before I become an active member of the AD, I am a Mosotho sole-proprietor. My company has been providing services to other companies including government institutions, not because I am an AD member but because I had, like any bidder, submitted the standard required documents.”
In the meantime, the PAC recommended that if the said companies are found to have participated in fraudulent dealings, they should not be allowed to participate in government tenders again. “All officers who were involved in this fraudulent activity must face legal action for having participated in this loss to the government of Lesotho,” the PAC declared.