MASERU — Opposition leaders have criticised Finance Minister Timothy Thahane’s budget saying it was full of promises that were unlikely to be met because the government did not have the capacity to implement these policies.
Thahane promised that the government will tackle corruption, cut wasteful expenditure and recover loans from students who received money from the government to fund their tertiary education.
He said to rein in galloping costs the government will this year cut out foreign trips and workshops.
Thahane also promised to track down block farmers who defaulted on government loans.
These promises have been the target of much criticism from opposition leaders who say the government had made similar promises in the past but had dismally failed to fulfil them.
They said some of those noble targets like the recovery of student loans were almost impossible to achieve because the majority of graduates were still unemployed.
All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane described the budget as “a carbon copy of previous years’ budget presentations”.
“Similar promises have been made year in and year out but nothing was ever achieved,” he said.
Thabane said the cost-cutting measures Thahane highlighted in his speech would not be implemented “because they would rather sustain their expensive lifestyles”.
“I do not see the cost-cutting measures being implemented to cut down on government’s expenditure on fancy lifestyles and trips overseas,” he added.
Thabane said he was sceptical that efforts to discipline lazy government workers would work because nothing has come out of previous promises to deal with such civil servants.
“Let us just wait and see how many ministries will have fired their permanent secretaries in the next two months.”
The ABC leader said it was “just a fantasy” for Thahane to hope to recover all loans from students sponsored by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
“I do agree that (loans) must be collected from students sponsored by the NMDS,” he said.
“But it’s just a dream for Thahane to think he can achieve that.
“A large percentage of those students are just sitting at home doing nothing productive as they have no jobs.
“How does he expect them to repay the money when they do not have jobs?
“There are no mechanisms in sight for job creation because the country’s economy is stagnant.
“All their programmes have proven to be unsustainable because the government lacks the capacity to see things through.”
Basotho National Party leader Metsing Lekhanya said Thahane’s target to recoup study loans “would not happen easily” because most of the beneficiaries were not working.
“That can only be achieved in the event that the country devises effective means of job creation because most students are sitting at home with their degrees and no jobs,” said Lekhanya.
“There should be solid means of creating jobs for students so that they can repay the money.”
Lekhanya said Thahane had not made it clear how the government was going to improve the agricultural sector and recover the block farming loans.
“He talked about weeding out corruption but did not explain how he was going to go about it,” he said.
Popular Front for Democracy leader Lekhetho Rakuoane said the budget was generally well articulated but it had some weaknesses because it lacked specifics.
“He also does not talk about government deposits and where the government’s reserves are,” Rakuoane said.
He said the fact that the finance minister talked about excluding the Sacu revenues from the recurrent budget was “a welcome suggestion”.
“We also approve the ministerial allocations of funds,” he said.
Rakuoane said Thahane could also have told the nation how he intended to recover block farming loans.
“Block farming loans were never repaid. How does he propose to recover those?” he said.
“How does he hope to achieve all that if he does not have firm structures in place to combat stock theft?”
Marematlou Freedom Party leader Moeketse Malebo commended the minister for his tough stance on reckless government expenditure.
“Since 1993, it is the first time to hear the finance minister taking a tough stance against excessive government spending, cutting down on unnecessary workshops and overseas trips,” Malebo said.
“This a good indication that the government is beginning to take notice of what the opposition has been saying all along.”