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Anti-Corruption investigates Women’s rights NGO

…former employees claim WLSA Management defrauded their combined M1.9 million in gratuities

Billy Ntaote

Two Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust executives in Lesotho (WLSA) are under investigation following official complaints from other employees that they have been siphoning donor funds for their private use.

The European Union as well as the Global Fund are donors who have confirmed that they received a detailed petition from WLSA employees about WLSA Managing Director, Advocate Libakiso Mathlo and Programs Manager, Advocate Mamosa Mohlabula. The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) are also looking into the allegations that the pair syphoned funds from multiple donors funded projects, disguising the funds as payment for employees. But employees say the money never reached them and accuse the pair of taking the money.

The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has seen the petition which sets out to show how Matlho and Mohlabula acted in concert and “fraudulently denied us our gratuity benefits”.  The complaints were given to the board in November 2021. The employees asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

MNN heard that in September 2021, when a three-year Global Fund project ended, the employees were supposed to receive gratuities but only received terminal benefits.

The MNN calculated what the employees should have been paid from the Global Fund project. Based on a document from the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) the employees should have been paid a total of M 2 477 482.96 in gratuities at the end of the Global Fund three-year project.

But, MNN calculations show that the employees were only paid a combined M558 657.30. Matlho and Mohlabula described what they were paid as terminal benefits which were calculated at a one-month gross salary in respect of each year of employment.

The former employees don’t agree and believe that they are entitled to the remaining M1 918 825.66 reflected in the revenue authority document.

MNN calculations also reveal that the payments to the employees were randomly calculated and ranged from 25 percent to 16 percent of the total amount in gratuities that the employees are entitled to.

When the board failed to intervene, Matlho and Mohlabula allegedly fired the disgruntled employees from the organisation by introducing an addendum to their employment contracts which effectively terminated them in December 2021 and also retrospectively “cancelling our gratuities benefit and introducing terminal benefit”.

A source privy to the organisation’s financials who refused to be named said Matlho and Mohlabula just “thumb sucked” amounts to hand to the employees when they terminated their employment.

In terms of Lesotho’s labour law, the gratuity is calculated as no more than 25 percent of gross salary earned throughout a contract time while the minimum are terminal benefits which are calculated according to a specified formula. The formula is the number of worked hours in two weeks divided by average hours (195) multiplied by the last salary paid to an employee and multiplied by the number of years worked.

“In December, the management forced the staff to sign addendum contracts that repudiated the provision of gratuity benefits under the grant, now titling them terminal benefits.

“Since we had been aware that the management was intending to defraud the monies [gratuity pay], we had agreed as staff to sign the contracts so that we can secure whatever we can get off our monies before we warned the Global Fund of the malpractices,” reads petition delivered to Global Fund by the ex-employees.

These ex-employees told Global Fund that Finance Manager Rethabile Matsha released to them a document from the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) for clearance of their gratuity benefits.

Matsha refused to comment saying the matter is still being handled by the board “so I am in no position to comment since it is now beyond my responsibilities” and referred our questions to Matlho or the WLSA board.

Employees also complain that when they did get their full gratuity payments after previous, grant-funded projects ended Mathlo and Mohlabula then “forced staff to withdraw the monies from their bank accounts and surrender it to the management” meaning to Mathlo and Mohlabula.

“Desperate to keep [our] jobs, we surrendered and not reported. At the end of another grant in the cycle that ended in 2021, WLSA did not release staff gratuity benefits that were charged under the grant”, states the petition to donors and to the WLSA board

The WLSA employees’ complaint also deals with a four-year project funded by the EU which started in 2019

The ex-employees said they were coerced into signing timesheets which were then used to charge the EU funder for work done. These funds, however, were never paid as salaries to employees. The Employees allege that the funds are later used by both Matlho and Mohlabula as they please.

Matlho and Mohlabula are the only signatories to the organisation’s finances.

MNN has also learned that WLSA has nine (9) bank accounts used to hold donor funds and are audited bank accounts. However, the organisational account – Main Bank Account 021000017137 and Savings 022000083708 – are not subjected to audits.

MNN also learned that the pair siphoned funds by transferring money from bank accounts assigned for each of the nine (9) project grant funds to WILSA’s main Nedbank account—021000017137— which is used to hold the money before paying salaries.

The money, MNN heard from a source privy to the finances of the organisation that it is further transmitted from the main Bank Account to a WLSA Nedbank savings account—022000083708—and later withdrawn at the discretion of Matlho and Mohlabula.

MNN learned WLSA pays each employee a fraction of what they should earn and not combine salaries from each project they work under, but the funds from the multiple projects are transferred to their savings account used willy-nilly by Matlho and Mohlabula.

