A WAR of words is said to have erupted recently between the Minister of Public Service, Semano Sekatle, and his Principal Secretary, Tšeliso Lesenya, over the proposed five percent salary cut for ministers.
Well-placed sources this week told the Lesotho Times that Mr Sekatle did not take kindly to a strongly worded memo by his principal secretary which criticised the proposed salary cut for ministers, saying the move would create “serious anomalies” which would have to be addressed in future. Mr Sekatle is said to have angrily told Mr Lesenya to tear up his memo and never again question decisions that had been passed in cabinet.
The five percent salary cut for the ministers is part of a raft of austerity measures that were announced by Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro in his budget speech last month. Dr Majoro also said there would be a reduction in the ministers’ costly foreign trips as well as the abolition of the M500 000 interest-free loans for legislators.
Mr Lesenya appears to have taken exception to the proposed salary cut, arguing that it would see ministers earning less than the Speaker of the National Assembly.
According to authoritative sources in the Public Service ministry, all hell recently broke loose after Mr Lesenya wrote a confidential memo to Mr Sekatle indicating that the proposed five percent salary cut would create “serious anomalies” in the salary structures that would have to be corrected.
Mr Sekatle recently told this publication that he and Mr Lesenya discussed the five percent salary cut for ministers. He however, refused to disclose the details of their discussions on the issue.
However, the sources said that Mr Lesenya argued that cutting the salaries of ministers would create an anomaly where the speaker of the national assembly would earn more than the ministers.
Currently, ministers and the speaker each earn M45 259 per month. After the salary cuts, the ministers will earn M42 996, 95 per month.
Although it was a collective cabinet decision to cut the ministers’ salaries, the sources said Mr Lesenya still felt the decision was “a recipe for future problems” hence his letter to Mr Sekatle.
“The Public Service ministry’s salaries and remuneration department did its calculations on the new salaries factoring in the five percent salary cuts and the PS picked that the salary cut placed ministers below the Speaker of the National Assembly in terms of earnings.
“He (Mr Lesenya) wrote a detailed letter to the minister (Mr Sekatle) explaining that the new salary structure for ministers would create a serious anomaly that would need to be corrected by a future government,” one source said, adding that the letter sparked a war of words between Mr Lesenya and Mr Sekatle.
Another source said upon receipt of the letter, the minister immediately called the Mr Lesenya to his office where the two allegedly exchanged strong words over the issue.
“Ntate Sekatle was not happy at all and he felt undermined and told the PS off. They exchanged words before Ntate Sekatle instructed the PS to tear the letter and make sure that the matter would never be raised again as it was a cabinet decision which should not be questioned by anyone,” the source said.
Mr Sekatle recently confirmed meeting Mr Lesenya over the issue of the minister’s salary cuts.
“It is not true that he (Mr Lesenya) wrote to me to raise his concerns but I can confirm that we discussed the matter,” Mr Sekatle said.
On his part, Mr Lesenya said the five percent salary cut was in line with the austerity measures being implemented by the government.
“This (salary cut) is a noble action by our ministers. They have demonstrated the kind of leadership that we want for this country and it shows that there is a political will to cut down on government expenses.
“The ministers understand that Lesotho is in an economic crisis and it is highly commendable that they have decided to cut their salaries. It must be understood that this is a decision of the cabinet and it will be implemented in the 2019/20 financial year,” Mr Lesenya said.
Dr Majoro also told this publication that he had to “thoroughly explain things” to his cabinet colleagues to ensure that they bought into his austerity proposals that include the downward adjustment of their salaries.
“It’s difficult but the first thing you do is explain (to the ministers) what the (economic) situation is and so it was ultimately their decision (to have the salary cut). These are the measures that they have taken to say, ‘look, we are in a very testy situation, we are facing very difficult circumstances, let us help each other, let us focus more on the economy, let the economy grow and it is only a growing economy that will provide relief’.
“But before you get there (to solvency), you must take immediate measures otherwise you are going to end up not being able to pay for the commitments that you have made. Last year, I announced that I was foreseeing M1, 2 billion in payment arrears and we had made commitments that we did not have the cash to pay for,” Dr Majoro said.
Dr Majoro said he would push for the enactment of the enabling legislation for the implementation of his austerity measures.
“In some areas, this (implementation of austerity measures) involves amending the legislation and issuing the circulars that talk to these issues. So, there will be some amendments to the laws and we will put controls in our systems to enable us to enforce what we agreed. It is more damaging to the economy to be careless and reckless and spend when you do not have the cash to pay. It is better to bite the bullet and be unpopular but making the right decisions,” Dr Majoro said.