- Govt hosts three-day retreat for ministers’ spouses barely a week after austere budget
- Junket costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of maloti
A THREE-DAY retreat for spouses of ministers and deputy ministers which began on Friday and ends today in Teyateyaneng has drawn sharp criticism from some sections of the society who accuse the government of profligacy at a time when the country is supposed to be implementing austerity measures.
There have also been reports that the retreat which was organised by the office of the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, caused some divisions among the governing coalition partners with some opting out of the event.
According to the Prime Minister’s Press Attaché, Thabo Thakalekoala, the event was borne out of the need to “re-orient” and “counsel” spouses of ministers and their deputies to deal with the pressures that come with living with partners who lead very busy public lives.
Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, who announced a budget predicated on slashing government expenditure, declined to comment on the costs of the retreat saying, “the government secretary is a better placed to respond because his office was responsible for organising the event”.
Mr Mphaka confirmed that there would be a gathering of spouses of ministers and deputy ministers but referred the Sunday Express to Mr Thakalekoala for the details.
Mr Thakalekoala also confirmed the meeting but refused to disclose how much the government would spend on the junket that he said was necessary to counsel spouses of “ministers who sometimes get moody and mistreat public servants employed as domestic workers at their homes”.
“It came to the attention of the government that spouses of ministers sometimes get moody and mistreat public servants working as domestic workers at their homes.
“The load of stress from the workloads of ministers also cause stress or depression to the wives because they are the immediate support systems of their husbands and wives. And if they both go through stress the family’s stability and happiness gets compromised. The government therefore, found this retreat to be one of the tools that could address the matter.
“There will be sessions to teach the spouses on how to conduct themselves when interacting with civil servants and ordinary people, as well as sessions on money management and social life. Marriage counselors will also attend,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
Mr Thakalekoala also refuted speculation that the government had invited facilitators from South Africa, saying they had only brought in two local priests in a bid to contain the high costs of travel and allowances associated with bringing in foreign facilitators.
“The marriage counselors are two local priests who are offering their skills and knowledge for free. Four Principal Secretaries will also share their skills for free.
“I do not know how much the government is going to spend on the retreat and I can’t give details on the budget,” Mr Thakalekoala said.
Based on figures of accommodation, meals and conference facilities this publication received from a Blue Mountain Inn hotel employee (name withheld), the junket will cost the government about M200 000 for the spouses of 38 ministers and deputy ministers. There are currently 28 ministers and 10 deputy ministers.
The hotel worker said that accommodation cost M1350 per person, standard rates for lunch are M150 and M150 again for dinner. These figures would be multiplied by three days for 38 spouses, assuming all of them showed up for the event.
Assuming the spouses of all 38 ministers and their deputies attended the event, M153 900 would be spent on accommodation alone, a further M17 100 on lunch and M11 400 for dinner.
The figure could be much higher when transport costs to and from Teyateyaneng are factored in as well the attendance of Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, the ministers and their deputies.
Dr Thabane was expected to officially open the retreat yesterday morning and officially close it at 6 pm in the evening. The delegates will only depart Teyateyaneng this morning.
The retreat appear to have been shunned by some of the ministers and partners in the governing coalition which comprises of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats, Labour Minister, Keketso Rantšo’s Reformed Congress of Lesotho and Communications Minister, Thesele ‘Maseribane’s Basotho National Party.
While refusing to be drawn into saying whether or not he and his wife had boycotted the event, Mr Moleleki yesterday told this publication that they did not attend because they were in Durban, South Africa for business he declined to reveal.
“My wife did not attend, she is here with me in Durban,” Mr Moleleki said.
Meanwhile, Ms Rantšo professed ignorance over the retreat, saying she would not comment further as she was on her way to Geneva, Switzerland.
“I do not know anything about the retreat because I did not even attend. I am currently on my way to Geneva,” Ms Rantšo said on Friday.
Chief ‘Maseribane was not reachable on his mobile phone. Opposition leaders were also unavailable yesterday except for Democratic Congress (DC) spokesperson, Serialong Qoo who said it as a “very irresponsible, insensitive and cruel thing by those in power to use the public funds in that manner”.
A twitter user identified as Motsamai Mokotjo on Thursday tweeted, ?”So public funds are being used to hold a ‘retreat’ for spouses of ministers, deputy ministers & deputy deputy ministers?”
The tweet also carried the hashtag #BananaKingdom.
The Teyateyaneng retreat comes barely a week after Dr Majoro unveiled what he called a “painful” M16.5 billion budget for the 2018/19 financial year.
Dr Majoro boldly admitted that the government was effectively broke and its programmes would have to be financed by more borrowing pushing the country further towards a fiscal cliff.
“Our government now has to bite the bullet and make decisions that would be painful but which if not taken would impose political and economic chaos on Lesotho,” declared Dr Majoro, vowing that the government would nonetheless remain committed to foster an environment to create jobs in the private sector.
Although Dr Majoro did not fully explain the painful decisions that he says required to be taken to avoid chaos, he outlined a number of expenditure cutting measures including curtailing foreign travel, improved procurement procedures, price caps on goods procured by the government, rationalisation of the government fleet, improved management of the wage bill through the elimination of ghost workers, among other things.
Last year, Dr Majoro delivered a similar budget speech where he warned that unless the government restructured and consolidated its finances, Lesotho risked the risk of using its reserves to the extent of leaving the country with no money to pay for imports and to finance investments in job creation.
Failure to tighten the government’s fiscal path would also jeopardise the parity between the local Loti currency and the South African Rand. Given Lesotho’s dependence on imports, a collapse in the peg between the Loti and the Rand would lead to fiscal and trade crises, Dr Majoro warned.