Former Minister Tšolo denies ever selling out Lesotho to Frazer
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…tells Public Accounts Committee he was framed and his signature forged
…former Government Secretary Mphaka calls for Frazer Deal a fraud and must have been dealt with by police
By Itumeleng Koleile
Former minister in the former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s Office Temeki Tšolo this week told Public Accounts Committee he never signed a controversial billion Maloti deal with Frazer Solar that now threatens to seize Lesotho’s assets.
Public Accounts Committee heard evidence from Tšolo in a joint sitting with the Natural Resources portfolio committee cluster.
He said he reckons his signature was forged and everything that was done in the signing of the deal was never spearheaded by him.
Tšolo said the manner in which his names were written on the contract give suspicion that they were not written by him.
“Normally, when I write my name I write in this manner: Temeki Phoenix Tšolo. What was perplexing was that on the contract my names were written as Tsolo Temeki Phoenix and my surname did not have a symbol as I normally do,” he said.
Frazer Solar is a German company that allegedly negotiated a M1,4 billion deal with the government during tenure of Prime Minister Thabane and was proposing to undertake a number of solar power projects that included home-based systems, provision of power-saving lights and erection of mini-grids.
Other aspects of the project were allegedly aimed at providing government buildings with solar water heating systems, LED lights and solar lanterns.
Tšolo was hauled before the PAC to address allegations portraying him as the sole government official who appended a signature to give the green light to the project.
He allegedly singlehandedly spearheaded the solar deal which has left Lesotho fighting tooth and nail for stay of execution of seizure of its assets amounting to 50 million euros and additional legal fees and interests.
Frazer Solar had filed a lawsuit for breach of contract against the government in various jurisdictions that included Johannesburg, South Africa, Mauritius and United States of America.
Tšolo said he met Robert Frazer when he was only trying to coerce him into agreeing to get involved in a solar deal.
He said he learned about the existence of the letter that was alleged to have been written by him through radio stations news reports on allegations that he wrote to the minister of energy.
Responding to the question that was asked by chairman of public accounts Teboho Sekata about the letter Tšolo wrote to the former minister of energy, Mokoto Hloaele, he [Tšolo] said he does not recall ever writing such a letter.
“I do not recall ever writing such a letter I do not even recall contents of the said letter. I am not even sure whether the signature was even mine,” he said.
He said the only time he recalls ever writing a letter to Hloaele was when he was requesting that he gives Frazer’s proposal an ear as his ministry is responsible for solar power projects.
“The signature in the letter looks almost the same as mine but I am not sure it is mine,” he said.
“I submit, that is not my signature,” he reiterated.
Tšolo was referring to the letter that was dated May, 11th 2018 which reads: “Please focus your deliberations on how this project will impact your own ministry. Pending majority feedback in the affirmative, the office of the prime minister and minister of finance will then finalise project parameters with German government and present the final proposal to Cabinet in early June”.
He further insisted that when he attended the briefing session at Durham Link in 2017, he was informed by his secretary that he would be introducing Frazer to present stakeholders and technocrats.
He agreed that indeed he the prime minister’s office was not supposed to have handled the solar deal.
He also said he had withdrawn the memorandum before it could be debated before cabinet.
“Upon arrival for the cabinet meeting, I realised that I was supposed to present the solar deal. I realised that memorandum had my initials. That was when I decided to withdraw the memorandum before it could even be discussed in the sitting,” Tšolo said.
However, former government secretary Moahloli Mphaka told the committee although the Frazer Solar deal was taken to him by the former principal secretary in the prime minister’s office, it was never approved by cabinet.
He said contradictory to Tšolo’s statement that he withdrew the memorandum before it was debated in a cabinet sitting, it was withdrawn following debate and then deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office Leshoboro Mohlajoa’s failure to address the issues that were raised to him by cabinet.
He said Mohlajoa had to present the memorandum as the Tšolo was absent.
“Tšolo must have forgotten the course of events since this happened a while ago. The day the memorandum was supposed to be presented before cabinet, he was not available and as such, his deputy had to present the memorandum,” Mphaka said.
Mphaka said one of the issues was that solar issues had nothing to do with the office of the prime minister.
In addition, Mphaka said the cabinet was concerned that the Frazer Solar deal is a project thus it must have gone through the project appraisals committee of the ministry of development planning to be aligned with all projects in the government.
He also added that it was said that the deal “looked like a loan, and if it is a loan, it is drawn back to the constitution, the only person who can source funds and expend funds from the government is the minister of finance, therefore the project seemed to have three major limitations”.
He said ministries of energy and development planning ought to have been party to the project.
“The memorandum ought to have been brought to Cabinet by the ministry of finance. Or if however, they opted to submit it jointly as three ministries and they would have done a joint memorandum,” Mphaka said.
He said Frazer Solar deal was never approved by Cabinet and that decision to sign off was unilateral and fraudulent.
“Frazer and the person who signed the contract committed fraud; Fraser was scamming government,” he said.
He added on to say police should have done something to ensure that Frazer is arrested and charged for fraud.
He also said it is wrong for Frazer to have taken the government to court as the contract of this magnitude was signed unilaterally.
“It is also surprising that some courts in South Africa are entertaining fraud,” he said.
This, Mphaka said based on his claim that the Office of the Attorney General was never served with court papers from Frazer Solar suing the government.
He said that on its own made the case null and void.
He said the last time he heard of the Frazer Solar deal was the day it was withdrawn from cabinet.
He also said Frazer and the person who signed off the Fraser Solar contract committed fraud and should be held accountable.