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Graduates demand loans write-off

’Marafaele Mohloboli

UNEMPLOYED graduates will take to the streets of Maseru next Friday in their academic regalia to demand that government writes off debts they incurred while studying at various tertiary institutions in the country.

The graduates say the procession will be in protest over the writing-off by the government of M43.54 million members of the Ninth Parliament owed when their term of office prematurely ended in June this year.

Police Spokesperson, Mpiti Mopeli, confirmed receipt of the application for the march which will begin at the Maseru Race Course, via White City to Moshoeshoe I Monument in Maseru.

The legislators qualified for M500 000 interest-free loans from Nedbank Lesotho as part of their benefits, and were supposed to repay the money over five years starting from March 2015.

The Ninth Parliament was elected during the 28 February 2015 snap elections which also brought to power a seven-party coalition government led by former premier Pakalitha Mosisili.

The government underwrote the loans and also paid interest on the legislators’ behalf.

However, the legislators’ terms came to a premature end after a 1 March 2017 parliamentary no-confidence vote on Dr Mosisili’s government prompted the holding of snap polls on 3 June 2017.

The vote was sponsored by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention, Alliance of Democrats, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho who went on to form government after the polls.

Prior to the no-confidence vote, Dr Mosisili had warned legislators that they would be saddled with huge loan debts to pay off without any government bail-out if they succeeded in ousting his government.

However, the legislators went on with the vote, having been reassured that their loans would be paid off once a new government was elected.

Following the bailout, many civil society groups and activists expressed outrage over the move.

Attorney Tumisang Mosotho, who launched an online petition against the scheme in 2015, said Lesotho could ill-afford to continue with the scheme given its status as a least developed country.

One of the organisers of Friday’s procession, ’Makhoko Tsiame, who graduated with a law degree in 2015, told the Sunday Express this past week that writing off the MPs’ loans was highly discriminatory and was tantamount to “taking away from the poor and giving luxuries to the few who are already privileged”.

“MPs constitute a small part of the population where most people are deprived of the right to education and work,” Ms T?iame said.

“We don’t care what clause the government uses to justify its decision to write off the MPs’ loans; the fact is that it’s wrong.

“The government must prioritise assistance to the youth this time around.”

Ramahooana Matlosa, a graduate and a co-founder of the Majalefa Movement said the march aimed at petitioning government to write off the debt of graduates, create 10 000 jobs and that parliament abolishes  the law that gives MPs interest free loans.

Another youth, Kananelo Seboka, a journalism graduate said he would join the march to protest unemployment and the alleged misuse of tax payers’ funds.

“We are worried about the misuse of our taxes by parliamentarians. We are jobless and could do with projects to generate income and improve our lives. We therefore urge government to write off our debts as we are aware that this is very possible.

“We urge the government to let MPs take loans like other Basotho; there is nothing special about them. The government should also help youth with agricultural projects and stop importing vegetables from the neighboring South Africa,” Mr Seboka said.

 

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