Scrutator is angry. Really angry. I sold four sheep, two goats and six chicken to the person who was given a contract to cater for His Majesty’s 56th birthday. I also sold 10 chickens, one goat and two sheep to a company awarded a tender to cater for a surreptitious event recently held for Ntate Motsoahae and Lady Dee in Mokhotlong. They were donating a shack they built for a homeless fellow in that far flung and God forsaken town called Mokhotlong. All in all, these two caterers owe me about M16 000. This might not feel and sound like real money for you. It is however a fortune for me. That kind of money cannot of course buy me a holiday in Mauritius. But it can at least afford me a plump holiday in another place called Thaba-Nchu just across the border. However, getting this money has become akin to panning for gold in Scotland. I cannot get paid because the people to whom I sold my wares haven’t also been paid by the government.
In a fit of rage, I recently stormed Ntate Moeketsi Majoro’s office to demand payment. I asked our IMF trained finance minister to pay the two women who were given these tenders so that they can in turn give me my dues.
I was shocked by Ntate Majoro’s response. For starters, I did not know that Ntate Majoro actually takes snuff. He was courteous enough to accept me into his office. He was also courteous enough to listen to my story. But then instead of him helping me recover my money he looked at me and remarked: “Thanks Mme for coming. I have listened to you. But you see , I have bigger worries…You see all those files in that corner, they represent the amount of money that I as finance minister, one behalf of the coalition, owe to various government suppliers.”
He continued: “ The orange files represent companies or persons who are each owed more than M5 million each by the government….the green files represent persons that are owed more than M10 million each, the orange files represent companies owed more than M20 million each while the red files represent companies that are owed more than M50 million each…..
“All these are big amounts. But none of these people have ever woken me up early in the morning to ask me for their money as you are doing. We as government owe our suppliers huge amounts — big and small.
“We will of course pay small debtors like you. But not now. We don’t have the money. We will pay our big debts first, then we will consider small minnows like you latter. Now leave my office to let me do my work Mme….Never call me again over a measly M16 000…..”
Ntate Majoro then opened a small metal container and squeezed a sizeable amount of snuff between his fingers before sneezing it loudly down his left nostril as if this was his way of paying his big debts first. This all reminded me of Unoka in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Unoka became infamous for not paying debts. By the time he died, he had not only entangled his family into humungus debts, he had become the epitome and embodiment of the word debt itself.
As I walked out of Ntate Majoro’s office, I could not help but ask myself; Where do I go from here? I know I will not be welcome at State House. I am no longer a crony there.
Perhaps I should just write off this debt. But then, I need my Thaba-Nchu holiday. Where will I ever get the money to get there, if I don’t pursue Ntate Majoro? I will not give up, I decided. If I don’t get the money next week, I will go and camp at Ntate Majoro’s home till I get paid.
I know most other Basotho who have provisioned services to the government are also reeling. Which is why I am flabbergasted and dumfounded by news that the government has blown out more than M200 million on foreign trips and various other junkets by ministers and principal secretaries in a short space of eight months.
Granted, Ntate Majoro is swimming in debt, on behalf of the government, but he at least is a decent man, his mistreatment of me notwithstanding. He warned his colleagues to be frugal much earlier on. He cautioned against unnecessary travel and exhorted his colleagues to travel economy class and by taxi on short trips to South Africa. But they are all having none of that. I have seen Ntate Majoro himself on many occasions leaving his favourite joint (Lancers) and hiking home in a 4 plus one. If all ministers were like him, perhaps we will be in much better space.
Our ministers and principal secretaries are now like permanent tourists hopping from one country to another. They every now and then visit Lesotho to attend cabinet meetings then leave for their respective foreign destinations. This is not just a per diem syndrome. It is something worse than that. I don’t know how to describe it. Little wonder that service delivery has completely screeched to a halt.
One minister is now known to attend the official opening of every new stokvel in South Africa.
How can any serious government, interested in the welfare of its people, spend a staggering M200 million on foreign travel in a short space of eight months? What’s going on here?
According to Selibe Mochoboroane, our hardworking and indefatigable chairman of the all too important Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the government is spending an average M25 million monthly on lavish foreign travels which brings little to emaciated Basotho.
And to bankroll all the lavish foreign travels, the government has had to dip into the contingent account; that money that should only be used for life saving emergencies.
If all this is not shameful, then what is? Even as I write this article, only about four or five ministers are actually in the country. Many others are spread across the world from Johanneburg to Kathmandu and from Perth to Peru.
If all these trips brought back massive investments and jobs, then no Basotho would be unemployed. The over-congested road to Kubetsoana would also have been dualized in the South Korean style (wherein highways r are built on top of each other). It is not encouraging at all that, instead of leading by example by spending more time in Habia, Ntate Motsoahae is even more delinquent having overshot his travel budget by M12 million already. As I write this article, I am told he is somewhere in far flung Montenegro or Serbia. For what? What the hell is happening here.
How does this government explain all this extravagance? Only recently, a high powered delegation of 30 officials was sent to the United Nations General Assembly at a whooping cost of M5 million. The delegation was double that send by Nigeria, a country with a population a 120 million more times than Lesotho’s. How surely does any serious government take money from its contingent reserves and use this on foreign travel? According to Mme Maleshoane Lekomola, the budget controller, at least M90 million was spent without parliamentary approval in what she describes as “one of those political decisions”. Do we thus need a budget controller at all? Nope.
Future Prime Minister Mochoboroane is right in demanding that those responsible for this unashamed looting be held accountable. It’s illegal to expend public money without parliamentary approval. My support for this government on June 3 2017 is well documented. I did not make my vote a secret. But frankly speaking, I am now disappointed. Ntate Motsoahae had let me down. This has been one of the most incompetent governments Lesotho has ever had. There is no service delivery. The economy is comatose. Unemployment is about to outstrip that of Zimbabwe. Health and Education standards have declined. And above all else, I am owed my M16 000. Where do I turn to recover this money. I am told for me to sue the government to recover the M16 000, I would have to spend at least M150 000 on lawyers. Unless I get Advocate Huuoooane. So whats the point. I am a woman of humble needs. I am not asking for much. I just want my money for an inexpensive holiday in Thaba-Nchu. I am not even asking for Bloemfontein.
And while all the rot is unfolding and money being spent recklessly, those who cannot join in the foreign junkets are simply stealing and getting away with it.
It is now common cause that the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and the so called Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) are completely useless institutions with not even a single conviction of anyone on corruption.
Consider the case of the crooks who stole M32 million from Lerotholi Polytechnic aka Fokothi. Deputy Police Commissioner Paseka Mokete even told PAC that the money was laundered into South African accounts. The chief suspect in the case, one Nosi Motale, is even known to the police. He had even pledged to return about M16 million for now. And then presumably keep another M16 million and return it when he feels like. But as fate would have it, nothing has been returned. If law enforcement agencies fail to prosecute such an obvious case, is there need to have them at all?
I am truly, truly and really disappointed. But with Ntate Mochoboroane doing his work, I see some hope for the future. And with elections around the corner, maybe we might just get some respite. I never lose hope in His Majesty’s majestic Kingdom. But for now, I am angry and disappointed.