Metsing dragged into ex-councilors row
THE former Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, has been dragged into a messy fight entangled in which former councilors are challenging the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy’s decision to block the processing of their pensions until they agree to deductions to recoup some payments that were made to them during their tenure.
Mr Metsing, who served as the minister of Local Government and Chieftaincy, allegedly instructed his ministry to process payment for the former councilors’ November 2011 salaries after they were sworn in on the 23rd of that same month.
The councilors were not supposed to be paid a full month’s salaries as they had only be sworn in just seven days before the end of November 2011. They were however, paid for the month of November in March 2012 and effectively double payment as they also received their March salaries at the same time.
This has however, come to haunt them as the ministry has blocked the processing of their pension pay-outs until they first agree to sign letters authorising the Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund to deduct money from their pensions to reimburse government for the money they irregularly received as November 2011 salaries.
The Former Councilors Association of Lesotho are not happy with the ministry’s decision and on Thursday, they took the issue to parliament and demanded the intervention of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Presenting their grievances to the PAC, the association’s president, Tieang Sefali, said their members were being forced to sign letters that would be used to deduct their pension’s payouts.
Mr Sefali also demanded that the exiled Mr Metsing be summoned to parliament to explain that the November 2011 salaries which ranged from M2 500 and M6 000 per councilor were lawful.
“The former councilors are being forced to sign letters stating that their November 2011 salary was wrongly paid and therefore it must be deducted from their pensions,” Mr Sefali said, adding, “There is no evidence that has been presented to us to show we were wrongly paid”.
He said it was not their fault that they did not work for the entire month of November 2011 as required for them to be paid full salaries. He said the fault lay with the ministry which failed to swear them in immediately after they won the local government elections in 2011.
The local government act states that councilors must be sworn in 28 days after the announcement of election results and that their first sitting should be 30 days after the announcement of the election results.
This however, did not happen and the councilors argue that they should not be punishment for the ministry’s violation of the law.
“We are now surprised that the ministry is forcing former councilors to sign letters showing that they were falsely paid and therefore the money should be deducted from their pensions and gratuities.
“The ministry is also threatening to withhold the payment of pensions until they sign the letters authorising the deductions. Some of the councilors are being forced to comply because of poverty.”
He said former councilors from Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Berea and Leribe were the most affected by the ministry’s directive.
Mr Sefali subsequently told this publication that Mr Metsing who took the decision to ensure they were paid was still alive and should be brought in to explain that his decision was lawful as it the government which was at fault by delaying their swearing-in.
“The decision to pay us was not communicated verbally and there is a written document instructing the ministry’s officials to pay us. So why are our pensions being deducted when it was an official and documented decision to pay our November 2011 salaries?”
For his part, the Local Government and Chieftaincy ministry’s Principal Secretary, Tšeliso Mokoko, said it was procedural for government to audit every civil servant’s file when processing their pensions and gratuities to ensure that they did not owe the state anything.
Mr Mokoko’s explanation was however, interrupted by PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, who demanded that the PS respond to the grievances at hand.
The ministry’s Human Resource Director, Lerato Seeiso, then stepped in to confirm that the ministry did a written directive instructing that councilors be paid their November 2011 salaries.
“The letter was issued based on a cabinet decision to pay the salaries irrespective of the days the councilors had worked and the councilors were paid as per the instruction,” Ms Seeiso said.
Mr Mochoboroane ordered Mr Mokoko to write to the pension fund explaining that the councilors were lawfully paid and therefore no money should be deducted.
“If not, sit down with the councilors and explain this matter in detail so that they understand this matter fully. You also need to ensure that you pay the district administrators and councilors their pensions. It is totally wrong and cruel to leave people’s files unattended in your offices and that must end,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
Meanwhile, the LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata said Mr Metsing issued a lawful instruction for the payment of the salaries because the councilors were lawfully elected and the government delay in swearing them in was not their fault.