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Arrest rot at old age pensions

ELSEWHERE in this issue, we carry a story of a sting operation led by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to investigate the rot in old age pensions. Predictably, the stench of the rot is reaching high heavens. The operation in Leribe district has so far unearthed 53 “ghost pensioners” who were paid between 2018 and 2022. That amounts to a staggering M2 289 600 that has been doled out to “ghost pensioners” during the four year period.

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The DCEO says 92 pensioners were not known to local chiefs and other pensioners when they were called to come forward on scheduled pay days.
But these 92 were being paid every month. It is however not clear who was pocketing these payments.

What is clear though is that this is a sophisticated syndicate that had been allowed to thrive at great economic cost to the government of Lesotho.
At the centre of the rot are officers in the Ministry of Social Development under the Pension Unit who are working directly in disbursing the funds.
But they are not working alone.

They are also working with corrupt chiefs who are aiding and oiling the system by providing fraudulent letters confirming that certain individuals are still alive when they would have been long dead.

It is a system that has been bastardized to the core. It is now time to dismantle the whole old age pension system, clean it up, and build it from ground zero.
That will require greater political will and a level of sophistication greater than those of the corrupt officers manning the current system.

It is clear though that what has been unearthed in Leribe is just a tiny fraction of what is likely a fraud of gigantic proportions. It is quite clear that the rot is extensive and millions of maloti that should have been channelled towards Lesotho’s economic development have been put in the pockets of a greedy few.

While we congratulate the DCEO for a job well done in unearthing this industrial scale looting of state resources, we would want to urge the law enforcement agency to throw its dragnet wider.

Every little payment point must be thoroughly investigated.

Those that have reaped where they did not sowmust be held accountable.

We note the intention by the DCEO to carry out lifestyle audits on civil servants who have been running the pensions payments. That is the way to go. Those with unexplained wealth must be asked to account.

For decades, there has been an outcry from Basotho about the breath-taking levels of corruption among civil servants and senior government officials. Yet in spite of the howls of protest, very little appeared to have been done to arrest the rot.

For years the DCEO had nothing to show for its work. In fact, it was now beginning to be seen as one big wasteful institution that could not justify its existence.
That narrative is now set to change. The anti-corruption unit is now slowly rediscovering its mission by vigorously fighting corruption.

We applaud these efforts and beseech the DCEO to extend the programme countrywide.
If there was any chance for the DCEO to shine, this is it. They must keep their hands on the plough and thoroughly investigate all those who are aiding corruption in the old age pension scheme.

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