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Fleet tender manager assumes work amid court storm

BILLY NTAOTE

A joint-venture that was awarded government’s fleet tender worth M100 million has begun operations amid an ongoing High Court battle challenging the contract.

Fleet Service Lesotho and Silverstone Fleet Solutions started work on 9 July by inspecting vehicles belonging to the government fleet.

On the instruction of Finance Principal Secretary, Motena Tšolo, all government and leased vehicles making the government fleet, were issued schedules for their inspection.

This development, however, comes amid an ongoing case heard in the Commercial Division of the High Court by Justice Lebohang Molete, in which Fleeters Holdings is suing to halt the awarding of this lucrative contract to Fleet Service Lesotho and Silverstone Fleet Solutions.

The case is set for hearing on 31 July. During the initial appearance before Justice Molete in May, the joint-venture’s legal counsel, Christopher Lephuthing, told the court that government had to sign the contract urgently because it was desperate to save money.

“They have to sign the contract as soon as possible,” Advocate Lephuthing said.

“We should all remember that the government of Lesotho has no money, so the government cannot waste time on the case which is not even urgent.

“Besides, it has to save money hence it has to sign the contract as soon as possible.”

But Fleeters Holdings, in its court papers, insists the contract should not be issued to Fleet Africa/Silverstone as the joint-venture does not meet the basic requirements for the tender, such as  registration.

The two companies, however, say these allegations are false and insist Fleet Service Lesotho is legally registered in Lesotho and its joint-venture with Silverstone, was also properly registered.

In its application, Fleeters Holdings is asking Justice Molete to declare it the rightful winner of the tender although it scored 70-percent against the joint-venture’s 82-percent.

In court, Attorney Khotso Nthontho, the lawyer representing Fleeters Holdings, argued the contract was about to be awarded to a company that did not exist.

Meanwhile, PS Tsolo has since written a savingram to the relevant stakeholders about the fleet tender. The savingram reads: “The government of Lesotho, through the Ministry of Finance, has signed a four-year fleet-management contract with Fleet Services Lesotho to manage all government-owned and Basotho rented vehicles”.

Tšolo also revealed the Finance Ministry had “received an electronic fleet database”, adding the “next task is to let our service-provider build a file for each vehicle through physical verification”.

She concludes that it is against this background that her colleagues are kindly requested to release all government-owned vehicles to the former PVPS building from the 9th July 2019 for inspection.

In response to questions by MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism if awarding the tender would not undermine the ongoing court process, Tšolo said: “No restraining or court order was granted by the High Court (Commercial court) and I therefore fail to understand why GoL could not go ahead with its normal operations where there is no order restraining it or interdicting from carrying out its daily activities, including procurement processes”.

She further said actions being taken following her savingram were “purely administrative decisions and not undermining any court order”.

Tšolo said although the applicants (Fleeters) had requested for a court order restraining the issuance of the contract, “it was never granted. There is no restraining order or interdict that was granted, meaning that it is non-existent.”

She added: “Government procurement is governed by the Public Procurement Regulations 2007 as amended. The process in the subject tender was followed in accordance with the said Regulations, which outline clearly the timeframes to be observed from the beginning to the end of the process.

“The use of the word ‘hasty’ in your question seems to imply that certain steps and timelines were not observed, which has not been the case in awarding this contract.”

Tšolo also said she was unable to indicate when the joint-venture would be fully in charge of the government fleet.

She however, said the inspection and establishment of  a database would be “followed by the installation of control systems to monitor the use of all vehicles. It is when all this work has been concluded that the company would be fully in charge of the fleet.”

She further noted: “The fleet management company is also expected to introduce a fuel-management system, which will monitor the use of fuel by the entire government fleet and alert government where there is abuse. The expectation is that this will reduce the cost of running the government fleet considerably.”

Meanwhile, the management of government’s fleet has, over the past few years, been at the centre of Lesotho’s political instability and significantly contributed to the demise of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s seven-party coalition government in 2017.

Then finance minister, ‘Mamphono Khaketla, was accused of soliciting a M4 million bribe from the directors of Lebelonyane Fleet Services in exchange for this money-spinning tender. Khaketla denied the allegation.

But the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) insists Khaketla allegedly asked for a kickback in exchange for the contract. According to DCEO spokesperson, ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko, the case is still pending in the High Court and will be heard in November this year.

Following an uproar over the tender, Mosisili’s government was brought to its knees by his then party deputy, Monyane Moleleki, who decided to form his own party and join forces with  Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, due to disgruntlement over the award of this fleet tender, among other reasons for their fallout.

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