…Minister Phamotse shuns calls to halt construction
The awarding of tenders for the construction of the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Youth Games Maseru 2020 sporting facilities is being probed by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), Newsday has learned.
According to the Minister for Sports, Dr Mahali Phamotse, the anti-craft body is in particular investigating claims of irregularities in the awarding of tenders for the construction of the facilities.
In a meeting that was held at the Ministry of Health auditorium on Friday last week, the Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation (MGYSR) confirmed that the DCEO wrote to her office last week ordering that the construction of two stadiums and accommodation facilities be halted promptly while the DCEO conducts investigations.
Phamotse indicated she has already responded to the letter, refusing to stop the construction processes as per the DCEO’s order noting her ministry “could not afford to pause the constructions since they are already behind schedule”.
The Region games are scheduled to take place from December 1-14, 2020 and there are only 14 months left before hosting the games. For this reason, Mahali said the DCEO can continue with its investigations while the constructions continue.
“I am not moving an inch backwards, I am only moving forward. Once a project of this magnitude has started there is no way it can stop,” said Phamotse.
She added, “The DCEO requested to see the tendering documents, and without hesitation, the ministry provided such documents, since we are confident that the tendering process was done accordingly.”
“In his letter, the DCEO Director says it has come to the attention of his office that there have been some claims of corruption in the awarding of the games and not the construction of facilities. I then responded by saying that the games were not awarded here, they were awarded elsewhere. Also I advised the DCEO to go and check his facts to get the story correct because he was not in order and I felt he was misguided.
“We should remember that the games are scheduled to take place in December next year, meaning we are already behind schedule now. When we are ordered to stop the implementation and the constructions, it will cause further delays. I told the DCEO to continue with the investigations while this national project continues.
“My ministry did everything by the book and consulted with relevant ministries when it came to the tendering processes, thus we will not be intimidated by baseless accusations.
“Should I be found guilty of any wrong doings then I am willing to be charged and be locked up in prison if need be.”
“Should the DCEO find me implicated in any wrong doings as the Minister, let him arrest me. As for construction it is not stopping. I am not afraid of prison and I do not fear anyone or anything,” the minister lashed out.
The DCEO Information Officer ‘Matlhokomelo Senoko confirmed the investigations but said she could not go into details, citing she could not speak about an ongoing investigation.
The revelations come shortly after Minister Phamotse told the National Assembly that the games have already been launched and would take place from December 1 to 14 2020.
She said the games would continue despite the Finance Ministry’s warning that the project would leave the country highly indebted.
The Finance Ministry warned that proceeding with the project would be tantamount to signing a blank cheque that would leave Lesotho in serious debt.
Fusi Notoane, Chairman of the Local Organising Committee earlier on revealed that the project is being financed with a M2, 450 billion loan from a firm called Property 2000.
Meanwhile, the government is expected to spend the M2, 450 billion on the construction of a 40 000-seater football stadium and a 30 000-seater indoor arena at Lepereng in Maseru, while part of the money will be used to construct new students’ residential units at the National University of Lesotho NUL Roma campus, and these will be used as the games village next year. Another sports complex will also be constructed there.
Phamotse was earlier summoned to appear before parliament after officials from the sports and finance ministries had presented legal opinion to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday October 21.
The legal opinion said that the negotiations between the sports ministry and various proposed developers were flawed and had discrepancies in procedure, threatening fiscal, legal and regulatory implications.
However, Phamotse assured that despite the challenges, the facilities will be built and Lesotho will host the games citing that the facilities construction work at NUL commenced on Monday.
The expectation is that the facilities will have been handed over to the Regional Organising committee (ROC) by October 2020.
The facilities will also be used to host the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) African Youth Games scheduled for 2022 in Lesotho.
There are ten approved sporting codes for the games namely; Athletics, Boxing, Basketball Swimming, Gymnastics, Volleyball, Netball, Football, Lawn tennis and Judo.
Lesotho will be expecting to host 3000 athletes and 1500 officials from the ten member states of the games which include Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, eSwatini, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
During the same meeting at the Ministry of Health headquarters, the minister delved deeper on the financial state of her ministry revealing different sporting codes were in danger owing to lack of funding.
She addressed sporting federations which had earlier on written to her concerning lack of funding. The federations needed Phamotse to explain herself.
She pointed out that the lack of funding streams from the decrease in the Lesotho Sports and Recreation commission (LSRC) annual subvention.
Compared to the previous years where LSRC received a total annual subvention of M13 million, this year the commission was only allocated a total of M2 million in annual subvention.
Jobo Raswoko, LSRC President stated that the M2 million will only go towards staff salaries, water, electricity and other utilities that would help the commission run its daily operations.
“We are therefore in no position to assist the federations and associations run their program or even host sports activities,” said Raswoko.
The LSRC is mandated to assist a total of 36 sports associations registered with it.
Phamotse confirmed that the LSRC subvention was decreased following the trimmed overall allocation to her ministry as compared to the previous financial years.
She said this year the ministry was only allocated M69 million while last year they received M90 million.
Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry on Wednesday issued a press statement indicating that the government of Lesotho has issued Loan Guarantees to Property 2000 (PTY) Ltd on the 30th September, 2019 on behalf of three companies namely; NEPCO TWO (PTY) Ltd M760 000, 000, DESIGN EDGE (PTY) Ltd M898 316 000 and MFT LESOTHO (PTY) Ltd M785 221 000.
The statement read; “The objective of the Guarantees is to enable the three companies to access financing to construct facilities for the hosting of the AUSC Region 5 Youth Games.”
The Press statement further notes that in terms of the Loans and Guarantees Act of 1967, as amended, the Minister of Finance has the powers, as approved by Cabinet to guarantee eligible and sound development projects hence the above captioned Guarantees.
“The Ministry of Finance is currently waiting for the financier to finalise the funding process of the named facilities in order to ensure that the AUSC 2020 Games are held successfully as planned in December 2020.
The total budget for the preparations of the games is expected to be M4,8 billion which would be shared equally by the government Property 2000.