Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

More food price hikes loom


  • Subsidy for staple foods ends
  • Govt blames opposition for failure to extend subvention

Bereng Mpaki

CONSUMERS will have to brace for sharp increases in the prices of locally-produced maize meal, beans and peas with the ending this month of a 30 percent government subsidy effected last June.

The subsidy was bankrolled by M162.7 million the government had set aside to mitigate the effects of skyrocketing food prices in the aftermath of the 2015/16 El Niño-induced drought.

It was effected on 1 June 2016 and is scheduled to end at the end of May 2017.

The government has since laid the blame for the failure to extend the subsidy on opposition parties which blocked Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane from presenting the national budget in February this year.

However, the opposition has countered by accusing the government of misleading the nation, saying the Court of Appeal empowered them to use a third of last year’s budget for four months in light of the minister’s failure to table budgetary estimates for the 2017/8 financial year.

Announcing the government’s intervention in May last year, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said the subsidy was meant to ensure the public continued to afford the most basic commodities in light of the price hikes.

This was after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili had declared a state of emergency in December 2015 due to the prevailing drought and also asked development partners to help combat the situation.

Lesotho experienced one of its worst droughts in recent history due to El Niño — a periodic climatic phenomenon characterised by inadequate rain in some parts of the world and floods in others.

Under El Niño, parts of South America experience heavy rainfall, while dry conditions prevail in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa. El Niño used to occur in varying degrees of severity after every five years, but since the 1990s, it has become more frequent due to global warming.

Under the terms of the subsidy, consumers paid 30 percent less for locally-produced maize meal, beans and peas, with the government paying the balance on their behalf to the producers.

Mr Metsing said the decision to subsidise the foodstuffs was taken after realising that climate change was having a negative impact on the lives of Basotho.

“The drought has not only left many of our people food-insecure because they have not been able to harvest anything, it has resulted in the increase of food, leaving even more people vulnerable,” the deputy premier had said.

The ending of the subsidy compounds the woes of consumers who were already reeling from hikes in the prices of basic goods and services this year without the commensurate remuneration increases.

In April this year, the Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority’s approved a 3.6 percent and 4.6 percent increase in electricity and water tariffs respectively. The past month has also seen hikes in the prices of fuel partly due to the downgrading of the South African economy by global ratings agencies to junk status.

The weakness of the South African rand – which is pegged on a 1:1 ratio to Lesotho’s loti currency — contributed three-quarters of the fuel price increases, with hikes in international petroleum prices accounting for the balance.

According to Dr Mosisili’s Political and Economic Adviser Fako Likoti, the government intended to extend the subsidy but was derailed by opposition parties which blocked the tabling of budgetary estimates for the 2017/8 financial year by Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane in February this year.

The parties, namely All Basotho Convention, Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho, had disrupted Mr Sekhamane arguing that the government no longer had the legitimacy to pass the budget because they had lost their parliamentary numerical supremacy.

The opposition parties successfully sponsored a parliamentary no-confidence motion on the Dr Mosisili-led seven-party coalition government on 1 March 2017. King Letsie III dissolved parliament on 6 March 2017 and eventually proclaimed 3 June 2017 as election day.

“The subsidy will sadly come to an end at the end of this month, although the government had expressed the need to extend it for another two to four years or until the weather patterns have stabilised,” Dr Likoti said, adding that the opposition parties should shoulder the blame for the failure to extend it.

“This means the opposition parties should be held responsible for the hunger that people stand to suffer when the subsidy ends because they intercepted the process which would have allocated funds for the continuation of the subsidy so that families continue to have affordable basic foodstuffs.”

In turn, AD spokesperson Teboho Lehloenya accused the government of misleading the nation “on two fronts”.

He said the first front was the fact that the Court of Appeal had earlier this month given the government the green light to use one third of the budget funds, meaning they could have extended the subsidy if they wanted to.

This was in reference to the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of BNP spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe and a political activist, Mohato Seleke’s appeal against a High Court judgment allowing the government to use one third of the budget when the estimates were not tabled.

Mr Mofomobe and Mr Seleke had filed a constitutional case before the High Court to stop the Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane from using the public funds for the current financial year — which started on 1 April — on the grounds that the minister failed to lay 2017/2018 financial estimates before parliament in March as required by law.

“The Court of Appeal ruled that the government was within its rights to use a third of last year’s budgetary allocation for four months,” Mr Lehloenya said in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday.

“Added to that, the government can use up to M100 million in the event of an emergency situation. So they are trying to mislead the nation by claiming the opposition is responsible for their failure to extend the subsidy.”

The second front, he said, was the fact that the opposition was within its rights to constitutionally remove the government in a parliamentary no-confidence motion.

“What we did was constitutional and they should not try to pin blame for their failures on us,” said Mr Lehloenya.

“We actually toppled the government for mishandling public funds. They are just not responsible.”


Comments are closed.