‘Ghosts’ haunt public purse

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By Majirata Latela

Unlawful recipients of social grants should brace themselves for the full brunt of the law if government’s threat that it is devising means to clamp down on them and rid the scheme of pervasive systematic rot, is anything to go by. 

Since its inception in the year 2004, some chiefs, officials of the finance ministry and some of the next of kin of the beneficiaries continue to unduly benefit from the social grants, resulting in the state losing millions in irregular payments.

Some of those linked to the scam, have already face the full might of the law.

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The government has introduced the social grants scheme that benefits the old age and World War veterans. The money is paid out on a monthly basis.

But the ripping of the grants using illegal means continues to hound the scheme, with government announcing its intention to make a clean sweep through introduction of a new registration system.

The ministry of finance hopes to introduce a new data base which correlates with that of the home affairs ministry which is a custodian of the registry of Lesotho nationals. That, the ministry is hopeful, will bring end to an on-going undue benefit from state coffers by ghost figures.

Others who unduly benefit are adults who, working in cahoots with some unscrupulous and greedy chiefs, have faked their birth dates in order to qualify for the old age grant.

The finance ministry’s information officer Litemoso Motanyane said the looting was carried out with the assistance of some chiefs who issue letters claiming that the beneficiary is still alive.

“There have been officers who were arrested over the past years, but that has not deterred other culprits from looting the public purse in this manner. Sometimes we randomly visit the pay-out points and do audit that uncovers some irregularities. In other instances, it is difficult to track those involved as they are alerted in advance about such visits,” Motanyane said.

The old age social grant stands at M850 per beneficiary a month.

“There have been some arrests even after the audits are conducted. We educate the officials by warning them against the deplorable activities. Others do heed our advice,” he remarks.

Finance minister Thabo Sophonea was quoted recently in local media as claiming the country was losing about M200-million annually on false social grant payments.

Due to the extent of the rot, the old age pension scheme is believed to be harbouring cunning thieving officials.

He is reported to have said over the past few months an audit of the system revealed that there were about 16 775 ghost pensioners who unlawfully receive the M850 pay-out every month.

Sophonea said the audit has so far discovered 6 289 ghost pensioners on the payroll.
Of the overall total number, there are 10 486 beneficiaries who have either not reached the pension age of 70 years and or have long died.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source manning one of the numerous pay-points confirmed that several arrests have been made, adding that some officials fail to inform the ministry when they are notified of the death of beneficiaries.

In turn, the source added, the officers pocket the money.

In other cases, officers introduce faked names which are incorporated into the pay-out system only to be received by the same officials. But it seems an issuance of identity cards to the Lesotho nationals would be another step to end the scam, the source suggested.

He said official stamps have been confiscated from some of the chiefs linked to the alleged fraud as part of carrying out investigations.

Chief Lekoro Rachere of Ha Rachere in the Berea district has heard of some colleagues who were involved in the scam by issuing false letters attesting to the existence of those claiming to be rightful beneficiaries.

“The perpetrators need to be arrested, charged and jailed. They (chiefs) knowingly commit these criminal acts. We as chiefs should not engage in these criminal activities,” Rachere warned.

The Government of Lesotho is strongly committed towards building a social protection system to provide all Basotho with a decent and dignified quality of life, freeing them from poverty and hunger; but this undertaking is yet to be fully realised. For the system to be entirely operational, the government needs to implement all the planned life-cycle based programmes; strengthen coordination and the targeting and delivery mechanism; enhance accountability relationship through a functional monitoring and evaluation framework (M&E); and strengthen the capacity of the ministry of social development and the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) to address chronic vulnerabilities and emergency

Lesotho’s social assistance budget is dominated by old age pension and tertiary bursary programmes. These benefit about 85,000 persons aged 70 and over, and 16,000 tertiary students, but there is virtually no programme for pregnancy, childhood, disability and chronic illness.

The government of Lesotho is strongly committed towards a social protection system to provide the Basotho with a decent and dignified quality of life, freeing them from poverty and hunger. Recognising the Constitutional obligation and the role of social protection in addressing chronic poverty and inequality, periodic shocks, and emergencies; guaranteeing human rights; promoting human development and economic growth, the Government has been working to strengthen the social protection system that includes strengthening policies, programmes, administration and coordination.

According to experts, the Government can save 0.86 per cent of GDP with which all families in Lesotho with vulnerable children can be covered through child grant programme. Currently the old age pension is covering about 56 per cent of ‘ghost’ pensioners which burdens the fiscal capacity by 0.86 per cent of GDP.

Even though Sophonea expressed disappointed with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offence in handling these issues, he indicated in the 2020/21 budget speech that in collaboration with the High Court of Lesotho, the DCEO is in the process of establishing a specialised Anti-Corruption Court, in the light of backlog of cases in the courts of laws.

“The fight against corruption requires a good investment at the beginning while corruption is rife as is the case in Lesotho and once it is effectively put under control, we no longer must spend much but only to maintain.” 

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