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‘I am clean’: Maqutu

Lesotho Times

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa. Contact us today: News: [email protected] Advertising: [email protected] Telephone: +266 2231 5356

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s Director of Elections, Mpaiphele Maqutu, has rubbished allegations that he “corruptly” procured the ballot papers for the 7 October 2022 general elections.

Opposition parties have been alleging Advocate Maqutu unilaterally decided to award the printing of the ballot papers to a Durban based company by the name of Unit Print against a decision by the electoral body’s tender panel to award the tender to an unnamed Gauteng based company. The opposition parties had since reported Advocate Maqutu to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) which this week said it was still investigating the matter.

But Adv Maqutu came out guns blazing this week, saying the opposition parties were clutching at straws.  He had done nothing wrong in the procurement of the ballot papers to even warrant any probe.

Addressing a media briefing to update the country on the local government elections slated for 29 September 2023, Adv Maqutu said it would be helpful if opposition parties and any other interested parties took the opportunity to appraise themselves of the ballot paper procurement process.  They would then avoid manufacturing unsubstantiated allegations.

Adv Maqutu, who as director of elections is effectively the CEO of the IEC, took opportunity of the media briefing to respond to the attacks that have been repeatedly labelled against him by the opposition parties. The parties have called for his head, insisting that he rigged the ballot papers tender process. They also want the three commissioners of the IEC fired alongside him. The three are Mphasa Mokhochane (chairman) and commissioners Tśoeu Petlane and Karabo Mokobocho-Mohlakoane.

Adv Maqutu said he was clean notwithstanding any investigations on him.

He emphasized that it was important for people to understand the ballot paper procurement procedure to avoid a repetition of the current situation in which political parties “run to the DCEO to report that I am corrupt and demand that I be probed”.

“That was very malicious and unfair and if there is any job that puts anyone at risk of being jailed at any time, it is my job. Trust me, I do not intend to go to jail in my entire life. So, I do everything according to the law,” Adv Maqutu said.

“I do not have a wish to be jailed and I have even more reason not to want that because there is so much that life has given me; (I now have) a grandchild, and I need to spend my time with that little person.

“Despite being reported to the DCEO, to date, the DCEO had never called me even once. Instead, the DCEO called some of my officials… I do not know what they found from them or why they called them. However, I can assure you that they will never call me because there was nothing wrong with that procurement process,” Adv Maqutu said.

Adv Maqutu said the ballot paper procurement process was an open tender in which the media, police, and political parties participated equally without any undue influence from any quarter.

The DCEO launched the probe two weeks before the 7 October 2022 elections after a complaint by one political party, Hope.

Subsequently, IEC offices were raided by the DCEO, and documents linked to the tender for the printing and supply of the ballot papers were confiscated alongside site inspection score sheets and the evaluation documents that were used in choosing the suitable company to award the lucrative job.

Contacted for comment this week, the DCEO’s spokesperson, ’Matlhokomelo Senoko, said it was too early for Adv Maqutu to “preach about his holiness”.

Ms Senoko said they would only know after the completion of their ongoing investigations whether they had a case against Adv Maqutu or not.

“The matter is still under investigations, and we will know at the end of the process whether we are looking at a corruption or fraud case. It is still too early to say whether we are going to call the IEC director of elections or not. The bottom line is that it is still premature to make any assumptions.”

Opposition parties such as the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Basotho Action Party (BAP) were on record two months ago saying they wanted Adv Maqutu fired alongside the electoral body’s three commissioners.

They told this publication in May they were not confident that Messrs Maqutu, Mokhochane, Petlane and Dr Mokobocho-Mohlakoane would deliver credible local government elections.

The political parties also wrote to the Council of State in April this year demanding the sacking of the quartet, arguing that they had proved to be “incompetent” in the preparation of national elections.

The IEC leadership was accused of, among others, violating voters’ rights because several voters failed to vote during the 7 October 2022 general elections after their names went missing from the voters roll.  The parties also lambasted the IEC for erroneously allocating proportional representation (PR) seats and failing to account to the public for that “grave error”.

Their venomous attacks were reserved for Adv Maqutu, whom they accused of sidelining the “most deserving” company for the ballot paper printing contract and “unilaterally” allocating the job to a firm of “his choice”.

The IEC had admitted to erroneously allocating three PR seats to the DC and one to the Alliance of Democrats (AD) post the 7 October 2023 general elections.

The IEC subsequently asked the High Court to allocate the four seats to the Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP), Basotho National Party (BNP), United For Change (UFC) and Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC).

BPP Leader Tefo Mapesela, ‘Masetota Leshota from BNP, Tota Mohlominyane of UFC and Rev Paul Masiu of LPC were then sworn in as MPs in April this year to replace Morapeli Motoboli, Maletsema Letsoepa, Katleho Mosotho (all of the DC) and Lebohang Mochaba from the AD. This after the High Court, sitting as a Court of Disputed Returns, granted the IEC the greenlight to substitute the quartet on 30 March 2023. The judgment was granted by Justices Moroke Mokhesi, Keketso Moahloli and Fumane Khabo.

Nonetheless, the outspoken Mr Mapesela and the other three parties were still not happy with the IEC for what they termed a “schoolboy error” which had deprived them of the opportunity to be MPs. They wrote their second letter to the Council of State on 6 April 2023 lobbying for the removal of Messrs Mokhochane, Petlane and Mokobocho-Mohlakoana.

“In a parliamentary democracy like ours, the National Assembly is the representation of different groups of people with different goals.  When Basotho got out in numbers to vote on 7 October 2022, they made it clear which political parties they wanted to represent them in the National Assembly and we all agreed that ‘the people have spoken’, and expected the configuration of seats in the National Assembly to reflect their will.

“By making a mistake when allocating PR seats, IEC committed a democratic scandal never seen since the institution was established more than two decades ago. For more than five months, members of these four political parties were denied their fundamental human right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, through their freely chosen representatives.

“Unelected people were sworn in as members of parliament (MPs), passed important laws, and paid monthly salaries and benefits with taxpayers’ money while those duly elected were left outside and the IEC never cared to apologise to them.

“We, therefore, reiterate that the Council of State should immediately advise His Majesty King Letsie III to establish a tribunal that will investigate the three IEC commissioners’ fitness to hold office. We do not need to march to the Royal Palace for this to happen,” they wrote.

Mr Mapesela and others had written their first letter to the Council of State on 21 February 2023 seeking the removal of the IEC commissioners.   (see Scrutator on Page 19).