The Global Fund’s Senior Portfolio Manager for Africa and Asia, Marion Gleixner, confirmed that the letter and complaints had been received and were being considered by the fund’s Office of the Inspector General which audits and investigates funded projects for transparency and accountability.

Christy Feig, Global Fund’s Head of Communications told MNN in an email that: “I cannot comment on the details of that specific case but I can tell you that The Global Fund expects all its partners to adhere to the highest ethical standards and has zero-tolerance for fraud and abuse”.

She added that whenever misuse of funds is detected, “the Global Fund immediately responds and pursues recoveries to compensate losses to the programs so that no donor money is lost to fraud”.

Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Lesotho, Ambassador Paola Amadei, told MNN that: “At this stage, I would not be in a position to address the specific questions you ask; hence I should limit myself to the following statement:

“The Delegation of the European Union to the Kingdom of Lesotho has been made aware of accusations against the WLSA management. Being WLSA a beneficiary of funds from the European Union, the Delegation has submitted the information received to the relevant EU authority for its assessment”.

The DCEO’s Chief Information Officer, Matlhokomelo Senoko, told MNN: “Yes we have such a report [WLSA alleged corruption report] and it’s being dealt with. [Its] under investigation”.

Contacted for comment Matlho and Mohlabula issued a signed comment that sought to delay the publication of our story claiming the matter is subject to a legal proceeding. However, when pressed for evidence of these court proceedings they both failed to provide evidence.

In their response to MNN Matlho and Mohlabula said: “…The allegations against WLSA Executive Director and Management are highly regrettable as they impinge on the long-standing reputation of the organisation which seeks to contribute to the socio-economic-political and legal advancement of women and children in Lesotho.

“Unfortunately, these allegations are subject of a case instituted by ex-employees in the courts of law as such we cannot respond to your questions without touching on the issues to be argued in court.

“We believe you will be patient enough to allow the courts to pronounce themselves in order to ensure that you report on information that is tested and in the public domain”.

The WILSA board’s response to MNN questions signed by Board Chairperson Keiso Matashane-Marite was a word-for-word replica of Matlho’s response. Matashane-Marite refused to comment further when quizzed further.

Sources within WLSA said both Matlho and Mohlabula confessed to the board in the wake of the feud, that their workers’ woes were caused by nepotism they practised in hiring their blood relatives to whom they opened up to and revealed organisation’s secrets.

The relatives who refused to be named dismissed the allegations as unfounded. They argued, “We were hired on merit and performed our duties and we want Matlho and Mohlabula to pay our gratuities for work done”.

Accusations of WLSA double-dipping

The disgruntled ex-employees further told Global fund that WLSA was also implementing several other donors’ projects alongside Global Fund project grants which were “of the same magnitude and implementing more or less similar activities, and the Global Fund program staff was also duplicated at 100 percent level of effort in the other [donors’ project] grants as well”.

Among donor-funded projects that these ex-employees claimed WILSA was double-dipping into were:

  • the European Union (EU) supported a four-year project grant titled “Socio-Economic Empowerment through Gender Responsive Policies, Legislation and Action” that started in 2019.
  • a President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) supported grant titled Karabo ea Bophelo led by Baylor Foundation Lesotho.
  • the Solidarity Center supported Grant titled Ending Gender-based violence in Nien Hsing Factories in Lesotho.
  • other grants that WLSA was implementing and is still in such as the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA).
  • the German’s GIZ grant and many other consultancies alongside the Global Fund project grant.

These disgruntled former employees alleged WLSA had only engaged staff under the Global Fund and the Karabo ea Bophelo grants and used the same staff at 100 percent effort in all other grants without any remuneration.

“Staff was only paid under the Global Fund grant and the Karabo ea Bophelo grant respectively, while the management charged level of effort in all the grants, and the staff was recorded to have been paid at 100 percent in the EU grant but never received such salaries from EU funds.

“They also took staff salaries under all the other grants for themselves and forced staff to sign timesheets in respect of all the other grants as though they were being remunerated under such grants. But all the monies are paid to the Executive Director [Matlho] and the Programs Director [Mohlabula],” ex-employees told Global Fund and attached proof of various projects timesheets signed and seen by MNN.

These former employees alleged that WLSA duplicated community collected databases under the Global Fund grant to report across its numerous donors’ funded projects.

“Since the Global Fund had engaged paralegals at the community level, data collected by the paralegals on issues of Gender-Based Violence was used to report across donors as though it was collected under each of its many donor projects [grants],” said the disgruntled ex-employees.

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