Govt profli­gacy slammed

Govt hosts three-day re­treat for min­is­ters’ spouses barely a week af­ter aus­tere bud­get Jun­ket costs tax­pay­ers hun­dreds of thou­sands of Mal­oti

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - Keiso Mohloboli

Govt hosts three-day re­treat for min­is­ters’ spouses barely a week af­ter aus­tere bud­get Jun­ket costs tax­pay­ers hun­dreds of thou­sands of mal­oti

There will be ses­sions to teach the spouses on how to con­duct them­selves when in­ter­act­ing with civil ser­vants and or­di­nary peo­ple, as well as ses­sions on money man­age­ment and so­cial life. Mar­riage coun­selors will also at­tend

ATHREE-DAY re­treat for spouses of min­is­ters and deputy min­is­ters which be­gan on Fri­day and ends to­day in Tey­ateya­neng has drawn sharp crit­i­cism from some sec­tions of the so­ci­ety who ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of profli­gacy at a time when the coun­try is sup­posed to be im­ple­ment­ing aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

There have also been re­ports that the re­treat which was or­gan­ised by the of­fice of the Gov­ern­ment Sec­re­tary, Moahloli Mphaka, caused some di­vi­sions among the gov­ern­ing coali­tion part­ners with some opt­ing out of the event.

Ac­cord­ing to the Prime Min­is­ter’s Press At­taché, Thabo Thakalekoala, the event was borne out of the need to “re-ori­ent” and “coun­sel” spouses of min­is­ters and their deputies to deal with the pres­sures that come with liv­ing with part­ners who lead very busy pub­lic lives.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter, Moeketsi Ma­joro, who an­nounced a bud­get pred­i­cated on slash­ing gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture, de­clined to com­ment on the costs of the re­treat say­ing, “the gov­ern­ment sec­re­tary is a bet­ter placed to re­spond be­cause his of­fice was re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing the event”.

Mr Mphaka con­firmed that there would be a gath­er­ing of spouses of min­is­ters and deputy min­is­ters but re­ferred the Sun­day Ex­press to Mr Thakalekoala for the de­tails.

Mr Thakalekoala also con­firmed the meet­ing but re­fused to dis­close how much the gov­ern­ment would spend on the jun­ket that he said was nec­es­sary to coun­sel spouses of “min­is­ters who some­times get moody and mis­treat pub­lic ser­vants em­ployed as do­mes­tic work­ers at their homes”.

“It came to the at­ten­tion of the gov­ern­ment that spouses of min­is­ters some­times get moody and mis­treat pub­lic ser­vants work­ing as do­mes­tic work­ers at their homes.

“The load of stress from the work­loads of min­is­ters also cause stress or de­pres­sion to the wives be­cause they are the im­me­di­ate sup­port sys­tems of their hus­bands and wives. And if they both go through stress the fam­ily’s sta­bil­ity and hap­pi­ness gets com­pro­mised. The gov­ern­ment there­fore, found this re­treat to be one of the tools that could ad­dress the mat­ter.

“There will be ses­sions to teach the spouses on how to con­duct them­selves when in­ter­act­ing with civil ser­vants and or­di­nary peo­ple, as well as ses­sions on money man­age­ment and so­cial life. Mar­riage coun­selors will also at­tend,” Mr Thakalekoala said.

Mr Thakalekoala also re­futed spec­u­la­tion that the gov­ern­ment had in­vited fa­cil­i­ta­tors from South Africa, say­ing they had only brought in two lo­cal priests in a bid to con­tain the high costs of travel and al­lowances as­so­ci­ated with bring­ing in for­eign fa­cil­i­ta­tors.

“The mar­riage coun­selors are two lo­cal priests who are of­fer­ing their skills and knowl­edge for free. Four Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­taries will also share their skills for free.

“I do not know how much the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to spend on the re­treat and I can’t give de­tails on the bud­get,” Mr Thakalekoala said.

Based on fig­ures of ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals and con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties this pub­li­ca­tion re­ceived from a Blue Moun­tain Inn ho­tel em­ployee (name with­held), the jun­ket will cost the gov­ern­ment about M200 000 for the spouses of 38 min­is­ters and deputy min­is­ters. There are cur­rently 28 min­is­ters and 10 deputy min­is­ters.

The ho­tel worker said that ac­com­mo­da­tion cost M1350 per per­son, stan­dard rates for lunch are M150 and M150 again for din­ner. These fig­ures would be mul­ti­plied by three days for 38 spouses, as­sum­ing all of them showed up for the event.

