PARLIAMENTARIANS have been hogging the spotlight with their demands for a whopping 100 percent salary increment- a demand analysts say is “ridiculous and cruel” given the precarious state of the economy.
While the salary demands have united legislators from the governing and ruling parties they have however, estranged them from some sections of society who feel that ordinary civil servants and factory workers are more deserving of salary increments.
And even if the economy was in a much healthier position, the analysts say the legislators’ salary demands would still be insensitive given the fact that the parliamentarians rank among the best paid people in the Kingdom.
Their salary demands came to the attention of the nation a fortnight ago when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane ordered Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to establish an inter-ministerial team to consider a revised salary structure for them.
Dr Thabane told the National Assembly that he had tasked Dr Majoro to “establish a body made up of various ministers to implement the proposed revised parliamentarians’ salaries and incentives structure”.
Without elaborating on the issue, Dr Thabane said that “it was obvious who the inter-ministerial body will be made up of and to whom they will report”.
According to one legislator who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity, the negotiations have been ongoing since March this year “when it became evident that the electorate was not happy with the M500 000 interest-free loans parliamentarians enjoy at the beginning of each term”.
“The majority of legislators are willing to forego the M500 000 loans but for that to happen, our salaries must be doubled.
“Without the interest-free loans, we will need a decent living wage to take care of ourselves and to enable us to continue assisting people in our constituencies,” the legislator said.
The parliamentarians, who are also lavished with a number of perks, are also demanding 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.
And if the legislators thought foregoing the M500 000 interest-free loans would placate the public, then they miscalculated because some sections of society are seething with anger over what they regard as greed and heartlessness on the part of legislators for demanding the doubling of their salaries.
Simple calculations show that if the government accedes to their demands, the legislators’ gross monthly salary would rise to M74 000 each up from the current M37 000 pay cheque. An average factory worker in Lesotho barely earns M2000 a month.
With the legislators currently costing taxpayers M67, 9 million per annum, the figure will go up to M135 million per annum with each MP costing the taxpayer M888 000 per annum once the hike is approved.
Lesotho’s parliament is made up of 120 members of the national assembly and 33 Senators.
Commenting on this development, prominent lawyer and analyst, Advocate Letuka Molati said the parliamentarians’ salary demands were unreasonable given that civil servants and factory workers only received up to seven percent salary increments this year.
“A 100 percent salary hike is unreasonable when all other sectors got a maximum of seven percent in salary increases.
“Nothing more needs to be said except to say no to the legislators’ demands. The parliament should also be reduced to 60 members. We are a small country after all,” Adv Letuka said.
Another analyst, Montoeli Masoetsa, labelled the MPs’ demand for the wage increases as “completely ridiculous and cruel”.
He said the MPs were exhibiting outright narcissism and should not be condoned by any self-respecting citizen of the country.
“There are people who are more deserving of pay rises and the MPs should be the last people to demand such increments.
“We have the police and teachers whose demands were shot down by the government. Factory workers were denied a M2 000 minimum wage and had to settle for M1 600 instead,” Mr Masoetsa said.
He further argued that the MPs demands were not in sync with the prevailing dire economic state of the country characterised by declining Southern African Customs Unions (SACU) revenues and the Lesotho Revenue Authority’s inability to meet revenue collection targets.
He also said that the country still had to attend to issues of food insecurity and poor infrastructure.
“Any reasons they (MPs) are giving for the hike cannot be justifiable under the current economic conditions in the country. The country is living from hand to mouth at the moment as a result of ministries’ disregard of public procurement rules.”
However, another analyst, Arthur Majara, says although the demands may seem too high, they are justifiable given the responsibilities the MPs should on behalf of the nation.
“Modest salaries for MPs and other officials lead to corruption because you cannot have that huge responsibility of overseeing the management of the public funds yet you are not financially stable.
“How do we expect someone who earns about M30 000 to take care of the nation’s M17, 5 billion worth of assets,” Mr Majara asked rhetorically.
Mr Majara further argued that the MPs salaries have not been reviewed in the last 20 years, with the last increment of more than a 100 percent being effected in 1998.
Mr Majara also argued that the MPs were justified in their demands because their jobs were not permanent and could be lost at any time unlike those of civil servants.
And even if the government were to give in to the MPs’ demands, it remains to be seen where the money would come from and how this would affect the economy which Dr Majoro says is presently incapable of sustaining salary increments.
Civil servants who include teachers and magistrates only received a four percent increment when the 2018/19 budget was announced by Dr Majoro early this year. The minister has repeatedly warned that the country is experiencing severe economic challenges and told civil servants that they will only get more if the conditions improve.
Apart from Dr Majoro, some multi-lateral finance institutions most notably, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have told the government to implement tough fiscal measures to improve the economy.
Chief among these is the need for the government to reduce the high public wage bill, undertake public financial management reform as well as implement the multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The IMF has also advised the government to award performance-based salary increments.
The government and the IMF have been in discussions since June this year for the bailout from the IMF and other development partners which will help to reduce the budget deficit and boost foreign currency reserves.
Although Dr Majoro has previously expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached by the end of August this year, a deal has not materialised up to now with both sides indicating that there are still some sticking points to be ironed out.