LESOTHO’S parliamentarians, already among the best paid people in the Kingdom, are demanding a whopping 100 percent salary increment, the Lesotho Times has established.
Their demand emerged this week as Prime Minister Thomas Thabane ordered Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to establish an inter-ministerial team to consider a revised salary structure for the legislators.
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.
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.
Early this week, 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”.
Some lawmakers who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity confirmed that they were engaged in talks with the government over their salaries which they want to be doubled.
“There have been negotiations between us and the government through the Deputy Prime Minister (Monyane Moleleki) over salary increments. Our entry point in these negotiations is a 100 percent increment,” one legislator said this week.
Another legislator said 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 source said.
Another legislator said that in addition to the massive salary hike, the lawmakers also want the regulations amended so that they are eligible for pensions after only two years instead of two terms in parliament.
“As things stand, parliamentarians only qualify for pensions after serving two terms in the National Assembly but we are pushing to qualify for pensions after two years,” the source said.
The source added that legislators from the governing and opposition parties were working together to ensure that their salary demands were met.
Contacted for comment, the National Assembly Chief Whip, Likopo Mahase, yesterday told this publication that the matter would only be discussed with the media after the proposed revised salary structure has been tabled in the National Assembly.
“Discussing the matter with you will be criminal because that would be premature publication of the business of the parliament. Just be satisfied with what you got from the speech of the Prime Minister,” Mr Mahase said.
On his part, Dr Majoro said: “as far as I know and I don’t always know everything, there is no revised legislators’ salaries and incentives structure at the moment”.
“In any institutional setting, there are always murmurs for increment but this does not mean that there is any revised remuneration,” Dr Majoro added.
The salary demands come against the background of complaints by the legislators that they do not earn enough to cushion themselves against the high cost of living as well as to fund their various activities aimed at uplifting the lives of people in their constituencies.
Their demands have however, previously attracted a backlash from the public who felt that the legislators could easily afford a decent living with annual salaries of up to M469 884, M150 in daily sitting allowances and M500 000 in interest-free loans.
Early this year, public pressure forced the government to backtrack on its March decision to include the legislators among the groups of locals who were eligible to bid to lease vehicles for the government fleet.
Besides the legislators, the government had resolved to procure vehicles for its fleet from taxi operators, disabled people and youth and women’s groups.
Dr Majoro had initially said the decision to include parliamentarians was made after realising that despite all the benefits the legislators enjoyed, they were burdened with huge financial tasks in their constituencies.
He was supported by Water Affairs Minister Samonyane Ntsekele who said that, “Mostly their (legislators’) benefits are spent on addressing different constituency needs and they need to be met half way in order to carry out their duties as parliamentarians well”.
However, fierce public criticism forced the government to remove the legislators from the list of locals who were eligible to supply the government with vehicles.
A 100 percent salary increase, if implemented, would be seen as highly extravagant in a country, where a huge chunk of the population subsist below the poverty datum threshold