Tomorrow might be Valentine’s Day but Finance Minister Timothy Thahane won’t be bringing rosy news when he delivers his 2011/12 budget speech in parliament.
Instead, he is likely to tell the nation that the days of plenty are over and everyone must brace themselves for the “years of lean cows” that are coming.
Money and how to share it is what has been troubling Thahane.
With Lesotho’s share from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) dwindling fast, the purse he has to share has shrunk drastically.
Yet Lesotho’s problems have worsened over the years requiring more resources.
In the meantime donor fatigue is beginning to set in as rich Western countries begin their own austerity measures forced by the global recession.
The challenge Thahane faces is that of balancing his austerity measures with the need to ensure that the country’s main projects are not starved of money.
It’s a delicate balancing act.
Money might be scarce but the country’s HIV and Aids treatment and prevention programmes must be kept running.
With an HIV prevalence rate of 23.5 percent, Lesotho cannot afford to starve all projects aimed at combating the pandemic and its devastating effects both at household and national levels.
Health and education must remain adequately funded.
So should other infrastructural development projects.
The same applies to efforts to feed the more than 200 000 orphans and thousands of aged people in the country.
It is encouraging that Thahane has called on everyone to “tighten their belts”.
Already the government’s charges on health and police services have been reviewed.
Starting next month motorists will be paying more at the Maseru bridge tollgate.
Plans to review road traffic fines are also afoot.
Yet painful as these new charges might be, few doubt their necessity.
It is important for Thahane to cast his net wider in the search for ways to conserve cash.
His “belt tightening” measures must not be selective.
The government itself must learn to use resources prudently. Corruption in government must be rooted out.
We still believe the government could make a big saving if ministers were to be allocated one official vehicle instead of the current three.
Hefty per diems and first-class travel for senior government officials should be good candidates for these cuts.
We are still convinced that last year’s decision to allow MPs to get 25 percent of their gratuities early was ill-advised and should be reversed.
It must however be noted that while all these austerity measures are necessary they remain stopgap solutions to a problem that needs more concrete policies to solve.
Lesotho’s economy is suffering because it has relied too heavily on Sacu revenues.
Now that Sacu cannot provide the usual funds Lesotho needs to redouble its efforts to grow its industry and manufacturing capacity.
To do this Lesotho needs to provide incentives to businesses and convince the world that it is an attractive investment destination.
We also need to revive our agriculture sector so we don’t spend millions buying food that we can produce on our own.