Caswell Tlali MASERU — A 33-year-old woman who looted more than M200 000 from the government’s old age pension scheme was on Tuesday jailed for 15 years.
The magistrate’s court heard that Itumeleng Khunonyane who was an accountant in the department embezzled M215 300 in just eight months last year.
Her sleaze was discovered by forensic auditors hired to clean up the department which has been losing hundreds of thousands of maloti through fraud every month.
The audit was commissioned by former Finance Minister Timothy Thahane after it emerged that some officials were manipulating the system to enrich themselves.
The court heard that Khunonyane who comes Sekamaneng in the northern outskirts of Maseru had devised an elaborate plan to loot the department.
Police Constable Lesaoana and the Assistant Pensions Manager ’Masentle Kane told the magistrate’s court that Khunonyane stole the money from February to September last year.
The court gave her an option to pay a M30 000 fine to avoid going to jail but she failed to raise the money.
She started serving time on Tuesday.
It is expected that as the audit continues more officials in the department will be charged for fraud and corruption.
Khunonyane is the same woman alleged to have given a M100 000 bribe to former Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) investigator Abiel Monare to stop investigating her.
Monare has denied the allegation and has since fled the country after alleging that his life was in danger.
Monare said he received death threats because he was investigating human trafficking cases involving senior government officials that included a minister and principal secretaries.
Last month a manager in the department, Thabo Ramochela, told this paper that a team of investigators is combing through the department’s books to nail corrupt officials.
He said the team had uncovered several corrupt practices devised to cheat the system.
Apart from some corrupt officials in the ministry, Ramochela said, some members of the public have also found ways to loot the pension scheme.
He said it has been discovered that some money had been fraudulently claimed under the names of beneficiaries who have died.
“These illegal claims are done by people who had been messengers or proxies for the beneficiaries,” Ramochela said.
The ministry’s probe found that in cases where deaths have been reported, some officers from the department have kept the information to 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.
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 re-register 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. People on the scheme get M350 every month.
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