MASERU — Age cheats and ghost beneficiaries have been stealing millions of maloti from the government’s old-age pension scheme, the Sunday Express can reveal.
So far four cases in connection with the fraudulent activities have been reported this year.
However, a forensic audit underway at the Ministry of Finance is expected to unearth more corrupt activities that have dogged the old-age pension scheme since it started in November 2004.
Officers from the police’s Criminal Investigation Department are also sifting through old-age pension files to gather evidence linked to suspected fraud cases.
In one of the reported cases, Molefe Thamae, an accounts officer with the Ministry of Finance, allegedly failed to account for M702 300.
The money was supposedly meant for beneficiaries in Maseru, Berea and Leribe who have apparently turned out to be ghost pensioners.
Thamae is alleged to have created ghost pensioners in the payment system.
Most of the ghost pensioners were entitled to backdated payments.
For example, if an 80-year-old registers today he will be entitled to a lump sum of M36 000 he would have received since he turned 70.
Allegations are that Thamae created many such cases and pocketed the money.
Auditors, however, noticed that such ghost pensioners had stopped receiving their monthly pensions immediately after the release of the lump sums.
Thamae was nabbed and has since resigned from his job while a fraud case against him is pending before the courts.
In another case, Matsepo Mphephoka, an accounts clerk at the District Administrator’s office in Quthing, failed to account for M158 000 which was allegedly allocated to ghost pensioners.
Mphephoka is alleged to have been working with an official at the Ministry of Finance headquarters in Maseru to defraud the pension scheme.
Like Thamae they too are alleged to have paid ghost pensioners and pocketed the money.
The government, because of such fraudulent cases, will with effect from December 1 no longer give backdated payouts.
Pensioners will start getting paid when they register for the scheme, not when they were supposed to start benefiting.
Officials say as the audit continues more civil servants are likely to be nabbed.
They also believe there could be many more ghost pensioners in the system.
This is so because, they say, the ministry inherited a shambolic system from Post Bank which used to be responsible for the old-age pensions.
“There could be more but we will not know until the system has been cleaned,” said Litemoso Thatho, a public relations officer with the Ministry of Finance.
But it’s not only civil servants involved in the thieving, she said.
Thatho told the Sunday Express that hundreds of people who did not qualify for the pension scheme had cheated their way into the system by faking their ages and getting new passports.
At least 80 000 people are registered for the pension scheme.
Beneficiaries must be aged 70 or older and they receive M300 every month.
Yet much younger people have been forging their ages to benefit from the scheme, Thatho said.
There are also beneficiaries who remain in the system after their death.
Their spouses or families continue to receive the pensions by claiming the beneficiaries would be too frail to go to the payout centres on their own.
They even get letters and affidavits from chiefs to authenticate their lies.
“There could be many people now receiving pensions they don’t deserve,” Thatho said.
“The old-age pensioners are also involved because they register when they know they don’t qualify by acquiring passports with forged ages.”
Driven chiefly by poverty, people under 70 have been conniving with priests, chiefs and village heads to forge their ages for them to qualify for the pension.
Priests issue fake baptism certificates while chiefs and headmen write affidavits to back the would-be old pensioner’s fake date of birth.
Some would even claim to be, for example, 75 so that their benefits would be backdated by five years when they should have started receiving the grants.
Moteka Mathibeli, a Catholic priest at Tlali Mission, was arrested earlier this year after he allegedly helped under-age people to register for the pension scheme.
The man of the cloth was allegedly working in cahoots with Chief Mamohlihle Mafisa and her daughter, Mathatho Kholotsa, and granddaughter, ‘Matumelo Kimane.
Kholotsa pleaded guilty and was slapped with a five-month prison term, half of which was suspended, or a fine of M500.
Her daughter, Kimane, was acquitted.
The case against Mathibeli and Mafisa is still pending.
In Matsieng, headman Matsiame Ramabele was arrested together with ‘Mamaria Rapaki who was responsible for issuing baptism certificates for the Roman Catholic parish in the area, for abetting villagers to forge their ages.
“We have not yet come up with a solution but we will come up with a new system,” Thatho said.
“And it’s not just pensions . . . we are also talking about sub-accountants and procurement.”
“We need to make sure people who work with money are people who know the procedures,” she added.
“So a special restructuring of the treasury is underway.”