By:Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – Neglected government property has been under the spotlight in the recently published Auditor-General’s (AG) report as their idling resulted in misuse and exploitation.

The AG ‘Mathabo Makenete in her maiden report for the annual consolidated financial report of the government as at March 31, 2022 flags seven ministries including Agriculture and Food Security,  Health, Foreign Affairs and International Relations,  Forestry and Land Reclamation, Home Affairs and Local Government and Chief as wanting in the year 2022.

This not only results in financial losses for the government but also deprives the community of potential resources and opportunities for development. The lack of maintenance and proper management of these properties reflects inefficiencies and negligence by those entrusted with the responsibility to use and take care of these public assets within the public administration.

This is despite the section 5 (h) of the Public Financial Management and Accountability (PFMA) Act, 2011 charging the Chief Accounting Officer with the responsibility to ensure that government property is recorded and managed efficiently to achieve objectives approved by the parliament.

In Botha-Bothe, the report reveals that the government warehouse is fenced but used by an individual “not named” and this property is under the care of the Ministry of Agriculture. Similarly, in Leribe there is an individual referred inside the report as Mr Monate who has built residential property – flats on the same Ministry’s property.

Elsewhere at Quthing, the AG reports that the Ministry of Agriculture site in Moyeni is used by different people, while also a residential house is occupied by a certain Mr Bafokeng who is reportedly a pensioner.

In Mohale’s Hoek, the marketplace is used as a car repairs workshop.

She warns in the report, “the associated risk in this respect is that this has led to unauthorized use of government property by external parties, including other ministries and private individuals”.

Makenete recommends that any unauthorized occupation and use of government property should be discontinued and that the ministries should undertake the asset review activity and tag assets in use.

The report further unearths that the asset register of the High Commission of Lesotho in Pretoria, South Africa was last updated in April 2019, the acquisition dates of the recorded assets were not specified and that within Johannesburg,  it was noted that 12 out of 19 properties were “in poor conditions”.

The AG continues to point out that the government incurred M3.6 million in losses due to mutilated passports. This is due to 15, 372 of them rendered “unusable” owing to folded paper, chip errors and data mismatches.

“If these passports had remained intact, they would have generated an estimated revenue of M2.1 million for the Ministry,” reads the report.

It continues: “This loss was not reported to the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) by the Public Officer or the Finance Officer. Consequently, the CAO did not report to the Principal Secretary (PS) of Finance in violation of Section 89 (1) of the Treasury Regulations, 2014.”

The AG is also concerned with the MoH’s failure to maintain asset registers.

In her report, Makenete complains that “the Ministry of Health [does] not keep an asset register. The Ministry owns valuable assets such as health equipment, vehicles, including ambulances and mobile clinics, personnel protective equipment (PPE), land and buildings, as well as office furniture. All these assets have not been registered.”

On the Lesotho Agricultural College which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture, has been flagged for failure to rehabilitate its laboratories, libraries, workshops, greenhouses structures, and recreational facilities for students.

It says: “The necessary equipment, farm machinery, equipment and implements, irrigation system and security fencing were not purchased or maintained.”

The Lesotho Housing and Land Development Corporation is under scrutiny after an audit revealed irregularities.

The audit report has identified discrepancies in their operations and finances that need further investigation. For the period March 31, 2018- 2020 the AG has issued an adverse opinion in as she says she is unable to “confirm that some of the sites to which customers paid deposits amounting to M481, 286 exist, as these sites could not be traced to inventory list”.

The report goes on to show that sale contracts for houses and sites to the tune of M703, 113 could “not be verified” and also there were “no supporting documents” for work in progress amounting to M231, 923.

The AG also issued an adverse opinion on the Water and Sewerage Company (Pty) Ltd which is a government’s company. She established that an interest in the north of M24, 216, 599 as year ended “could not be substantiated”.

Meanwhile, since the report has been tabled before the parliament, it has now been referred to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC is mandated to oversee government expenditure in line with laws and regulations.

They will summon those mentioned in the report to account for their actions. After this process, the Committee will table their report and recommendations before the house for appropriate action against individuals flagged for misuse and misappropriation of government funds.