Govt cuts ministers’ salaries

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Pascalinah Kabi

THERE will be a five percent salary cut for ministers, a reduction in their costly foreign trips as well as the abolition of the M500 000 interest-free loans for legislators under a raft of austerity measures announced by Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro this week.

On Tuesday, just as he did when announcing his maiden budget speech in parliament in 2017, Dr Majoro made it abundantly clear that Lesotho must save money for investment into productive purposes to boost economic growth and job creation.

If approved by parliament, cabinet ministers will have their salaries cut by five percent with effect from 1 April 2019. They will also have to cut back on foreign trips, drastically reduce their bloated delegations and give up the luxury of the functional business class for the functional economy class travel, announced the Finance minister.

Dr Majoro said he had formulated the proposed budget against the background of extremely challenging global, regional and local conditions which necessitated cost-cutting measures across the board including government expenditure as it related to ministers’ and other government officials’ expenses.

The budget speech was delivered under the theme ‘jobs’ with the minister saying that “creating jobs is the underlying concern for this budget”.

Apart from the obvious need for austerity, Dr Majoro warned that Lesotho must deal with its instability and rule of law issues to attract investment.

In a budget speech that will certainly anger restive civil servants who have been demanding wage increases, the minister did not award any salary increments. Instead, the only salary adjustments are in respect of the cabinet ministers who will now earn five percent less.

Cabinet ministers earn gross monthly salaries of about M45 000 each and if the National Assembly approves Dr Majoro’s budget, the ministers will earn M42 750 before tax beginning 1 April 2019.

Ever since his appointment to the Finance ministry in June 2017, Dr Majoro has worked to rein in on government spending by introducing several austerity measures which have largely been ignored by his cabinet colleagues.

But as shown the latest budget speech for the 2019/2020 financial year, Dr Majoro is not giving up and in addition to the proposed salary cuts, he has once again proposed to cut down on costly foreign trips and to ensure that in the event of such trips, ministers will travel economy class.

“In this budget I am not proposing any adjustment in salaries except for ministers who shall take a pay cut of five percent,” Dr Majoro said.

In addition to the pay cut, Dr Majoro also proposed that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane sets up a special committee tasked with authorising all international trips by ministers “with the purpose to reduce such travel”.

“(The) government (is) to use its foreign representatives to attend most meetings (abroad); ministers to attend only representational meetings and to avoid conferences, workshops and consultative meetings.

“Ministers to cut their delegations to the bone; limiting the number of nights any minister can spend in outside meetings to five only. Exceptions to be granted under additional justification by a specialised committee and rarely. Ministers to actively control international travel in their ministries and ministers to produce international travel reports total time and amounts spent on travel,” Dr Majoro said.

Dr Majoro also proposed to reduce government telephone expenses by lowering existing allowances to ministries and capping ministers’ monthly telephone allowances as M5000.

“Use communication technology more effectively. The Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology should submit a proposal before end March that includes teleconferencing in districts and overseas and to train all senior officials on modern communication technologies,” the minister added.

Dr Majoro has previously attempted, albeit unsuccessfully to scale down on costly foreign trips and communications.

In his first budget for the 2017/2018 financial year, he proposed that ministers would no longer fly first class.

He further proposed that ministers should not travel for more than seven days without the express permission of the Prime Minister “based on elaborate justification.” He also said that ministers had to reduce the size of their delegations to international meetings to just the optimum numbers necessary for them to perform their duties effectively.

He had said that cuts would also be effected on telephone communications with ministers expected to rely less on normal voice calls which would be substituted with cheaper options including Skype, WhatsApp audio, FaceTime and other VoIP services.

Just as he previously proposed in the 2017/18 financial year, the Ministry of Communications has been instructed to introduce caps on call entitlements and to provide the requisite training for senior officials in the use of cheaper communication options.

Other cost cutting measures proposed by Dr Majoro include the grounding of the government vehicle fleet which should be parked after the working hours. He proposed that public servants found to be violating this policy will have their vehicles impounded and principal secretaries must take disciplinary action against civil servants found driving government vehicles after office hours.

“Only principal secretaries should be assigned an official vehicle and all other officials below this level should not be entitled to such vehicles,” Dr Majoro said.

He further said that public servants will only be allowed to go for international training programmes if these were wholly funded by development partners as part of the cost-cutting measures.

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