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Parly breaks to consult on budget 

by Sunday Express
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Bereng Mpaki

PALIAMENT has taken a break to allow its portfolio committees time to consult stakeholders on the 2021/22 budget estimates presented in the august house by Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea on Wednesday.

The break is from 19 February to 9 March 2021.

Legislators voted for the recess following a motion that was tabled by the leader of the National Assembly, Mathibeli Mokhothu.

In tabling the motion, Mr Mokhothu said it was the norm for parliament to break soon after the budget speech had been presented.

“I stand here to propose that this house adjourns until 9 March 2021 to allow the portfolio committees time to consider the 2021/22 budget estimates and thereafter report back to the House,” Mr Mokhothu said on Friday.

“This is a motion that usually follows the tabling of the budget estimates before the house. It is meant to afford the portfolio committees time to work on the budget and summon different ministries and departments to justify the funds they need.”

Minister Sophonea on Wednesday presented yet another static M23, 8 billion budget which reiterated his predecessor and current Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s calls for reduced government expenditure to save money to fund investment and job creation initiatives.

Mr Sophonea said the 2021/22 budget, whose theme is “Navigating the New Norm towards Transformation and Economic Recovery”, had been developed with the aim of spurring economic recovery and growth after the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To achieve economic recovery, Mr Sophonea proposed a host of austerity measures including salary freezes for the country’s restive civil servants. Last year they were awarded five percent increments which they said were not enough. Teachers, nurses and magistrates went on strike demanding higher wages.

Mr Sophonea said future salary increments would be performance-based instead of the current system where everyone gets a raise regardless of whether or not they have performed well.

Civil servants are not the only ones to be affected by the austerity measures. Even pensioners will not be getting any increments. Last year they were awarded a modest M50 increase in their old age pensions from M750 to M800 for each pensioner per month.

In addition, there will be no tax relief for taxpayers whose incomes have been undermined by inflation and the Covid-19 induced slowdown in local and global business activity.

Instead, the minister proposed to introduce a raft of new taxes to boost revenue generation.

These include the implementation of the much-delayed alcohol and tobacco levy increments of 15 and 30 percent respectively. If implemented, Mr Sophonea said this will yield an extra M286, 6 million to the fiscus.

The minister also proposed a one percent increase on the Value Added Tax (VAT) on electricity. This will raise an additional M93, 5 million, he said.

Mr Sophonea proposed to tax mining royalties in a move expected to rake in an additional M232 million.

In another development, Mr Mokhothu said the recess would be used to come up with measures to ensure that legislators still exercised their full rights even when they were only participating in virtual sessions of parliament.

This follows strong resistance by MPs to last week’s order by the Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, to introduce virtual sittings in a bid to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last Monday, Mr Motanyane announced that beginning last week, only 30 out of the 120 legislators would be allowed in parliament while the rest would have to remotely follow proceedings and contribute virtually in line with public health regulations which bar more than 30 people from congregating in a closed area.

The new arrangement was supposed to begin last Tuesday and over time, the numbers of MPs physically attending the sessions would be reduced until such time that everyone attends virtual sittings.

Mr Motanyane last week said the decision was taken to protect MPs from the pandemic which had spread exponentially in the aftermath of the December festive season.

Mr Motanyane’s order states that only those MPs who are physically present members can vote on any issue while those who are participating cannot do so.

This prompted resistance from the MPs who said the order was made without consulting them and it denied the majority of legislators their rights to vote and fully participate in parliamentary issues.

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