FINANCE Minister Timothy Thahane presented what we believe is a fairly balanced budget yesterday.
Our only gripe with the 2012/13 budget is the three percent salary increase he gave to civil servants.
We understand that Thahane is trying to do the best he can with the small purse he has.
Our country’s problems are many while the resources are few.
We also appreciate his decision not to increase salaries for top government officials and MPs so the rank and file in the civil service can get something this year.
But we believe that the three percent salary raise is not enough to cushion the thousands of civil servants whose incomes have been eroded by increases in food and fuel prices.
The cost of everything has gone up, forcing civil servants to live from hand to mouth.
The low pay in the service could explain the recent spike in corruption.
It is precisely the reason why skilled and talented people are leaving the service in droves to join the private sector.
To understand why we believe Thahane’s increase is not enough you need only look at what the three percent translates into for a government employee who earns M1 400 per month.
In real terms Thahane has given an extra M42 to the lowest paid employee in government.
This is not even enough to buy a 20kg bag of mealie-meal.
That this measly increase is coming at a time when food and transport fares are galloping makes the plight of civil servants worse.
We believe what our civil servants need now is not an increase but a general review of their salaries.
The question is where Thahane should squeeze that money from.
We believe Thahane should start by putting an end to the rampant corruption in government because that is how most of the money is being siphoned.
Millions of maloti are being lost every year through fraud and other corrupt activities.
It is an undeniable fact that government tenders are not only being rigged but are also being grossly inflated.
If Thahane and other ministers can plug this leak then the government might be able to pay decent salaries and retain skilled employees.
The fight against corruption must be complemented by strong efforts to reduce the abuse of government resources like cars and fuel.
Previous reports by the Auditor General have indicated that consumables for state vehicles are being abused.
Thahane can also leverage on the hundreds of government houses that are being leased out for next to nothing.
He can sell those houses or lease them out to tenants that pay market-related rates. He can also ask his colleagues in the government to make bigger sacrifices.
Would it not be a huge saving to this country if ministers had one official vehicle instead of the three they currently have?
How many millions of maloti will we save every year if ministers start travelling economy class, take a cut on their per diems and forego their state-funded holidays?
In the same vein, we cannot understand why MPs still continue to get those M500 000 tax-free loans from government at a time when the country is battling to balance its books.
While we know these are their entitlements we also argue that these are not normal times.
Those at the top have to make sacrifices for the benefit of the majority at the bottom.
In his budget Thahane does a fair job of distributing the little he has at his disposal.
It’s a balancing act he does very well but we think he should have done more when it came to civil servants’ salaries.