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Start clean-up at the top

IN this edition we carry the story of people who are alleged to have looted the government’s old-age pension scheme.

Civil servants, pensioners, priests, chiefs and members of the public themselves are alleged to have actively participated in several cases of fraud that could have cost the government millions of maloti.

Last week we carried the story of civil servants who were manipulating the government’s procurement system to loot state coffers.

As a result of such nefarious activities the government could have, again, lost millions of maloti.

The Ministry of Finance says it is cleaning up the rot in both the procurement system and the old-age pension scheme.

It says it wants to root out corruption in the government.

That is commendable.

But we must hasten to warn that such efforts must not be half-hearted.

It is worrying that so far the investigations have netted what can be considered to be the “small fish”.

Yet we are aware that the real rot involving big government monies and contracts is happening at the top.

There are senior officials who have been dipping their fingers in the cookie jar for years but they have never been caught.

We suspect lucrative tenders have been rigged.

We believe plum government contracts have been handed to connected people.

Corruption permeates every facet of this society.

The so-called “fat cats” have continued to benefit from the government through unscrupulous means.

But it is the perception that only the small fish are being targeted that is beginning to frustrate the people.

Although Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2010 shows that Lesotho is less corrupt than most African countries, that should not provide much comfort.

The same index shows that we fare worse than our peers in the Southern African Customs Unions.

Because corruption has become so endemic in this country we believe it is high time we have a lifestyle audit for high-ranking government officials and senior politicians.

Such an audit is urgent.

There are senior government officials who are clearly living lifestyles that do not match their salaries.

Politicians must be made to declare their assets before they take office.

We need to make our leaders account for their wealth.

Only when people are made to account for every cent they have made while in government will we begin to win the battle against high-level corruption.

We are aware that auditing people’s lifestyles and making them declare their assets before they take public office will not totally curb corruption at the highest level.

An independent anti-corruption body with well-equipped and trained people of integrity is therefore crucial.

So are an independent judiciary and a properly trained police force.

But all these cannot be achieved if there is no political will from the powers-that-be.

The fight against corruption must begin at the top.

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