LESOTHO’S 14 foreign missions are in limbo, as some of the diplomats have not been paid for months while others are forced to sleep in boardrooms because of lack of funds.
This was revealed by parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, at a recent appearance by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations principal secretary ‘Mamonyane Bohloko and her delegation.
So dire was the situation in the foreign missions that Lesotho’s ambassador to China, Lechoo Setanane, was forced to sleep in the embassy boardroom for two months when he arrived in Beijing in May this year because the embassy did not have funds to pay for his temporary accommodation while trying to secure him a permanent place, Mr Mochoboroane said. Some staff at the foreign missions have not had their salaries for at least two months.
The PAC chairperson questioned the value of some of the diplomatic missions saying they had bled the fiscus without any commensurate returns. He suggested the downsizing of the foreign missions to only keep the relevant ones.
Ms Bohloko said while it was true that some of the missions had performed badly, they had also done good in other instances particularly when they had obtained scholarships for Basotho to advance their studies in the host nations.
Mr Mochoboroane said the country would still have attracted hundreds of scholarships from countries like China, Algeria, Cuba and India without deploying many diplomats into those countries.
Mr Mochoboroane said Lesotho had become a laughing stock in the international arena because 80 percent of its foreign missions were failing to pay rentals and salaries.
He said some foreign affairs ministries in the host nations had even summoned Lesotho’s diplomats for questioning over their failure to honour their financial obligations like rentals and salaries to local staff.
He insisted that achievements touted for these missions could be accomplished with less staff deployed. Some of the achievements were not even a result of efforts of staff at these missions but were because of visits to those countries by ministers.
The government should seriously consider which missions to keep and which ones to sacrifice to save on resources.
“Most of your missions are in serious debt. In some cases; they owe salaries and rentals and Lesotho is now the talk of town because of its debts. Some diplomats have been called by the Foreign Affairs ministries of their host nations to explain their failure to pay rentals and salaries for their non-Basotho staff.
“Some have been forced to turn their office boardrooms into bedrooms and that is embarrassing. Eighty percent of Lesotho’s foreign missions are struggling to make ends meet due to mismanagement of funds,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
He said missions that had failed to meet their financial obligations for at least two months included those in Japan, Rome, London, South Africa and China.
Ms Bohloko said she was not in a position to deny Mr Mochoboroane’s submissions. She said her ministry was struggling to keep the embassies out of debt because the Ministry of Finance had cut down its budget without any justification.
“When the budget is cut, some of the activities will not happen as planned. On issues of performance, for you to have seen some ministers visiting certain countries, those trips are facilitated by foreign missions.
“While sometimes we perform well in the foreign missions, there are also instances where we perform badly… Understandably, we must tighten our belts when it comes to spending money… I would not dispute that we might have some dirt but where we are lacking, we will correct,” Ms Bohloko said.
Ms Bohloko conceded that while the government had the capacity to run all its 14 missions, there was need to downsize.
She said the country could nevertheless not close down foreign missions in countries like China and Japan because of the rewards Lesotho had reaped from those countries. She said the Finance ministry still owed her ministry M16 million meant for foreign missions.
On her part, Foreign Affairs and International Relations financial controller, ‘Mampoi Keta said some embassies found themselves without money for salaries after spending funds allocated for wages on other operations like phone bills, maintenance of vehicles and airport courtesies.
Ms Keta accused some missions of being unaccountable and flouting regulations by spending money on unbudgeted transactions.
“Under normal circumstances, foreign missions are supposed to be sending reports on every fifth day of the month but only one mission; New Delhi, complies. London used funds for salaries on other overheads,” Ms Keta said.
Meanwhile, Mr Mochoboroane said his committee was concerned about the deployment of unqualified personnel to foreign missions resulting in the erosion of accountability.
He said in some missions the position of third secretary, which is meant for people with accounting qualifications, was filled with political appointees who had no clue about accounting.
Foreign Affairs human resource manager ‘Maneo Khali seemed to concur saying the ministry only employed people based on a list provided by government officials.
“We are provided with a list. It comes from my boss (PS) with names of deployees,” Ms Khali said. Ms Bohloko said that was common practice even before she became the PS.
“I do not come up with the lists. I get the list from the office of the minister, though as the chief accounting officer I deal directly with the office of the government secretary on the day to day running of the ministry. We consult and I have been told that the prime minister knows about the list.
“In short, I get the list from the government… I get the list from the office of the government secretary,” Ms Bohloko said.