MASERU — ‘Maretsélisitsoe Lethata (pictured) is a desperate woman.
Her debts are mounting and those that she owes are baying for her blood.
“The people I owe want their money and they are giving me sleepless nights,” Lethata says.
Lethata is not a victim of some unscrupulous money lenders.
Neither did she spend her way into debt.
She is not a victim of some impatient creditors. She is not a reckless spender. She is a victim of the problems in the government’s Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS).
Hers is a heart-rending story of how IFMIS has wreaked havoc among Lesotho’s poor. Lethata’s life was normal until she received news of the death of her brother, Tsótleho Tsolo, on March 29.
He was gunned down at Matukeng about nine kilometres from Maseru.
No one knows what really happened on that fateful night.
Yet she could have easily met the cost of the funeral had it not been for problems caused by IFMIS.
Their late father, who was a miner in South Africa, left them a significant amount of money.
The money was deposited with the Master of the High Court which runs trust funds and estates.
“When our father left the mines he was said to have serious breathing complications. He was discharged and sent home. His employers gave him M84 000 in compensation,” Lethata says.
A further M95 000 was paid out as provident fund but the old man died before he could receive it.
Instead it was paid to his four children, Lethata, Tsótleho and their two brothers.
“Of the M95 000, I and my brother who comes after me were each given M17 200 because we were already over 21 years,” Lethata said.
The rest was deposited with the Master of the High Court to keep it for Tsótleho and the other brother.
The idea was that when they needed any money for education and their upkeep they would apply for it to the Master of the High Court. That way their inheritance would not be at the mercy of greedy relatives. They too would not spend it recklessly.
The Master of the High Court runs trust funds for hundreds of orphans. The trust fund is run by the guardianship office which is under the Master of the High Court.
The system worked well for Tsótleho and his young brother until IFMIS was implemented.
When Lethata, who is the oldest of the siblings, asked for assistance for Tsótleho’s burial from the Master of the High Court she was told that she could not be helped because there was a problem with IFMIS.
“The people at the office told me that they were not able to access money from Tsótleho’s trust fund because there was a serious problem with the IFMIS,” Lethata said.
She says after being sent from pillar to post, one of the officers at the Master of the High Court’s office advised her to get a loan to cover the cost of the funeral while the problems with IFMIS were being sorted out. So she borrowed money from someone who was willing to help her bury her brother.
“A very close relative sold me a M4 000 cow on credit to slaughter at the funeral. As I speak now we are not seeing eye-to-eye. He wants his money but the Master of the High Court has not released a single lisente because they still have problems,” she said.
Another relative, ‘Manthati Tsolo, loaned her M1 000 to buy food for the mourners.
“The money was not enough so I got a M500 loan from a local money lender who charged me an interest rate of 40 percent. I hoped I would be able to pay the money by May because the office of the Master of the High Court had promised that they would pay soon,” says Lethata.
Lethata also got M5 000 from her husband who is a hawker in Welkom. With the money she bought a coffin and hired tents and chairs.
Lethata managed to give her younger brother a decent burial but she was left in serious debt that is now threatening her marriage and relations with relatives.
She says her husband had to sacrifice money he had set aside to buy new stock.
“Now my husband wants his money and so does everyone else,” she said.
Interest on the M500 loan she got from the money lender has pushed her debt to M1 400.
Relations with her husband are now strained.
She recently had to leave her husband for some time because tempers had flared.
“I am stuck and I am thinking of borrowing more money to clear old debts. I am trapped in a web of debts.
“The relative from whom I got the cow does not want to see me anymore. He is no longer talking to me and has threatened me,” Lethata said.
One officer at the Master of the High Court told the Lesotho Times that all the money in their account had been put into the government’s system and they have been told to reconcile the accounts from as way back as 1935.
“We have been told that we will only be able to give out the money after reconciling the books,” she said.
She said their account had M37million in it and they have been asked to justify where they got such a huge amount.
“At one point we were given some M17 million as a working balance but we were later told that it was a huge mistake.
“The system is a total failure and a form of total oppression,” she said.