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Govt secretary warns suppliers

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NO orders, no business. That is Government Secretary, Lerotholi Pheko’s message to long-suffering media houses and other government suppliers who are owed millions of maloti by the state for services rendered over the years.

Speaking during new Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s consultative meeting with media organisations in Maseru, Mr Pheko said the new government would soon be paying media houses and other service providers their dues. He said the huge government debt was due to years of “misprocurement” by rogue ministries who requested services despite knowing fully well that they did not have budgets to pay. He said it should be easy to identify these rogue entities as they would verbally request such services or simply write letters instead of following the correct procurement procedures which entailed issuing orders for services they wanted.

He said unless ministries first submitted orders, service providers should desist from doing business with them. Government departments conduct business with various service providers. In the case of media houses, such business often entails government advertising in newspapers, on radio, television and online platforms.  Some like Africa Media Holdings (AMH), the publishers of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express newspapers, are owed millions dating back to 2008.

Speaking in response to queries about late payments, Mr Pheko, said, “The government is working flat out to pay service providers who are owed by the state. However, I cannot give an exact date when this will be done.

“I also want to caution media houses against accepting verbal statements or letters from ministries seeking to place advertisements in their newspapers and other platforms. They must only accept such requests when they are accompanied by orders. Whenever they see request letters alone, they must know that the particular ministry is broke and doesn’t have the budget to pay for services,” Mr Pheko said.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Limpho Tau, expressed similar sentiments, saying he could not give concrete dates as to when service providers would be paid as there “outstanding issues” to be dealt with before this could happen.

Communications, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Nthati Moorosi, said the meeting had been called to understand the media’s concerns. She said the government was ready to address pressing issues to allow the media to discharge its watchdog role without any hindrances. She said although they advocated for media freedom, the latter had an obligation to guard against sensationalism and any conduct that would derail stability and the developmental agenda.

On his part, Mr Matekane thanked the media for heeding his call to meet. He said it was imperative for his government and the media to work together for Lesotho’s prosperity.

“This is our first meeting and certainly not the last. Today’s meeting is the gateway to many more in future. I am a Mosotho before I am Prime Minister. I’m directly affected when Lesotho starts showing signs of poor service delivery from the civil sector and a slumped economy. In a similar vein, you also are Basotho before you are journalists.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have called you here today so that we can sit down, discuss pressing issues and share ideas on what we can do to take the media fraternity forward while also working together. We want to hear your expectations from your government.

“We have heard you and the recommendations you have made. When I was inaugurated on 28 October 2022, I did say that I’m one person who believes in engaging people so that they give me their opinions before I can make decisions. I must know what your expectations before we venture into this journey,” Matekane said.

“I appreciate your contribution to this meeting, especially because it is through you that our messages are to the nation. Our confidence to relay government’s messages to the people is vested in you. I would like to urge you to be neutral and truthful in your reporting. We have heard your requests and how you want us to assist you, in the pursuit of Lesotho’s prosperity. If we all plant together now, we will reap together at the time of harvesting,” Mr Matekane said.