Matiisetso Mosala

Several months after being outed for turning Lesotho’s donor-funded, Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) into a personal get-rich-quick-scheme, controversial executive ‘Malichaba Nkhethoa, resigned to take a job with an American-funding organisation.

While this move raised questions about her influential and well-funded new employer’s due diligence process, her tenure in this new role was short-lived. She was fired after just a few weeks in the new job. The reason? Nkhethoa was still working at the agricultural agency, drawing a salary, even firing people. While she believes this was all perfectly legal,  her new employer has called her “dishonest and lacking loyalty” and the anti-corruption agency is also closing in.

According to the chief executive at the Millenium Challenge Account Lesotho II, ‘Mannana Phalatse, she was shocked to learn that Nkhethoa “was still employed by the SADP and continued to make managerial decisions and earn a salary from that project,” even though she had already assumed her responsibilities as director at MCA.

Nkhethoa resigned from the SADP in December 2023 and on January 1, 2024 started work at the MCA, which receives $300 million from the United States government. Just over one month later, on Valentine’s Day, February 2024 she was suspended and then fired eight days later for breach of her employment contract and duty of fidelity. This happened when the MCA realised that in her first month of work for them, Nkhethoa had processed salary payments for herself and her coworkers at the SADP, suspended an accountant, and threatened any attempts to remove her from the SADP before she had served out a three-month notice period that overlapped with her new job.

She is currently fighting this dismissal in the High Court of Lesotho.

Nkhethoa made the news in Lesotho last year when MNN exposed how the job requirements for the position of director at the SADP was lowered so she could apply. She was successful and, as director of this agency, Nkhethoa and others enriched themselves with the donor funding that was supposed to support and grow smallholder farming in the Mountain Kingdom.

Allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the SADP loan and grant-funded project tainted  Nkhethoa’s time at SADP, with farmers who were meant to reap the project’s benefits ending up losing money and unable to grow their businesses.

Despite Nkhethoa’s chequered past, however, the MCA appointed her as the director of Market Driven Irrigated Horticulture (MDIH), where she was to oversee the $118-million project [about M2.2 billion]. 

Her appointment raised concern about whether the donor’s vision for MDIH to increase rural income and smallholder farming by investing in climate-smart irrigation infrastructure would be best served with her in the driving seat.

MCA has declined to comment on how their due diligence enabled Nkhethoa to be appointed in the first place. The company’s Director of Communications, Palesa Motleleng, told MNN: “We are unable to provide any information because the issues you are requesting information on, are internal and confidential matters between an employer and an employee”.

Nkhethoa’s defence is simple. In her December 1, 2024 resignation letter from the SADP, she offered to serve a three-month notice. “[The] period between December 2023 and February 28, 2024, was a transition period meant for a smooth and successful handover,”  she states in her founding affidavit that MNN has seen.

“The [MCA] was not aware that [Nkhethoa] intended to continue working for the SADP into January and February when she was formally engaged by the MCA,” Phalatse argued on the other hand.

According to her MCA contract, she was supposed to have sought written approval from her new employer’s chief executive to continue working at SADP but she didn’t. Documents provided by the MCA to the court prove she went further to lie by saying she had no conflict of interest to report in the declaration of conflict of interest form that she signed at MCA on January 15, 2024. 

Phalatse states in her answering affidavit that Nkhethoa categorically declared “she is not currently serving in any elected or appointed position outside MCA-Lesotho, and that she does not receive any money separate from MCA-Lesotho salary for other jobs or obligation from an MCA-Lesotho beneficiary”.

But Nkhethoa says: “I had told Mrs Mamosa Matela [MCA Human Resource Manager] that as director SADP II, I would need up to the end of February 2024 to join MCA-Lesotho II…It was finally agreed that I should serve by notice…from December 2023 to February 28 2024, part of which I should be on leave, whilst I resume work with MCA-Lesotho II early January 2024”.

Phalatse, however, argued that Nkhethoa could only talk to Matela as far as clarification and understanding of the contract were needed, as Matela did not have powers to change terms of her contract but only the CEO. “As her [Matela’s] affidavit depicts, she denies having made an agreement with [Nkhethoa]”. 

Phalatse says it was an after thought for Nkhethoa to tell the court that she agreed with Matela to continue working at SADP as she never mentioned that in their previous internal meetings. “The records will reflect that we held several meetings with her relating to her concurrent employment at SADP II and [she] in the presence of Mrs Matela but she never raised the fact that she was permitted by Mrs Matela to do so”. 

At SADP, she was not just doing handover as she claims, she was actively assuming her directorial duties like suspending staff and processing staff payments.“…on the 15th January 2024 at 17h42, I authorised the payment of M559, 650 for SADP salaries, including my own salary,” she said. But according to MCA’s findings, payment processes were initiated at 10am and completed after 5pm. 

