MASERU — Popular gospel musician Francis Nthloki has been accused to mishandling contributions from poor community support groups that are part of the poverty alleviation project he founded seven years ago.
Nthloki started the Letlole la Boitjaro project in 2003 to raise funds to help community groups that were involved in the fight against HIV and Aids.
Every month each community group would contribute M700 to the Letlole la Boitjaro fund.
Nthloki had committed to raise extra funds through his music shows.
At the end of every year a group would then request for money from the fund to start income-generating projects to help fund the fight against HIV and assist Aids patients in their communities.
Ten community support groups joined the project when it started but by 2007 the number had dropped after other groups either completed their two-year membership terms while the others dropped out because they had internal conflicts.
The project worked well until November 2009 when ‘Makhoroana Support Group, from Berea district, requested funds at the end of the year which marked the end of their membership.
The group says since November last year they have been pursuing Nthloki to give them their money but with no success.
They say it seems Nthloki has used their money for personal purposes and is now resorting to delaying tactics.
They allege that there had been some curious transactions in Letlole la Boitjaro’s bank account, which is in Nthloki’s name.
‘Makhoroana Support Group’s leaders say they have also approached Mabote Police Station to intervene to force the 41-year-old musician to pay up.
They say in the first year of their membership Nthloki gave them their total contribution of M3 872.
But since then, they say, Nthloki has failed to release the remainder, M7 466.10, for 2009.
Of this amount M5 600 was from their contributions and the rest came from concerts that they say Nthloki held in Makhoroana in 2009.
The chairman of the ‘Makhoroana Support Group, Jobo Moima, said he believed Nthloki diverted the money for personal use and was delaying the payment to the group because he wanted to buy time to plug the holes in the fund.
Moima said last year Nthloki postponed the day he was due to pay them claiming there were more funds coming in for the project.
“Nthloki postponed handing over our money last year saying we would get it in January this year. When January came, he never gave us the money until we approached him. He still did not deliver and instead he kept dodging us,” Moima said.
“We demanded that police help us get our money from Nthloki. Police instructed him to give us a bank statement and thereafter we should resolve the issue among ourselves.”
Moima said their calculations showed that Nthloki had collected M46 168 from the groups.
But when they checked the bank statement they discovered that there was only M28 529, he said.
“Now when we learnt that he had been depositing money into the account this year yet we never had any music shows our suspicions were fully confirmed that he had been withdrawing money,” he said.
Moima said group members were now pressuring him to ensure they get their monies.
“As the person who persuaded ‘Makhoroana Support Group members to join the project, I feel very embarrassed and let down because now people are demanding answers from me about their money,” he said
Families too have been split because of Nthloki’s delays, he added.
“We are also having a case where one of our members was kicked out of her home because the husband accused her of using the money she got from the project without his knowledge,” Moima said.
“I feel betrayed because these are the kind of people we are hoping will change the world.
“This was also a good initiative which would contribute positively to the country’s economy if run properly with transparency.”
On July 5, Nthloki and the group were set to meet to sort out the issue but the gospel artist allegedly cancelled the meeting without notice.
“Money is a very sensitive issue especially when other people are involved so I find it very unprofessional of him to make decisions without consulting us,” Moima said.
The meeting was then rescheduled for July 11.
At that meeting, Moima said, Nthloki said he would not give them the money unless they presented proposals showing how they wanted to use the money.
“It is surprising Nthloki wants us to submit a quotation and then buy us material yet in 2008 he gave us the money in cash,” Moima said.
The group is now planning to press fraud charges against Nthloki, Moima said.
Nthloki however denies diverting or pinching the money.
Instead he claims that the group was refusing to follow the proper procedure to get funding from the project.
He said the agreement was that at the end of a group’s two-year membership the project will not give out the money in cash but help buy material for a project.
Nthloki said he did not distribute the money last year because some of the members had been invited to a project management skills workshop.
“So I decided to reschedule the timeframe so that they acquire the skills that can help them run their projects,” he said.
On allegations that he diverted some of the money, Nthloki said although the account was in his name, money could not be withdrawn without the signatures of other committee members.
“Even the bank book is kept by the treasurer of the project who is part of people who are going to benefit from this project so I wouldn’t get the opportunity to do such a thing at any point,” he said.
“I was very disappointed that these people did not first of all voice their complaint, if they had any, but rather went to the media to launch a smear campaign against me.”
Nthloki said he was not willing to give the ‘Makhoroana Support Group any money in cash because that would be against the regulations of the project.
“We fund projects when we get quotations for the projects and we do not give out money without receiving quotations,” he said.