Maputo — Corrupt officials have been stealing at least two million meticais (about 66,450 US dollars) every month from the coffers of the Ministry of Education, and the matter is now under investigation by the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption (GCCC).
According to an anonymous letter denouncing, in detail, the fraudulent scheme, it was discovered late last year – so it is perhaps no coincidence that the official in charge of paying wages in the Ministry, named only as Sende, went missing in December. He is believed to have orchestrated the thefts.
In December, the Ministry also suspended the head of its financial department, Abilio Mate, who is suspected of collaborating with Sende. Two other staff members in the department are under suspicion.
The GCCC is now interrogating the suspects and other senior officials in the finance department. A warrant for the arrest of Sende has been issued.
Sende’s group is alleged to have created a parallel and fictitious wages sheet for Education Ministry staff, with a monthly value of two million meticais. Every month, when the real wages sheet was processed, so was the fictitious one, and the money was transferred to bank accounts which the group had set up.
The total amount stolen is not yet clear – but it is known that the fraud took place over several years. Only a thorough investigation will establish how much was drained from the Ministry’s funds.
According to the letter, the scheme was discovered in November by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Maria de Fatima Zacarias, who thought it strange that wages for the Ministry’s headquarters staff were systematically late. She asked Abilio Mate why, instead of being paid on the 25th of the month, as should have been the case, the wages were only paid on the 30th, or even at the start of the next month.
Mate tried to blame the bank. Zacarias instructed a Ministry inspector to interview the bank manager and find out what was happening. The inspector then discovered the parallel wages sheet, as well as other large sums deposited in the accounts of certain ministry officials, retired staff, and others who had nothing to do with the ministry. These sums were later transferred to the accounts of the suspects.
Zacarias immediately informed the GCCC and the General Inspectorate of Finance, and investigations were launched into what could be the biggest scandal in the Education Ministry since independence.
Before he disappeared, Sende, according to the anonymous letter, left a message warning that, if he is caught, he will immediately reveal the names of all the other financial department officials involved in the fraud.
AIM attempted to contact Mate, and the other suspects, but they were not attending their cell phones.
A few more details were given by the Ministry’s spokesperson, Eurico Banze, interviewed by the Maputo daily “Noticias”. He confirmed the fraud, and said that three officials had been suspended in connection with the case.
“I can’t tell you exactly how much money was involved in the fraud”, said Banze, “but I can guarantee that the amounts are significant”. He said there are officials whose real wages are no more than 25,000 meticais a month, but who, through the scheme, were being paid 87,000 meticais a month.
The GCCC also confirmed the thefts, and said that its investigations are now at an advanced stage.