MASERU — Her office looks simple but elegant.
She might not be one to spend hours in front of a mirror but her dressing has a trendy touch to it.
At 54 she can easily pass for a 40-year-old woman.
Yet there was a time when Lucy Liphafa’s life was really wretched.
Her parents were too poor to afford buying her shoes, let alone send her to school.
Everything was a struggle.
And had it not been for one of her teachers who organised a scholarship for her to proceed to secondary school, young Lucy would have dropped out.
She pulled on.
Now, some 40 years later, the results of her hard work and perseverance are apparent.
She is a living testimony that one can be whatever they want if they work hard.
Through hard work she has turned what might otherwise have been a sad story of a poor girl who gave up on her dreams into one of a girl who faced the challenge of her miserable upbringing and conquered.
The girl who at one time almost dropped out of school is now the watchdog of the government’s accounting procedures and systems.
Liphafa, the girl who grew in abject poverty in Fatima village in Ha Ramabanta, is now the auditor-general of Lesotho.
Not only that — she is Lesotho’s first woman auditor-general.
It has been five years since she was appointed as auditor-general in September 2004 but she is still as excited as she was when she got the news.
“I never thought I could be appointed as auditor-general because I never imagined getting some education since my parents could not afford school fees beyond primary school level,” she told the Sunday Express.
Liphafa said even though she had been the acting auditor-general for two years she never thought she would be substantively appointed.
She admits that because of the history of male appointments to the post, she always felt she was only keeping the position while the authorities looked for a man to take over.
“I always thought I would see a man walking in to occupy this office,” she said.
The news of her appointment therefore came as a complete surprise to her.
“I was really shocked to be appointed the auditor-general,” Liphafa said.
It is not an easy job watching over hundreds of thousands of financial transactions that go through the government system every year.
Her role is to ensure that government money is spent according to procedure and that no civil servant pinches even a few coins.
It is tough when you have to watch more than 35 000 employees.
When Liphafa was appointed, government audits were years behind but she tried to cover the gap.
Her latest audit was issued in November 2008 and was meant to cover the period between March 2004 and March 31 2006.
That is not an ideal situation but it is a good effort especially when one looks at the fact that government books had not been audited for years.
“Staff is inadequate to cope with audits of all ministries, missions abroad, districts, local councils and a huge number of development projects,” she said.
Because her department is under the civil services she has watched helplessly some of her better-trained staff being transferred to other departments.
“Staff can be transferred to any ministry despite the intensive training they undergo on the job and regionally,” she said.
Liphafa however said with an adequate budget, special salaries and allowances her department will be able to retain qualified personnel.
Her other problem is that she has to struggle to get financial statements from her ministries and departments so that she “can report to the public how funds approved by parliament have been spent”.
Liphafa attributed her success so far to the support she receives from colleagues.
“I have been getting all the necessary support from both male and female colleagues,” she said.
Although she does not say it, it is clear her strong work ethic and determination have helped her greatly.
Her history tells it all.
She obtained a junior certificate first-class pass from St Rodrigue’s Secondary School.
That pass earned her a bursary which helped her to proceed to St Mary’s High School where she got a first class in the Cambridge Oversees School Certificate.
“I also got an INTERAF scholarship and was supposed to undertake my studies at the University of Sierra Leone but I had to decline the offer because my mother was ill,” she said.
“I then proceeded to the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1974.”
She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree plus a concurrent Certificate in Education.
Liphafa went to Pennsylvania State University in the United States in 1985 under the Hubert Humphrey fellowship programme and attained a post-graduate certificate in public administration.
She said she first worked as a lecturer in education and child psychology at the National Teachers Training College (NTTC) in 1978.
“I worked at NTTC just for a year and moved on to the Ministry of Rural Development where I worked as the human affairs co-ordinator,” she said.
Liphafa also worked for Cabinet Personnel which is now the Ministry of Public Service from 1979 to 1987.
Liphafa said she joined the office of the inspector-general in the cabinet office.
“The office of the inspector-general was transferred to the office of the auditor-general,” she said.
She said she worked in the performance audit department and in 1992 she became head of that section.
“This is how I came to be an auditor-general,” she said.
Liphafa is a divorcee. She has two children.