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Govt closes in on ghost pension ring

Pascalinah Kabi

THE government is closing in on a ghost Old Age Pension payroll syndicate in the civil service defrauding the public purse of over M11.2 million every month.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Temeki Tšolo, has told the Sunday Express that the government is hot on the trail of a civil service syndicate that is cashing in on the payouts for up to 16 000 dead pensioners.

Mr Tšolo said investigations were at “an advanced stage” and that suspects would be prosecuted soon.

Successive governments have grappled with ghost workers and pensioners – a problem which not only bloats the civil service wage bill, but also worsens corruption.

Over the years, it has been unearthed that workers that had either left employment through dismissal, retirement or death were still on the government’s payroll, with some continuing to enjoy other benefits and even salary increases.

Earlier this year, the government embarked on a comprehensive audit of all civil servants in a bid to weed out ghost workers and pensioners.

However, Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, indicated while unveiling the 2017/2018 national budget in July this year that 16 000 people had found their way onto the pension payroll.

He said the 2016 Population and Housing Census indicated that there were 70 000 citizens aged 70 years and older. However, the Old Age Pension payroll had 86 000 people.

“Efforts are underway to eliminate ghosts and others fraudulently receiving pensions and also to lower the cost of administering the pension,” said Dr Majoro, who increased the Old Age Pension from M580 to M700 during the budget presentation.

Mr Tšolo told this publication on Friday that the M16 000 ghost pensioners were prejudicing taxpayers of over M11.2 million every month.

“You will remember that during the presentation of the budget speech by the minister, it was mentioned that 16 000 dead pensioners were being fraudulently paid every month,” he said.

“And when you multiply that 16 000 with the M700 Old Age Pension, you will realise that the government loses M11.2 million every month.”

Mr Tšolo said investigations were at advanced stage and that suspects would soon face the wrath of the law.

“We are on the tails of the suspects who continue to fraudulently enjoy monies they are not supposed to get in the first place. Soon enough, very stern measures will be taken against those found wanting,” he said.

The minister would not be drawn to divulge details of the investigation, saying he did not want to alert the suspects before the probe was completed.

“We need to look carefully into the suspects’ contracts before we can even start with disciplinary action because sometimes the evidence alone may not be enough,” he said.

“We don’t want to be hasty by firing people based on insufficient evidence and enabling the same people run to the courts and get interdicts. It is imperative to follow proper procedures when dealing with such individuals.”

Mr Tšolo added: “So, it is important for us to carefully study the suspects’ contracts and follow the law before we can dismiss them to ensure that suspects don’t remain in office because proper procedures were not followed.”

Since its inauguration in June this year, the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane-led government has vowed to stamp out corruption “in all its manifestations”.

Dr Thabane told the Sunday Express’s sister publication Lesotho Times this past week that he had made the anti-corruption crusade the cornerstone of his term in office.

The premier also said he would not delegate the anti-corruption fight, but lead it himself.

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