Ex-accountant grilled over missing cash

Ex-accountant grilled over missing cash

MASERU – The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard that M82 000 meant to pay workers under the poverty reduction programme “miraculously turned into scrap papers”.
A former accountant in the Ministry of Forestry, ’Manathnael Qhobela now wants the committee to reverse the government’s decision to make her pay for the missing money.
Qhobela successfully sued the government, with the High Court ordering that she should not be made to pay.
However, authorities in the Finance and Forestry ministries are ignoring the court order, she said on Monday.
Sekoati Sekaleli, the Forestry ministry’s director, told members of the committee that the report he received indicated that the money turned into scrap papers.
The seemingly miraculous disappearance of the money happened way back in 2007, but the parliamentary committee is still interested in answers and members took Qhobela to task over the money.

Qhobela said the incident happened on November 18, 2007 when she was on her way to pay people who were working on the poverty reduction scheme (Fato-fato) in Rothe.
Together with a colleague, Tlhompho Mohlahatsa, who is now working at the Bureau of Statistics, Qhobela left for Rothe late around 4pm, she said.
She said the payees were impatient because Christmas was around the corner and they needed money to buy clothes and food for their families.
Payments were successfully made in Ha-Mokitimi and Ha-’Mahuu villages.
“At these two pay points we used the money that was in my hands and we finished all of it,” Qhobela said.
She said they were on the way to the next pay point in Rothe when Mohlahatsa told them she could not locate the money in the car they were travelling in.
Qhobela told the committee that she was stunned, especially after Mohlahatsa claimed that the money had disappeared miraculously while they were in the vehicle driving from Ha-’Mahuu to Rothe.

They were only three in the vehicle – the two officials and a driver.
The money could not have been stolen by a third party because their vehicle was guarded by heavily armed soldiers, she said.
“At that moment, the driver stopped the car and we went back to where we were from,” she said.
She said they searched all over and even went to the first pay point to no avail.
Qhobela said they went to Hoohlo Police station to open a case and the following day, the then minister Ralechate ’Mokose, who is now Lesotho’s High Commissioner to South Africa, summoned them.

What surprised the committee members during the hearing is why the trio passed other nearby police stations to report at Hoohlo Police station.
At ’Mokose’s office, the officials narrated the incident while cops from the Pitso Ground Police also called them for further questioning.
Qhobela said months later, she was accused by her financial controller of failing to pay some people in Marakabei but “I had already paid those people”.

She told the committee that at the time when she was forced to pay, Mohlahatsa had already retired after signing for early retirement.
Mohlahatsa is now working for the Bureau of Statistics, a government department, and Qhobela complains that she is facing the music alone.
Qhobela argued before the committee that she had no knowledge of how the money that was intended for workers in Rothe and Marakabei disappeared.
She was later asked to “show cause” why she should not repay the money.

“I was never taken to any disciplinary hearing but in 2011 I got a letter from the Principal Secretary Finance and Principal Secretary Forestry that I was going to be surcharged,” she said.
She said she then successfully approached the courts “but the money that was already taken from me was never returned till now”, she said.
When the PAC demanded to know what steps the director of forestry, Sekoati Sekaleli, took in the face of the growing crisis, Sekaleli said he did not act because the Principal Secretary ’Matlhompho ’Mota was in charge of the case.

“So I was unable to do anything because the PS was still in charge. I only heard that there is money that turned into papers when people of Rothe were supposed to get it,” Sekoati said.
Committee chairperson Selibe Mochoboroane accused Qhobela of offering conflicting statements.
“She has changed her statement,” said Mochoboroane.

Mochoboroane said they had information that Qhobela, Mohlahatsa and the driver Mpho Thamae shared the money amongst themselves.
Thamae and Qhobela denied the accusation and said only Mohlahatsa could tell the committee what happened to the money.
“We want Mohlahatsa to come and tell the committee her side of the story but what we know as the PAC is that the government’s money can never just disappear,” Mochoboroane said.
“We will finally get that money back,” Mochoboroane said.

Thooe Ramolibeli

Previous PAC quizzes police over M47 million
Next Detainees’ wives plead for justice

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