On January 25, 2024, while already working at MCA, Nkhethoa suspended SADP project accountant Lineo Montsi, citing “serious allegations of material breaches of key covenants of the SADP II…you are hereby served with this letter of suspension from active duty at the Project Management Unit, commencing January 25, 2024 to facilitate a thorough investigation of these allegations”. Moshe Mosaase, the Ministry of Agriculture’s principal secretary, later overturned Nkhethoa’s decisions.

Upon realisation that despite her offer to serve a three-month notice, she had assumed new employment elsewhere, Mosaase, attempted to terminate Nkhethoa’s employment on January 31,  2024. 

“…we inform you that though you had indicated in your resignation letter that you would gladly offer assistance until February, your assistance will not be legal since your notice terminated automatically upon your resumption of work with the new employer”, said Mosaase in his letter. 

In response, Nkhethoa threatened Mosaase through her lawyer, advocate Letuka Molati, against removing her from the helm of SADP, which she was running remotely after starting her new job at MCA. In his letter to Mosaase, Molati said:  “…we shall have no hesitation to sue the ministry” if Nkhethoa was to be removed before February 28, 2024.

In their arguments before the court, the MCA challenged Nkhethoa to prove that she was contractually bound to serve three months notice at SADP, describing it as “…an overly long notice period” but in her responding affidavit, Nkhethoa said she “denies and rejects the contents there as incorrect and untrue, and reiterates averments of my founding affidavit,” seemingly avoiding to prove anything to MCA.

The court has since interdicted MCA from filling the Director MDIH position, which was formerly occupied by Nkhethoa, until her case, filed on March 8, where she is challenging termination of her employment as “illegal and unlawful,” is finalised. MCA had on March 28,  advertised this position in the Lesotho Times newspaper issue of March 28 – April 03, 2024. 

Litany of investigations 

It seems that the MCA only realised that Nkhethoa was working somewhere else when investigators from the anti-corruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), paid a visit to its offices. This opened a can of worms. Nkhethoa had to explain the visit to her employers which triggered MCA investigation into her. 

MCA affidavits state that the DCEO visited their offices on February 2, 2024 questioning how Nkhethoa was engaged, when she assumed her duties and whether she had been paid for January 2024. Phalatse says she then asked for Nkhethoa’s file to peruse it.

Nkhethoa insists in her court papers that the DCEO only went after her because when she resumed work at MCA, she had not “effectively left work or resigned as project director in the Ministry of Agriculture”.

However, DCEO spokesperson ‘Matlhohonolofatso Senoko told MNN that they are investigating Nkhethoa for corruption which has “different components to it”, shying away from revealing further details lest she compromise the investigations.

“We received a report in 2022, another report last year and another one in 2024,” Senoko said, explaining how the investigation came about.

Following the DCEO’s visit, the management of MCA called a meeting on February 9 for Nkhethoa to give her side of the story. Phalatse states in her court papers that it was at that meeting that she learned that Nkhethoa was still employed by SADP and continued to make managerial decisions and earn a salary from the project.

Shortly before Nkhethoa’s move to MCA, MNN was following up on supposed investigations by the Ministry of Agriculture into the rot at SADP under her leadership. The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Thabo Mofosi following the publication of the evidence-based expose published in May last year, publicly declared that he would be investigating the rot at SADP.

Mofosi had at the time claimed that he was contractually bound to transparently account on funds in the Ministry of Agriculture, hence “…the ministry would internally investigate the matter”.

Almost a year later, nothing had come of the minister’s investigation, and sources close to the matter have told MNN the minister said the “investigation hit a dead end”.

Speaking to MNN in October 2023, Mofosi said they had covered a lot of groundwork in the investigation, indicating that they are working with a development partner; World Bank Lesotho and would release a report after completion. While he said he could not fully commit to when the report would be released, he was confident that a month would not go-by. Attempts to get feedback from Mofosi on the findings of the concluded investigation were futile as he did not take MNN calls or return them.

MNN investigations reveal that the Ministry of Agriculture’s deputy Principal Secretary Masia Johane was shuffled to the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police because “he was looking too much into the matter”. A newly appointed Principal Secretary ‘Maphakamile Xingwana was also moved to the Forestry and Environment ministry because she was also looking into Nkhethoa’s issue. Johane did not admit this to MNN, saying it’s a periodic government reshuffling, while Xingwana dodged MNN questions as soon as she learned they were about her service at the Ministry of Agriculture.

‘Malichaba Nkhethoa celebrating her farewell from SADP on May 3, 2024. © photo supplied Matiisetso Mosala Several months after being outed for turning Lesotho’s donor-funded, Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) into a personal get-rich-quick-scheme, controversial executive ‘Malichaba Nkhethoa, resigned to take a job with an American-funding organisation. While this move raised questions about her influential…