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How Thahane can save money

Staff Reporter

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane is expected to present the national budget next month. He has already warned that 2011 is likely to be another difficult year for Lesotho because revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) is expected to continue dwindling.

Here we suggest 25 ways through which he can do that:

1 Stop ministers and senior government officials from travelling business class when they go abroad. Lesotho cannot afford such luxuries and there is no harm in our senior government officials enduring the economy class for a few hours. If any minister or government official thinks that they cannot endure the economy class then they can “upgrade” to the business class using their own resources.

2 Government must revisit the per diem rates that ministers and government officials get every time they travel abroad. There is really no reason why these officials must live like kings while on international trips when they come from a country that has serious financial problems. A little cut on the per diems will save this country a lot of money that could be used to address other urgent problems.

3 Staying in five-star hotels while on foreign trips should be banned immediately. Officials must not make government pay for what they themselves would not have afforded if they were using their own money. It would help too if the government would also stipulate the type of meals and drinks that government officials have while on foreign trips. We are not saying our government officials should have “fast-food” but surely 50-year-old wine bottles and caviar are a bit steep even for officials from the richest countries in the world.

4 The size of entourages on foreign visits must also be controlled. There are some who have turned those travels abroad into shopping trips and a chance to make extra cash from the hefty per diems. Where possible foreign trips must be avoided. Those who are really fond of globetrotting can do so using their own monies. 

5 Because times are hard ministers can surely do with one official government vehicle instead of two. The fuel and maintenance costs for their luxurious vehicles doesn’t come cheap. If any minister wants to get a utility vehicle to travel to remote areas then government can always hire one.

6 The government should put a mileage limit on the official vehicles for ministersand other senior government officials. That would limit the fuel and maintenance costs that have been draining millions of maloti from the treasury every year. If the government says anysenior official who exceeds the mileage limit will have to pay then people will use their official cars sparingly. Most senior government officials are based in Maseru and their homes are within the 10km radius from their offices so there is really no justification for their cars to blow thousands of maloti on fuel per month.

7 Stop the over-generous policy of furnishing houses for senior government officials. Surely these officials can afford to buy their own fridges, stoves and sofas. If textile workers who are paid as little as M760 a month are doing it then so should government officials who get more than M15 000 a month. It is also worrying that some senior government officials have continued to stay in government houses for years. Thahane must suggest that these people should vacate the houses. These houses should be rented out at market rates to raise extra cash for the government. Any government official who insists on staying in a government house for more than the stipulated time must be prepared to pay market rates or, better still, buy it.

8 The all-expenses-paid holidays for senior government officials must be reconsidered. The destinations too must be carefully analysed so people don’t go for the most expensive ones because they are not picking up the tab. If people are made to pay for 50 percent of their holiday expenses then they would be less extravagant. They will take the subways instead of taxis. They will not pick the most expensive resorts in the world. The idea is to develop a culture of moderation.

9 While it is admitted that ministers should have chauffeurs, we don’t believe there is any justification why they should have two of them. A minister has two chauffeurs, a private secretary, personal secretary, personal aide, constituency secretary and an office assistant. Even chief executives of the biggest conglomerates, some whose annual profits are many times more than this country’s annual budget or total wealth, don’t have as many workers in their offices.

10 It would really help if the government would reconsider the decision to allow MPs to get 25 percent of their gratuities before the end of their terms in parliament. The net effect of that policy is that it makes government pay now for what it would have paid later. The policy is also discriminatory because the rank and file of government workers do not enjoy the same privilege.

11 The policy of giving M500 000 tax-free loans to MPs is now burdening the government. Every worker in this country gets their loans from commercial banks at market interest rates. Some have resorted to loan sharks. Why should MPs be different? The government is not a bank and therefore has no business giving out loans. We understand that this policy started when times were good but the situation is no longer the same. Political offices are for people who genuinely want to serve the people and not enrich themselves. Any MP who has this country’s interests at heart should see reason in foregoing that benefit.

12 While at it, it would be good if our MPs, senior government officials and ministers agree to have their salaries frozen. While we understand that they are already paid less than their counterparts in the region, we would like to believe that, compared to other people on government payroll in this country, they are already earning quite a lot. We are sure they can understand that we are a small country with very limited resources.

13 Thahane should also watch the parliament budget closely. There are reports that MPs who stay in Maseru are claiming hefty petrol allowances by misrepresenting that they are coming from their constituencies in other districts. So government is paying millions in travel allowances to MPs who stay in Maseru. This is fraud.

14 It would really help if the government would stop procurement managers from approving the purchase of goods and services that are under M100 000. While this system reduces delays it also feeds corruption because the procurement officers are allegedly conniving to inflate prices so they can share the spoils. Some of the officials actually own companies that they contract to supply goods and services to the government. Other companies are owned by their friends and relatives. In one department a procurement officer approved the purchase of a laptop computer for M20 000 when it costs M5 000. The government will save itself a lot of money if it draws up a list of accredited dealers from which such products can be bought. That way we will not have fly-by-night companies reaping off this country by inflating prices.

15 To cut the wage bill we suggest that the government should fire all indolent workers and replace them with those who are multi-skilled and hardworking. There are government workers who spend the whole day idling around the office. Some can spend days without coming to the office but they still get their salaries.  Such workers must be dismissed. So should those who run their personal businesses from government offices. That also includes those who waste resources (we mean those who seem to believe that government phones are walkie-talkies).

16 Wouldn’t it be nice if government workers are made to pay for their recklessness? If a reckless driver rams a vehicle then they should pay for the repairs. If a government worker fails to explain their absence from work then they must be forced to forfeit part of their salaries. The same should apply for civil servants who lose government property. An official who can’t account for expenditure should be made to pay.

17 The government has already said it is struggling to fund our tertiary students but it is surprising that it continues to pay university fees for students from rich families. Well-paid executives and senior government officials must fund their children’s university education.

18 Because government scholarships are quite easy to come by we have senior government officials who are sending their children to South Africa to study courses that local universities offer. Government must streamline the type of courses that it sponsors. Surely it is not fair that government should sponsor a student to go to South Africa to study economics when the same course is offered at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Even a scholarship to study at NUL must take into consideration the parent’s financial position.

19 Will there be a national crisis if the government reduces the number of its diplomats around the world? We believe our national interest will not be seriously affected if we become more selective about the country to which we deploy our diplomats. If you consider that the government pays millions every year in school fees and uniforms for these diplomats’ children then you understand why a cut in their numbers is necessary.

20 Performance-based contracts can help the government deal with non-performing senior government officials and heads of public institutions. Those who fail to meet targets must be fired immediately. A government as broke as ours cannot afford paying non-performers. 

21It would really help if government departments were to stop holding workshops at expensive hotels.

22 The Lesotho Revenue Authority must deal with tax dodgers. There are lots of companies that have been dodging their tax for years. 

 23 People who were educated through government scholarships must repay their loans. The scholarship system was supposed to work as a revolving fund, but the government has to keep pumping out money because graduates are not repaying their loans (we understand that many of them don’t have jobs).

 24 Companies that do shoddy jobs on government tenders should be blacklisted or not paid at all.

 25 The government could also consider privatising the Lesotho TV, Radio Lesotho and Ultimate FM. Other parastatals are also suitable candidates for privatisation.

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