INVESTIGATIONS by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into the looting of M2.5 million of taxpayers’ money during the funeral of the late assistant sports minister Lekhetho Phakisi in 2007 have opened a Pandora’s Box.
The shocking levels of looting that we reported last week have the potential to damage the country’s reputation unless something drastic is done against the perpetrators.
The time has come for law enforcement agencies to demonstrate that indeed crime does not pay.
The investigations by the PAC come after the Celebrations Committee, which is tasked with organising state functions, failed to account how it spent some money during Phakisi’s funeral.
The parliamentary committee says it is also not happy that some services and goods provided at the funeral appeared to have been highly inflated.
For instance, the committee cites the catering that cost a whopping M430 000 and cellphone airtime that gobbled M24 000.
This is in addition to costs for hotel bills in districts and regions far away from Mokhotlong where the funeral took place.
The evidence against those who organised the funeral is overwhelming.
But the looting also confirmed one simple truth: that we still have a long way to go in our fight against the cancer of corruption.
It will take a 360-degree turn for Lesotho to exorcise the demon of corruption. That’s a big ask.
It is however in our interest as a nation that the parliamentary committee gets to the bottom of this scam. We must name and shame those who plundered state coffers.
We also think it is a blot on our collective conscience as a nation that there is a small clique among us who can take advantage of a state-funded funeral to engage in such mind-boggling theft of state resources.
It is a national shame.
It also goes against the very traditional values that define us as Basotho.
But beyond this soul-searching exercise the law must come down heavily against the looters. We must show them that crime does not pay.
The Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences must quickly move in and take the culprits to task.
We suspect that the plundering of state coffers that we reported last week is just the tip of the ice bag.
The parliamentary committee must expand the scope of its investigations and dig deeper into other state-funded funerals and functions in the past.
We also think it is time for the government to radically shake up its anti-corruption strategy.
The strategy must shift from focusing on catching thieves to making it difficult for unscrupulous individuals to dip their fingers into the cookie jar.
Our accounting systems must be reviewed and tightened to make it difficult for people to steal.
We would of course like to believe that there are internal auditors within government departments.
These auditors must be empowered to detect fraud early.
Tougher internal mechanisms will make it difficult for those with a penchant to take that which does not belong to them. Such mechanisms will also serve as an effective deterrent.
When people know that they will be caught, they tend to think twice before engaging in nefarious activities.
We are also surprised that the PAC is only dealing with this matter now, four years after the massive looting spree.
Four years is way too long a time to start asking questions on an issue of such grave magnitude.
Besides there is a possibility that some of the suspected looters have either died or relocated from Lesotho.
Only a quick investigation and prosecution of those fingered will restore people’s trust in our law enforcement agencies.
Any dithering on this matter will serve to reinforce an erroneous but popular view that Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s administration is too soft on corruption.