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Corruption continues to bleed old age pension fund

By Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — The government’s old age pension scheme continues to lose hundreds of thousands of maloti through corruption and fraud.
A syndicate of officials in the Ministry of Finance has been looting the scheme by diverting some of the monies into their personal bank accounts.
An internal audit by the ministry has discovered that some of the officers are claiming money on behalf of dead pensioners.
To make their sleaze possible they have deliberately kept the names of some deceased pensioners on the list of beneficiaries.
They will then claim the M350 monthly pension by forging the signatures of the dead pensioners.
The officials are also signing for unclaimed pensions.
The whole system, senior officials at the ministry said, has been compromised and hundreds of thousands of maloti are being siphoned from government coffers every month.
A manager in the pensions department, Thabo Ramochela, told this paper on Wednesday that the team had uncovered several corrupt practices devised to cheat the system.
He said apart from some corrupt officials in the ministry some members of the public have also found ways to loot the pension scheme.
Ramochela said it has been discovered that some money had been fraudulently claimed under the names of beneficiaries who have died.
“We have learnt that people do not report the deaths of the beneficiaries so that they can continue to receive the money,” Ramochela said.
“These illegal claims are done by people who had been messengers or proxies for the beneficiaries.
“They work together with the chiefs who, knowing that the rightful beneficiaries have died, continue to sign and put a stamp on identification letters that are presented to the paying officers during pay day,” Ramochela said.
The identification letters are some of the documents that the proxies should bring along as proof that they have been sent by the beneficiary to receive the money on their behalf.
It is also proof that they are making legitimate claims for beneficiaries who are still alive.
“This is one of the challenges that we have. The old age pensions regulation allows for the beneficiary to send a messenger to receive their monies in cases where they are not able to reach the paying points. They can send different proxies as long as they bring all the needed documents,” Ramochela said.
“These are the people who would later not notify of the death of the beneficiaries, provide false certification letters and fraudulently claim the money.”
The letter goes along with the beneficiary’s identification document in a form of a passport, voter’s registration and baptism or birth certificate.
The ministry’s probe found out that in cases where deaths have been reported, some officers have kept the information for themselves so that they fraudulently claim the money.
The deceased’s names would remain on the ministry’s dispatch list so that every month they are budgeted for.
At the pay point the paying officer would not call out the names of the people who have been reported dead so that members of the public are not aware of the fraudulent claims.
Church leaders have also been implicated in the corrupt practice, for providing baptism certificates that have false information of the details of the pensions applicants who extend their birth dates so that they appear to qualify for the money.
Ramochela said the same problem has been discovered with the use of the voters’ registration card.
“People pull out their names so that they appear to be older and therefore qualify for the old age pension receiving age of 70. People are lying about their age. It is a serious problem. We are intending to end the use of voter’s registration cards to end this corrupt practice,” he added.
There was also a problem with double registration where people make second applications under different names.
“This is popular with females. They use their maiden and their married names to make applications. It is not easy to identify such applications because of the huge numbers of new applications that come in every day,” the investigation revealed.
Ramochela said they had reports where people were underpaid and some are not even aware that they had been cheated because they cannot read.
He added that some members of the community had been attacked for helping to identify names of deceased beneficiaries that proxies, chiefs or paying officers had kept secret.
Ramochela said the department has decided to rotate the deployment of the paying officers so that they work at different points every month.
“That is how some irregularities were discovered in some paying points in Butha-Buthe. This way the paying officers are new to the place and are not yet familiar with the members of the community so the possibilities of fraudulent claims are slim.”
“We have also procured an old age pension system. There is a plan to reregister all the beneficiaries so that their information will be computerised. We are going to take their finger prints and those of their proxies. That way it will be able to easily trace the recipient of the money where there are some inconsistencies.”
There are currently about 80 000 people on the old age pension scheme.

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