LESOTHO commemorated International Anti-Corruption Day on Monday with a symposium in which participants called for more concerted efforts to fight graft.
International Anti-Corruption Day has been observed annually on 9 December since 2003 to raise people’s awareness about the costs of corruption and to find ways to combat and prevent it. The symposium was held at Avani Maseru hotel under the theme, “Break the Corruption Chain”.
Among those in attendance was Justice and Correctional Services ministry Principal Secretary Majakathata Mokoena, Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Acting Commissioner-General Realeboha Mathaba, Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) Director-General Borotho Matsoso, Lesotho Defence Force commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli and Deputy Police Commissioner Keketso Monaheng as well as civil society organisations and other stakeholders.
Addressing the delegates, Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) Executive Director, Seabata Motsamai, said there was need for the enactment of more laws to stem corruption.
“The time is now for all of us to act. Corruption is immoral and knows no boundaries whether in civil society, the public or private sectors,” said Motsamai.
“For instance, government’s guarantying of Members of Parliament’s (MPs) M500 000 interest-free loans, compromises the public’s perception of legislators and renders their role in fighting corruption ineffective.”
He said a performance audit carried out by Auditor-General (AG) Lucy Liphafa for the 2013/14 financial year made for sad reading and “showed government’s weak capacity in fighting corruption”.
According to the audit, undeserving beneficiaries were fraudulently accessing funds meant for the elderly, with government losing M90 300 at the Semonkong pay-point alone through the payment of ghost pensioners. The report also unearthed irregularities in Butha-Buthe and Thaba-Tseka where M28 750 was paid to unlawful claimants through the names of deceased pensioners.
To nip corruption in the bud, Mr Motsamai suggested the enactment of legislation protecting whistle-blowers and increasing the capacity of the DCEO to go after perpetrators.
“Actions against corruption should speak louder than mere words,” he said.
Advocate Mathaba echoed the sentiment, saying the detrimental effects of corruption were more pronounced in least developed countries such as Lesotho.
“Transparency International describes corruption in countries with a perception index score of less than 50 as endemic. Lesotho has consistently scored less that 50 in the perception index,” the LRA acting commissioner-general noted.
“There is empirical evidence pointing towards a direct correlation between corruption and economic performance. The higher the level of corruption, the lesser the rate of economic growth.
“Moreover, there is compelling evidence of a correlation between corruption and tax compliance. The higher the rate of corruption there is, the lower the rate of tax compliance.”
In order to attain economic growth, Advocate Mathaba said Lesotho needed to put in place strategies to prevent corruption and tax evasion.
“Since investigation is very expensive, the emphasis should be more on prevention so as to leave for investigations cases that escape the net of prevention,” he said.
“And it is only if we, as the public service, start by admitting that we are afflicted with the scourge of corruption that we can start the journey towards winning the war.
“On the other hand, the business sector should admit that it is not free of blame and then start positive strides to prevent and combat corruption.”
In a speech read on his behalf by Mr Mokoena, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Moeketse Malebo said Lesotho had been grappling with corruption since independence from colonial rule in 1965.
“That our various elections have been associated with electoral fraud, whether perceived or real, has played a major role in the political instability that has characterised our country over the years,” he said.
“The suspension of the Constitution and subsequent declaration of a state of emergency following the 1970 elections that lasted about 23 years, and the 1998 political turmoil are a part of our history as a country that we wish not to repeat under any circumstance.
“What we desire, instead, is stable, democratic government characterized by good governance and whose key pillars include transparency, accountability and the rule of law, as well as being free from corruption.”
Mr Malebo said as part of its priority policy programme, the coalition government had committed to reforming the public service into a professional, independent, accountable and efficient service.
“The government commits further to ensuring that the measures are put in place within 12 months for the law relating to the declaration of assets,” he said.
On his part, Lt Gen Kamoli said corruption should be rooted out from society.
“We need to fight corruption, and if we cannot fix this problem, then we have a problem. We have to bear in mind that we work for the public,” he said.
“Corruption is evil, and more importantly, it is caused by those of us who are working. If I know my job and my rights, I will not be coerced into becoming corrupt.”