LCS diverts govt funds to chicken project

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing was this week told of how government funds were diverted to start a chicken project without permission, while more money has been left uncollected with a private estate agent for three years. This provoked a sharp rebuke from PAC members who censured the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services for being wasteful with public funds after it failed to collect a security deposit on a property it vacated three years ago.

Also, committee members were unhappy that former Commissioner Matefo Makhalemele’s offices and the then PS in the ministry had used money earned from the lease of a piece of land to Pioneer Mall to start a chicken project without authority. PAC chairman Selibe Mochoboroane was scathing in his criticism of the ministry, saying its conduct showed gross dereliction of duty as the funds could have been used elsewhere to fund the cash-strapped government’s programmes.

He said this after it was revealed in a PAC hearing that the ministry has not collected a security deposit amounting to M88 320 it had lodged with letting agents for use of Mafike House. The ministry used to rent the offices from the Ministry of Finance through JHI Consulting Services. According to an audit report submitted to the PAC hearing, the Ministry of Justice had left the building in good condition and so it was entitled to a full refund.

Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) Deputy Commissioner Matome Phamotse, said his organisation was summarily evicted from the building to make way for Postbank. The LCS vacated the building in 2015 but is still waiting for its refund despite writing to the managing agents demanding the deposit. Phamotse told the PAC hearing the LCS first made contact with the agents on 7 April 2018, but they were told to send an official account where the money would be deposited but this has not been done to date.

LCS Finance Officer, Malineo Mahlake, said this was despite the fact that JHI had already been furnished with the ministry’s account number which it has not used. JHI, she said, claimed that it also owed other government ministries money so it required a common government account into which it would pay the refunds. She said she had contacted JHI as recently as Monday, 15 September 2018 but hit a brick wall owing to the non-existence of the account the estate agent required.

“The other reason that is delaying the refund process is because JHI does not have operating offices anymore so we only communicate with them through emails,” she said. Nyapane Kaya, a member of PAC said the fact that the LCS had waited for so long before trying to recover its deposit was breach of its duty of care. LCS lawyer Jobo Rasoko also confirmed the refund has not be released yet, adding that since JHI does not refuse to pay, they cannot take any legal action.

“JHI only demanded proof that we really deposited the security money but after we provided the needed prove JHI agreed to pay and the only thing holding us back is the account LCS is trying to open,” Rasoko noted. “It has become a habit for Government officials to misuse, steal and neglect public finances. The behaviour has to stop because if it does not, the future of this country will be at stake,” Kaya said. Meanwhile, PAC revealed that the LCS had leased a piece of land to Pioneer Mall at a yearly rental of M66 000 per year for 10 years which Pioneer Mall was to develop from its own pockets.

However, a 2014 audit report revealed that M199 000 was deducted from the agreed sum to fence off the site contrary to the contract which stipulated that any development to the site was Pioneer Mall’s responsibility. The PAC also heard that the LCS had invested the balance into a poultry project, instead of depositing the money into the government’s coffers. LCS financial controller Mafanana Fanana professed ignorance about the nitty-gritties of the whole project, saying she only found out about it after the LCS wrote a letter to the government seeking permission to use the money in its chicken project.

Government did not respond but this did not stop the LCS from pressing ahead with its chicken project. She, however, notes that transactions showed they were made between former Commissioner Matefo Makhalemele’s offices and the then PS. LCS’s legal representative Jobo Rasoko conceded it was “wrong that the money was used without the Government’s permission”.

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