As­sum­ing the spouses of all 38 min­is­ters and their deputies at­tended the event, M153 900 would be spent on ac­com­mo­da­tion alone, a fur­ther M17 100 on lunch and M11 400 for din­ner.

The fig­ure could be much higher when trans­port costs to and from Tey­ateya­neng are fac­tored in as well the at­ten­dance of Prime Min­is­ter, Thomas Tha­bane, the min­is­ters and their deputies.

Dr Tha­bane was ex­pected to of­fi­cially open the re­treat yes­ter­day morn­ing and of­fi­cially close it at 6 pm in the evening. The del­e­gates will only de­part Tey­ateya­neng this morn­ing.

The re­treat ap­pear to have been shunned by some of the min­is­ters and part­ners in the gov­ern­ing coali­tion which com­prises of Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane’s All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC), Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, Monyane Moleleki’s Al­liance of Democrats, Labour Min­is­ter, Keketso Ran­tšo’s Re­formed Congress of Lesotho and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter, Th­e­sele ‘Maserib­ane’s Ba­sotho Na­tional Party.

While re­fus­ing to be drawn into say­ing whether or not he and his wife had boy­cotted the event, Mr Moleleki yes­ter­day told this pub­li­ca­tion that they did not at­tend be­cause they were in Dur­ban, South Africa for busi­ness he de­clined to re­veal.

“My wife did not at­tend, she is here with me in Dur­ban,” Mr Moleleki said.

Mean­while, Ms Ran­tšo pro­fessed ig­no­rance over the re­treat, say­ing she would not com­ment fur­ther as she was on her way to Geneva, Switzer­land.

“I do not know any­thing about the re­treat be­cause I did not even at­tend. I am cur­rently on my way to Geneva,” Ms Ran­tšo said on Fri­day.

Chief ‘Maserib­ane was not reach­able on his mo­bile phone. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers were also un­avail­able yes­ter­day ex­cept for Demo­cratic Congress (DC) spokesper­son, Se­ri­a­long Qoo who said it as a “very ir­re­spon­si­ble, in­sen­si­tive and cruel thing by those in power to use the pub­lic funds in that man­ner”.

A twit­ter user iden­ti­fied as Mot­samai Mokotjo on Thurs­day tweeted, ”So pub­lic funds are be­ing used to hold a ‘re­treat’ for spouses of min­is­ters, deputy min­is­ters & deputy deputy min­is­ters?”

The tweet also car­ried the hash­tag #BananaKing­dom. The Tey­ateya­neng re­treat comes barely a week af­ter Dr Ma­joro un­veiled what he called a “painful” M16.5 bil­lion bud­get for the 2018/19 fi­nan­cial year.

Dr Ma­joro boldly ad­mit­ted that the gov­ern­ment was ef­fec­tively broke and its pro­grammes would have to be fi­nanced by more bor­row­ing push­ing the coun­try fur­ther to­wards a fis­cal cliff.

“Our gov­ern­ment now has to bite the bul­let and make de­ci­sions that would be painful but which if not taken would im­pose po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic chaos on Lesotho,” de­clared Dr Ma­joro, vow­ing that the gov­ern­ment would nonethe­less re­main com­mit­ted to fos­ter an en­vi­ron­ment to create jobs in the pri­vate sec­tor.

Al­though Dr Ma­joro did not fully ex­plain the painful de­ci­sions that he says re­quired to be taken to avoid chaos, he out­lined a num­ber of ex­pen­di­ture cut­ting mea­sures in­clud­ing cur­tail­ing for­eign travel, im­proved pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures, price caps on goods pro­cured by the gov­ern­ment, ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion of the gov­ern­ment fleet, im­proved man­age­ment of the wage bill through the elim­i­na­tion of ghost work­ers, among other things.

Last year, Dr Ma­joro de­liv­ered a sim­i­lar bud­get speech where he warned that un­less the gov­ern­ment re­struc­tured and con­sol­i­dated its fi­nances, Lesotho risked the risk of us­ing its re­serves to the ex­tent of leav­ing the coun­try with no money to pay for im­ports and to fi­nance in­vest­ments in job cre­ation.

Fail­ure to tighten the gov­ern­ment’s fis­cal path would also jeop­ar­dise the par­ity be­tween the lo­cal Loti cur­rency and the South African Rand. Given Lesotho’s de­pen­dence on im­ports, a col­lapse in the peg be­tween the Loti and the Rand would lead to fis­cal and trade crises, Dr Ma­joro warned.

Gov­ern­ment Sec­re­tary, Moahloli Mphaka

GOV­ERN­MENT Sec­re­tary Moahloli Mphaka.

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