M200 000 stolen from orphans

M200 000 stolen from orphans

MASERU – THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered the Master of High Court to pay back about M200 000 allegedly stolen from orphans by some officials in the office. The committee found that senior officials in the Master’s office allegedly stole the money from orphans of Maseru’s judicial commissioner, Molise Mapetla, who died in 2012.

The order by the committee came after it grilled the Master of High Court, ’Mamatiea Matiea, and other senior officials in her office on Monday and Tuesday. The two-day interrogation revealed Matiea’s office was mismanaged and immersed in sleaze. The magnitude of the rot was laid bare when Mapetla’s 27-year-old daughter, Mpho, who narrated how an official from the Master’s office allegedly helped himself to her inheritance.

“My father had insurances at Sanlam, Metropolitan and Pension Fund,” Mpho said. “We had the monies from our father and even today we still do not know as to where they have gone.” Mpho alleged that a senior official at the Master’s office, Tlhahlobo Moruri, who is now working at the Ministry of Finance, defrauded them. She said after the death of their father, Moruri split the monies between them and their stepmother, ’Mabahlakoana Mapetla, but when he was supposed to give them their share he said he was going to reinvest it because it was not enough for them.

Months passed by without Moruri giving them their money. The money that was supposed to be shared by Mpho and her four siblings was M195 000. The stepmother and her child had received their share. Mpho also told the PAC that the stepmother sold all the immovable property, including the site Mpho inherited from her father. The site, she said, was bought by the current Principal Secretary for Ministry of Justice, Lebohang Mochaba.

However, Mochaba told the PAC that the late Mapetla had promised to sell the site to her but at the time she did not have enough money. She said only had money to buy it after his death and she bought it from his widow, ’Mabahlakoana. Moruri denied that he cheated Mapetla’s orphans when asked by the PAC. Moruri said all the money was shared among the siblings and he did not take “even a cent of it”. Moruri could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press but the invitation to respond to the allegations remains open.

The stepmother ’Mabahlakoana said all the money was given to the siblings. “But I did not sell the sites of these kids, Mpho did, she also used the money for these kids and it is now finished that is why she is here,” ’Mabahlakoana said. Tlalane Mmane, a personnel officer at the Master’s office, corroborated Mapetla’s evidence saying the young woman used to report everything to her. “I was working with Mpho’s father who was a judicial commissioner. So she was always reporting and asking for advice from me,” Mmane said.

“Even this time when Mpho said Moruri is running away from them when they want their money she came to me and told me,” she added. The PAC did not believe Moruri and ’Mabahlakoana and it ordered them to pay the Mapetla siblings by May 8. Mochoboroane ordered that they should go to parliament and pay the money in the presence of the PAC members. In another incident, the PAC found that the Master’s office released an undisclosed amount of money, property of a dead man, to some people using a document signed in 1910. That document was signed over 40 years before the man it purported to pass his estate was born.

Mochoboroane ordered the Master to bring full details of what happened next month. “We are very disappointed with this office and we want the money for these children within 21 days,” Mochoboroane said. The PAC also found that M31 million went missing from the Master’s office. Relying on a report from the Auditor General, Mochoboroane said “there is a lot of money that went missing from the Master of the High Court” because they are not keeping the records of their books. Matia said they are keeping the financial records, “but sometimes mistakenly we fail to sign for the money when we pay the owners”.

The accountant in the Master’s office, Lintle Mohlokonya, differed with her boss and agreed with the Auditor General’s report that they do not reconcile their books and this resulted in money missing. “The reasons for us not to do the reconciling were because at the start we did not know how to do the reconciliation as we were fresh from school,” Mohlokonya said. “The other reason is that we are very few, we have a lot to do,” she said. “The books are kept manually so we have a lot of work to do. We also did not do the bank reconciliation because this was a special fund and it needed special people to do it,” she added.

The PAC also found that the Master kept over M2 million in her office for four months and seven days, which is against the government’s financial regulations. “The Master of the High Court should not keep money whether in the form of cheque or cash, it should be kept at the bank, but they decided to keep it for more than 4 months,” Mochoboroane said.

“They also did not do the publication of claimed and unclaimed money,” he added.

The role of the Master of High Court

The functions of the Master’s office include administration of the finances of a deceased person.

  • Protection of the heirs of the estate.
  • Collection of all assets of the deceased estate;
  • Investigating and settling all debts against the estate after their validity has been confirmed
  • Distributing the balance of the assets among the rightful heirs and beneficiaries
  • Dealing with processing enquiries by executors, beneficiaries and attorneys.
  • Legal administration process when a company is dissolved and the assets are redistributed.
  • Protecting the funds of minors and persons without legal capacity.
  • This applies to minors who are wards of the state and state patients.
  • Overseeing and safeguarding all documentation relating to estates, insolvencies, liquidations and trusts.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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