The government is looking at how best legislators from the Eighth Parliament could repay their First National Bank (FNB) loans settled on their behalf last year by the Ministry of Finance.
This is according to the ministry’s Principal Secretary (PS), ‘Mapalesa Rapapa, who was speaking during Friday’s sitting of Senate’s Petitions Committee in response to ‘Concerned Basotho’ who have demanded that the MPs repay the loans.
The ministry paid M32 million to FNB on 27 April 2015 which the Members of Parliament (MPs) still owed the bank when their five-year terms were cut short following the midway collapse of the Thomas Thabane-led government.
The MPs were entitled to M500 000 interest-free loans from the bank, which were guaranteed by the government hence the Ministry’s obligation to pay-off the debt.
Ms Rapapa, who was accompanied by the Director of Public Debt Khotso Moleleki and the Ministry’s Legal Officer Motale Tseole, told the Petitions Committee chaired by Senator Joele Motšoene that the payment was to ensure government complied with the law.
However, in their petition, the ‘Concerned Basotho’ said the loans amounted to “political corruption and an abuse of state resources for private gain” and called on the government to recover the money.
Ms Rapapa told the Committee: “Our response to the ‘pay back the money’ demand is that we are still dealing with our advice to the government. We are working with our officers to advice government on how these MPs can settle their loans.
“We should mention once again that there are those MPs from the Eighth Parliament who settled their loans in full. There are others who failed to return to parliament after the elections. When we are done looking at how they can pay the Ministry, the office of Mr Moleleki will work on how best to handle the money’s recovery.”
Ms Rapapa further told the Committee the Finance Minister, Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla, would have wanted to be present during Friday’s discussion but ended up accompanying the Prime Minster on an international business trip.
However, she pointed out her role as the ministry’s Chief Accounting Officer, was to ensure public funds were utilised in line with the country’s laws.
“I am a public servant and my role is to ensure public funds are utilized in line with the laws of Lesotho. As a PS, I’m not in a position to question MPs’ benefits. All I have to do is make due payments accordingly as the government is a guarantor of their loans.
“I have to work in line with the Members of Parliament Salaries and Benefits Regulations of 2013 and as amended by Schedule Amendment of 2015. I cannot say whether or not it is wrong for the MPs to be getting these benefits,” Ms Rapapa said.
“Like I said, we did our part as public servants. We were basing ourselves on the Government Loans and Guarantees Act. If we had failed to pay, we would have ended up being sued as the guarantors of the loans.”
Ms Rapapa further said no one anticipated that Parliament would not last its five-year term.
“It was not known that in a space of two years, Parliament could be dissolved,” she added.
On the other hand, Mr Moleleki told the Committee: “In terms of the law, if we guarantee anything, parastatals or a person, the law binds us that this is a contingent liability to government.
“To avoid mistakes, we have to have a contingent fund. We do this for government parastatals all the time when they need us to pay their debts. We do these payments to protect the credit-worthiness of the government so that we can continue to have loans.
“You have to understand that debt is a transfer between generations. One American President once said ‘lucky are the young because they shall inherit public debt’. We protect the future generations.”
For his part, Mr Tseole said the ministry had made each MP of the Ninth Parliament seeking a similar loan sign an agreement for the recovery of the funds if parliament does not last its five-year term.