IEC demands its money back
. . . warns local govt polls now in jeopardy
THE Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has demanded that government return the M54 million it seized to pay off arrears in its highly contentious vehicle fleet services contract with Bidvest Bank Limited.
The electoral body has also warned the local government elections scheduled for between February and March next year were now in jeopardy due to lack of funds for preparations.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, IEC Commissioners Makase Nyapisi and ‘Mamosebi Pholo accused Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla of acting outside her legal powers when she ordered that funds budgeted for local government elections be diverted to pay off a government fleet short-term hire debt with the Bidvest Bank Limited.
In a savingram issued by the Ministry of Finance’s Principal Secretary Tom Mpeta and received by the IEC on 29 September 2016, the ministry notifies the IEC of Dr Khaketla’s decision to withdraw the money from its budget to pay Bidvest.
Mr Mpeta says the IEC would not need the money this year since the local government elections, which were scheduled for this month, were postponed to next year because they would have clashed with the 50th independence celebrations.
The savingram was issued on 8 August 2016, two days before the government entered into its 48-month contract with Bidvest.
The controversial government fleet tender has now saddled the coalition government with the lead coalition party, the Democratic Congress (DC), on the verge of imploding as its senior officials openly trade insults over the lucrative project. Some senior DC officials have accused Dr Khaketla of corruptly administering the project.
Mr Mpeta told the Sunday Express’s sister paper, Lesotho Times, this past week it was well within Dr Khaketla’s rights to conduct such a budget re-allocation if circumstances demanded it citing section 27 (2) of the Public Financial Management and Accountability Act (2011).
However, Commissioner Nyapisi said the funds should not have been withdrawn as they were meant for the payment of salaries for IEC staff preparing for the local government elections.
He also said it was “improper” that funds budgeted for specific purposes such as elections should be reallocated without consulting the custodians.
“We have requested the government to return our funds, and to escalate the pressure, we held a meeting with leaders of political parties who vowed to engage government so this decision does not affect the holding of the local government elections in either February or March 2017,” said Commissioner Nyapisi.
He rejected Mr Mpeta’s assertion Dr Khaketla was empowered to withdraw IEC funds whenever she wanted since it was an independent body.
“The section of the Public Financial Management and Accountability Act he referred to does not give the minister the powers to make withdrawals or seize funds allocated to the IEC as an independent statutory body,” Commissioner Nyapisi charged.
“Our funds are allocated by parliament to be only utilised for the preparations for elections. If the ministry had a shortfall, it should have consulted us before seizing the funds in this fashion as the law clearly indicates we should have our own funds in our accounts.”
He said the IEC had the prerogative to invest their budget in income-generating activities to raise funds for elections management activities.
“The law further provides us with powers to invest our funds in order to gain interest or profit that would be utilised towards elections management activities.
“However, the funds are sometimes held by treasury and from time to time we would then seek a subvention. But this is the first time our funds have been unilaterally withdrawn like this,” Commissioner Nyapisi added.
For her part, Commissioner Pholo said the commission required at least 12 months to prepare for an election adequately.
“If time was to pass, and the government failed to return the M54 million allocated for the local government elections, the commission would have wasted funds already spent towards the preparations for the elections that began in January this year,” she said, adding that more than M60 million had been spent so far in preparing for the polls.
“Our fear is that the M60 million already spent in preparations could end up being a waste. We are here to tell Basotho that we have been all out preparing for elections and using public funds, but now it looks like we would not be able to deliver on our mandate and there is nothing that we can do about it.”
Commissioner Pholo said the law cited by the ministry did not apply to the IEC since it is autonomous.
“The law quoted by the minister only deals with ministries and government departments, but the IEC is neither. It is an independent, statutory body established under the constitution,” she said.
“The law clearly provides that money allocated to us as a commission by parliament should actually be in our own coffers. It is just that the government never does that. The Electoral Act of 2011 actually provides in section 147 (5) that the funds allocated to IEC, when not utilised can be invested by the commission to accumulate profit.”