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Khaketla hits back at electoral body



Finance Minister 'Mamphono Khaketla
Finance Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

FINANCE Minister Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla has hit back at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), saying the demand for the M54 million seized by the government was “mischievous” and insisting she was within her rights to make the decision.

In a verbose statement issued on Friday in response to the IEC’s press conference the day before, Dr Khaketla said the electoral body was not using the money, hence the decision to withdraw it for other uses.

During the press conference, IEC Commissioners Makase Nyapisi and ‘Mamosebi Pholo accused Dr 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.

They also warned the minister’s move jeopardised preparations for local government elections scheduled for between February and March next year due to lack of funds.

However, in a statement titled “The Ministry of Finance’s Response to the Press Conference Held by the IEC and other Concerns Raised in the Public Domain” Dr Khaketla states she is vested with powers to control government finances.

Dr Khaketla says one of the functions of her ministry is to be a general overseer of how appropriated government funds are utilised by ministries and other state organs.

“As a matter of course, if a particular ministry’s utilisation of funds is not at the levels expected, or there is reasonable belief that the money will not be used in a particular financial year, the Ministry of Finance, in consultation with the affected ministry or agency, withdraws that portion of the budget and reallocates it to other ministries that have a shortfall,” she asserts.

In the IEC’s case, Dr Khaketla states parliament had appropriated M200 million for the local government elections that were due to be held this year. She says following the decision to postpone the elections to 2017, it became apparent the IEC would not utilise the M200 million.

The local government elections were initially scheduled for this month, but were postponed to next year because they would have clashed with the 50th independence celebrations.

“The Ministry of Finance, following consultations with the IEC, withdrew M54 million which is the amount that the IEC had indicated it would not expend within this financial year,” says Dr Khaketla.

“The understanding is that when the IEC budgets for 2017/18, it will resubmit this amount in its request for the 2017/18 financial year.

“It is very mischievous, therefore, for the IEC to call a press conference to say it will not be able to prepare for local government elections because the Ministry of Finance has withdrawn M54 million without consultation.”

The minister says she believes what triggered “this hullabaloo” is the savingram from the ministry’s Principal Secretary Tom Mpeta indicating the money being withdrawn would pay off money owed to Bidvest Bank Limited for vehicle fleet services.

“If the IEC had bothered to check which other ministries’ budgets have been reallocated, it would have realised that in some instances, money was reallocated to unexpected expenses such as the recent drought, where government had to source M162 million.

“There is nothing untoward in this exercise. It is worth noting that the same IEC is using Bidvest vehicles as we speak; so what is wrong if the money allocated to them is being used to pay for the vehicles that they themselves are using.”

For the record, Dr Khaketla says, the money that was withdrawn from the IEC fund was “under the votes of salaries and allowances” and not preparation for elections.

“This is money that the IEC itself has indicated will not be able to use before the end of this financial year. It is unfortunate that the IEC decided to call a press conference instead of engaging me if it felt aggrieved by the decision to withdraw this money. This is very unfortunate for a state agency of IEC’s stature,” she says.

Dr Khaketla also provides a “snapshot” of payment for vehicles under various schemes from different fleet service providers over the years, including Bidvest for comparison.

The chart shows that between January and March 2006 government paid between M11 million and M11.5 per month to Imperial for a long-term hire scheme.

The chart also shows that government paid between M12.3 million and M63 million per month between January and March 2015 to Avis also for a long-term hire scheme. And between January and March 2016, government paid between M30 million and M37 million to Bidvest for a short-term hire.

“. . . it is not true that the short-term contract with Bidvest is more expensive than Avis, which was a long-term lease. It is to be noted that the imperial contract was 10 years ago and therefore comparing prices of 10 years ago would not give an accurate picture, given cost escalations,” she says.

Dr Khaketla stresses that under the agreement government has made with Bidvest, the monthly cost would not exceed the budgeted amount of M16 million per month.

“This will be achievable because of the stringent measures that will be taken to monitor vehicle utilisation through driver tags and vehicle tracking,” she says.

“Regarding the never-ending debate on the government vehicles, please be advised that government has purchased 283 vehicles to-date; these are already being allocated to ministries.

“On the other hand, government has received 1 789 applications from Basotho to lease their vehicles to government. The process of assessing the applications is currently underway to identify the 600 vehicles that the government will lease from Basotho.”

The minister also reveals government is in discussions with the transport industry on the procurement of passenger vehicles from the organised transport industry.

“On Monday 3 October (2016), government represented by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mothetjoa Metsing), the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Works and Transport (Tšoeu Mokeretla) held fruitful discussions with the public transport sector on their role in this matter. “It was agreed that the public transport industry would supply government with 200 vehicles. They are to advise government, within a fortnight, on how they are going to proceed with procurement and supply.”

Dr Khaketla also states that social media is “rife with propaganda” that government workers’ salaries for October and beyond would be late. “There is nothing happening in the Ministry of Finance to suggest that such a misfortune will occur because the budget for salaries is available,” she states.

“The Ministry of Finance is, as is normal at the beginning of each quarter, in the process of issuing warrants for the third quarter. If salaries are in anyway delayed, I wish to put it on record that it will be a malicious act on the part of those who will deliberately do so to stir discontentment within the public servants; it will have nothing to do with the lie that the government does not have money to pay salaries.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Express is in possession of a copy of a savingram dated 2 August 2016, in which IEC Director of Elections Letholetseng Ntsike provides the Ministry of Finance’s Budget Controller the cash projections for the 2017 local government elections.

In the document Dr Ntsike notes: “We are planning to have elections held towards the end of February or beginning of March 2017. The decision for elections postponement was reached following a meeting held between IEC and political parties.

“Due to these latest developments, the IEC decided to suspend some major activities until November 2016. For example, release of engaged temporary staff at the end of August 2016 and short-term hire vehicles already released at the end of July 2016.”

The end of February or early March 2017 date is in contrast to the April 2017 stated in the responding savingram endorsed by Mr Mpeta dated 8 August 2016.

“As per the submitted cash plan on August 2nd 2016, we looked into the plan and on the basis of the proposed expenditure pattern our two offices observed that the above mentioned funds will not be expended in the current financial year but will be spent in April 2017,” Mr Mpeta notes.

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