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Platcorp saga: 200 Basotho deserve attention

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

In our previous two editions, we have reported in detail about how a M280 million investment project is now stalled due to the corporate skullduggery of a woman who, instead of managing the investment on behalf of an international financial services conglomerate responsible for it, is now trying to steal the entire project for herself. Her unmitigated greed has led her to betray all the trust invested in her.  As a result, at least 200 Basotho are now out of work and stranded at a time the country is mired in stratospheric unemployment levels.

Greed and gluttony have always been part of human nature, some might argue. But the extent to which Motena Lishea has stretched these vices is inexplicable.

Many of our readers – who have responded to our online feedback channels – have questioned why the conglomerate – Platcorp- entrusted such a huge investment in an individual (Lishea) without a thorough due diligence on her first, and without first securing full ownership of the company at issue, Wazzah, later renamed Platinum Credit.  But that wholly misses the point.

Deferred share transfer agreements are common in commercial transactions. The Platcorp investment was also consummated at the height of Covid-19 when international travel was severely constricted and commercial transactions rigorously slowed due to a shift in the traditional ways of doing business.  Companies and public enterprises had to adjust to the new “work from home” phenomenon. Everything slowed as a result.

We have no doubt that Ms Lishea – who has already done some jail time – alongside six of her fellow directors – three of whom have since ditched her and turned whistleblowers against her avarice – will lose this sordid battle in the end – despite her alleged spirited and boisterous attempts to manipulate and compromise the decision-making value chain. There is simply no way she can rebut the fact that Platcorp are the owners of the money that she and her boyfriend, lawyer Tšenase Tšenase, have been allegedly stealing and squandering on mansions, fast cars, cash bonuses, exotic holidays et all.

But the cost of her antics to the reputation of Lesotho as a favourable investment destination is immeasurable.

Prime Minister Sam Matekane won a landslide in the October 2022 general elections on the back of promises to create jobs and reduce endemic poverty.  That is a mammoth yet achievable task.  It is mammoth because Lesotho is generally considered a small marginal market, outside the normal radar of the international investor market. It is nonetheless achievable if the country can at least be prepared to lay the red carpet for those foreign investors that are ready and willing to risk their money into the country.  Yet the treatment of foreign investors remains a huge cause of worry.

M280 is no small change. Neither is the additional M1 billion that Platcorp was prepared to pour into the country to create hundreds of jobs in the process. Instead of being welcomed with open loving arms, the company now finds itself spending much of its time in the courts, trying to ward off Ms Lishea’s dishonourable attempts to hijack its humungous investment.  All this while the government and other key regulatory institutions appear to be resting on their laurels.  Others now stand accused of aiding Ms Lishea’s dishonourable shenanigans.

Yes, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), under the promising new leadership of Knorx Molelle, has shown a bit of teeth after getting warrants to freeze the accounts of Platinum Credit at three commercial banks to stop Ms Lishea from further looting them.  The case is pending in the High Court with Ms Lishea dishonestly suing the DCEO for the freezing order to be lifted so she can regain access to money that is not hers and was never hers.

But is that all the DCEO can do?  We shudder to ask. There is ample evidence for the DCEO to pursue criminal charges of theft and fraud against Ms Lishea, Advocate Tsenase and the rest of Platinum Credit’s disreputable directors who are nothing more than Ms Lishea’s lapdogs and appear to have no elementary clue about corporate etiquette, particularly in the highly regulated financial services sector.  So why hasn’t the DCEO taken the bull by its horns? Why haven’t they moved to implement more sterner action against Ms Lishea? We implore the corruption busting body to get more bite.  The DCEO must have muscle. It must have the valour to stop all manner of crookedness perpetrated against legitimate foreign investors.  Only then can the country be able to attract more foreign investment.

And what about the government and key institutions like the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) which is normally very stringent in enforcing compliance by institutions in the financial services sector? What have they done to safeguard the jobs of the 200 Basotho now ruined by Ms Lishea’s avarice?  We encourage the CBL to look into this matter and assess what can be done to save jobs in this developing sector?  It’s obvious that Platinum Credit’s board is now not compliant after the quitting of the four other directors in protest at Ms Lishea’s alleged corruption? Where does she thus even get the authority to be instituting action against the DCEO?

The rule of law is an important pre-requisite to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).  Foreign investors want both railguards and safeguards to have recourse whenever they are shortchanged in investee countries.

Zimbabwe remains an enduring example of what happens whenever the rule of law is trashed. That country’s late leader Robert Mugabe once decreed that all foreign investors had to bequeath at least 51 percent of their shareholdings to locals in an ill-conceived indigenisation and nationalisation project that many deemed a primitive form of theft.  No compensation was to be paid to the foreign owned companies for relinquishing equity to the locals.

The foreign investors found themselves with no legal recourse. The judiciary had already been packed. The result was that they voted with their feet.  A once promising Zimbabwe – once the bread basket of Africa – is now a miserable basket case with its viable human resources now scattered across the world.

Corporate feuds – just like politically inspired bottlenecks – are commonplace in the commercial and investment world. But countries with legal systems to ensure that these are either arbitrated or adjudicated upon expeditiously and fairly stand a better chance of attracting foreign investment. Ms Lishea’s outrageous antics have exposed the weaknesses inherent in Lesotho’s general investment climate.

Unless Lesotho becomes welcoming of foreign investment and shows respect to those willing to risk their money into the country, Prime Minister Matekane’s wish to curb rampant unemployment will remain a pipe dream.

Only recently we reported on the very unfortunate incident in which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to South Africa and Lesotho, Mahash Saeed Al Hameli, was denied entry into Maseru because Home Affairs officials did not register his visa at the airport. What a disgrace? How embarrassing?  The Middle Eastern Oil Sheikhs are regarded as the “owners of petrol dollars”. Even developed countries stampede to get their attention for investment.  Yet an economic backwater like Lesotho affords to ill-treat one of their key representatives without any consequence for all those responsible? How can any serious potential Middle Eastern investors be persuaded that their petrol dollars can ever be safe in Lesotho when the country dishes out such shabby treatment to one of their high representatives like Ambassador Saeed Al Hameli?

The fact that there was no public apology to Ambassador Saeed Al Hameli, the UAE, and public rebuke of all those responsible for the ambassador’s humiliation is even more disgraceful.

Equally, when an investor, who has risked a whopping M280 million is mistreated, there has to be indignation across all the levers of power.  Moreso when the facts are so straightforward as in the Platcorp case wherein an open heist is being perpetrated against a foreign investor.  But the deafening silence from the government and inaction of all other key institutions is disturbing.  Where are the authorities? We shudder to ask again. Where is the criminal action against those perpetrating the heist?

While court processes play out, senior government officials should have been scrambling to establish the facts and how to assist to get 200 Basotho back to work.

The facts are simple. Ms Lishea and her boyfriend are trying to hijack an investment that does not belong to them. They have already allegedly looted millions. Certain institutions have either wittingly or unwittingly aided the flouting of court orders. There have to be consequences for all and sundry. But alas, this is Lesotho.  We can only hope for the best. We can only hope this story catches Mr Matekane’s eye and prods him to do something about it. After all, the jobs he promised don’t seem to be materialising fast enough.  And soon, he will have to face an exasperated electorate again in the upcoming municipal elections in September 2023.