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Parly set to approve 2020/21 budget

  • amid fears that some MPs might withhold votes over M75 000 salary demands

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

PARLIAMENT is tomorrow expected to pass the 2020/2021 budget. However, there are fears that some legislators might withhold their votes to pressure the government to award them a 100 percent salary hike.

The Appropriation Bill on the proposed budget is expected to be read by Finance minister Thabo Sofonea and passed the same day as the government seeks to bring the issue to finality after several delays in approving the budget estimates. The M21, 9 billion budget estimates were first tabled in parliament by then Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro on 16 February 2020.

The delays were caused by the month-long prorogation of parliament by then prime minister Thomas Thabane who had sought to suspend parliament from 20 March 2020 to 19 June 2020 ostensibly to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (ICovid-19) pandemic. A month later Mr Thabane lost the case in the Constitutional Court after a challenge filed by his own All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, the Basotho National Party (BNP) and others.

Even after the re-opening of parliament the budget could not be approved as Dr Majoro pleaded for more times to revise the proposed budget allocations to factor in an allocation of funds for the fight against Covid-19 which had not been catered for when he first presented the estimates. There was another delay caused by the adjournment of parliament from 11 to 22 May 2020 to facilitate the transition to a new government after the collapse of the Thabane coalition on 11 May 2020. Dr Majoro succeeded Mr Thabane as prime minister. Democratic Congress (DC) leader replaced Monyane Moleleki as the deputy prime minister. Dr Majoro’s Finance portfolio was taken over by Mr Sefonea who now has the task of ensuring the 2020/21 budget is approved two months after the new financial year started on 1 April 2020.

Although the government has committed to the approval of the budget tomorrow, there is a chance that this may not happen after some legislators allegedly vowed to withhold their votes to force the government to increase their salaries from M35 000 to a staggering M75 000 each per month.

Authoritative sources within the ruling ABC said some of the party’s backbenchers tabled the demand for the salary hikes at a party caucus meeting on Wednesday along with the demand for the release of former first lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane from remand prison (see story on page 2).

“We were called to a last-minute caucus meeting on Wednesday and some of the legislators vowed that they would not approve the budget unless their demands are met,” an MP who spoke on condition of anonymity told this publication this week.

“The demands include a salary increment which will see each legislator take home M75 000 per month. The MPs also demand that our diplomatic passports should not be withdrawn after we lose our seats in parliament. Others want Dr Majoro and the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) to ensure that Liabiloe (‘Maesaiah Thabane) is freed from prison to take care of Ntate Thabane who is unwell. (Mr) Mokhothu will discuss this issue of M75 000 demands with his DC party’s legislators tomorrow,” the MP said.

However, DC deputy leader Motlalentoa Letsosa told this publication his party’s leadership had met with its legislators after receiving reports that there were demands for the salary increments. The DC MPs had nevertheless distanced themselves from the salary hike demands.

“We had a meeting with our backbenchers on Friday and they said they have nothing to do with the demands. No one seems to know who is behind the demands. It is all speculation,” Mr Letsosa said.

He said a day before that Dr Majoro and his deputy, Mr Mokhothu, held a meeting with all MPs to discuss the issue but no one owned up to the salary hike demands.

ABC parliamentary caucus chairperson ‘Mathato Phafoli confirmed there was a party caucus meeting on Wednesday but denied they discussed the M75 000 salary demands.

She said while there were genuine demands for salary increments the M75 000 figure being touted was incorrect.

“I don’t know where the M75 000 figure is coming from. People are making up stories.  All that the MPs want is a review of their salaries but not to that figure.

“All legislators sat down and agreed that MPs’ salaries should be reviewed in line with salaries for their Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) counterparts. In other countries, MPs’ diplomatic passports are not revoked when they lose their seats. They continue to enjoy their former benefits and that is what Lesotho legislators want. They also want an official funeral when they die even after their terms have ended,” Ms Phafoli said.

The M75 000 salary hike demands are nonetheless not new. They were first made in November 2018.

At the time, the MPs who are also lavished with a number of perks including M500 000 interest free loans, also demanded that they be eligible for pensions after serving for only two years in the House. They are presently only eligible for pensions after serving two five-year terms.

“There have been negotiations between us and the government over salary increments. Our entry point in these negotiations is a 100 percent increment,” one legislator who preferred anonymity told this publication at that time.

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