MASERU — The Members of Parliament Salaries (Amendment) Bill which was recently passed by parliament is a shameless ploy by MPs to loot national coffers, analysts have said.
The amendment proposes that MPs can now, after serving for a period of two years, access 25 percent of the gratuity they are entitled to receive after their five-year term.
MPs from both sides of the political divide unanimously passed the amendment when the Bill was presented before parliament a fortnight ago.
The Bill seeks to repeal section 6 (1) of the Members of Parliament Salaries Act 1998 by changing the period within which a member is entitled to earn gratuity.
Presenting the Bill before parliament, Home Affairs, Public Safety and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla said the gratuities were necessary because MPs’ salaries had been over-stretched because of the financial and economic crisis.
The government was therefore seeking to allow MPs to “draw their gratuity earlier . . . with the balance being paid later”.
But political analysts who spoke to the Sunday Express have condemned the amendment as a ploy designed to allow politicians to loot national coffers.
A political scientist at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), Motlamelle Kapa, said the new law was a selfish piece of legislation crafted to “loot state resources”.
“The Bill was made to fulfil the desire of the political elite to loot the (coffers of the) state,” Kapa said.
“It is sad because the majority of Basotho are languishing in abject poverty.
“The current state of Lesotho’s economy does not allow for such (lavish spending). Cost cutting measures need to be put firmly in place.”
Kapa said it was not surprising that opposition MPs had supported the Bill because “they also want to have a piece of the pie”.
“The fact that even the opposition supported the Bill reflects that MPs see parliament as a source of quick wealth,” Kapa said.
“They all have very contaminated minds. It is quite ridiculous that MPs are paid inflated salaries in a country like Lesotho.”
MPs earn a gross salary of about M21 000 a month.
Respected civic rights leader, Lira Theko, also slammed the amendment.
“We have leaders who seek to capitalise on every loophole in the system to give themselves benefits at the expense of ordinary people,” Theko said.
“One just has to look at the level of poverty, economic crisis, high unemployment rate and meagre salaries (that people are getting in Lesotho). Yet there are people who are ruled by avarice.”
Theko is the president of the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations, an umbrella body that represents NGOs.
He said it was clear that MPs were cheating the system to get their money early before it has still not lost value.
“It’s tantamount to cheating the system because they are getting money at current value. The Bill was unanimously passed because it was to their advantage,” Theko said.
“It is an injustice that provisions are being made for a bunch of MPs to get money ahead of time when the country is grappling with poverty and with the economy in crisis.
“This strengthens the fact that MPs are showing total disregard for the (wishes of the) electorate,” Theko said.
He said the Bill was structurally wrong and unfair to the public because “MPs are paid with public funds”.
“For MPs to get the money before time is also not in the least right especially because the money is the public’s, not theirs,” Theko said.
“They can foresee difficulties in the future and are making hay while the sun shines.
“They know that they will not be adversely affected if they act now.”
Professor Nqosa Mahao, the executive dean in the Faculty of Law at the North West University, said the Bill will effectively mean that MPs “will be given money they have not earned”.
“It will also mean that ministers who are also MPs will be getting money they did not work for. They will be benefiting more than ordinary MPs,” Mahao said.
“Somebody will be eating into the future and the whole burden is going to be carried by taxpayers.”
He added that MPs will be getting their gratuities at current value and will therefore “not be affected by inflation”.
Mahao said the amendment was unfortunate because it allowed the government to spend money when it should be saving for the future.
“This is a time of economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund has advised that Lesotho should exercise cost-cutting measures,” Mahao said.
“But we see money being poured into the purses of politicians.”