The chief executive officer of the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC), Thabo Khasipe, has accused some unnamed government officials of frustrating NACOSEC’s efforts to fully execute its mandate of fighting the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
His remarks at yesterday’s press conference in Maseru come against the background of concerns expressed by the principal secretary for cabinet administration, Kabelo Lehora, that NACOSEC may have acted outside its powers when it advertised for tenders and appointed personnel for the fight against virus without consulting his office.
Among others, NACOSEC has advertised tenders for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), marketing, advertising and communication consultancy.
It has also invited applications for 50 call centre jobs.
In a recent memo to the finance ministry, Mr Lehora questioned the legality of NACOSEC engaging in such activities which have huge financial implications without his involvement as the cabinet’s chief accounting officer.
NACOSEC was set up in June 2020 by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), and it reports directly to him. This followed the disbandment of the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC). The NECC had been widely condemned as an extravagant institution not focused on the core mandate of fighting Coronavirus but providing a leeway for corrupt politicians and officials “to eat”.
A leaked April 2020 NECC document showed that instead of focusing on the core work of fighting Covid-19, the NECC was more concerned with the well-being of its officials with scarce funds earmarked for such superfluous aims as morning tea, lunch and dinner for personnel.
A payment request submitted by the NECC to the Ministry of Finance, seen by this publication last week, shows that the NECC had already gobbled M161 million of the M698 million budget to fight Covid-19 by the time it was disbanded in June 2020.
More than M10 782 618 was spent on food for NECCC staffers drawn from different ministries at a time health staff were going with no PPE and there was almost no visible campaign effort to educate Basotho on the ravages of the virus. Money was also spent on purchasing office equipment and other related items at grossly inflated prices.
Since its establishment, NACOSEC has widely been commended for helping end last month’s strike by health professionals by agreeing to pay them risk allowances and providing them with PPE for their frontline work in fighting Covid-19.
But these gains could be reversed due to some government officials throwing spanners into their operations, Mr Khasipe said yesterday.
Without mentioning anyone by name, Mr Khasipe said while they enjoyed the support of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, he was very disappointed about the battles they were now forced to engage with some government officials.
“I am disappointed that us the civilians are now fighting battles, small battles,” Mr Khasipe said.
“We are busy fighting small battles while we are losing the big war (against Covid-19).
“Our challenges started when we published tenders for PPE. That is when some in government started asking questions about what NACOSEC is about. Before that no one appeared to have a problem.
“So, we are currently enjoying the support of the private sector. Some of them have pledged to assist to buy intensive care unit (ICU) beds and other hospital beds for Covid-19 patients. We have also received assistance from Ntate (Sam) Matekane and this is good support we will hold on to because the government funds seem to be a problem. It is a catch-22 situation.”
Mr Khasipe later told this publication that they could be forced to cancel the tenders they had advertised if they are deprived of funds by the government.
“Without money, the tenders we have advertised will just have to be declared null and void. But we need to act fast because the PPE that was bought will be finished in a week or two.
“We were supposed to have bought the other batch by now but everything has stopped because there is no money. We will be back to square one once the PPE that was bought is finished. Unfortunately, the questions for non-performance will be directed at us when we have done our part (by advertising tenders for the supply of PPE),” Mr Khasipe said.
At the press conference, Mr Khasipe also bemoaned the high Covid-19 deaths in the country.
He said of the 815 Covid-19 infections recorded to date, there were 220 recoveries and 24 deaths.
He said at three percent of the infections, the death rate was worryingly high for a country with a population of just 2, 1 million.
“We have a very high death rate and it is worrisome,” Mr Khasipe said.
Asked what could be the cause of the high death rate, he said, “we are not in a position to say what could be the underlying causes”.
“We still need to investigate. When we have all the data, we will unpack it with our data analysts,” Mr Khasipe said.