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No salary hike for civil servants

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Bereng Mpaki

THERE is no joy for the country’s public servants after Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea proposed not to increase their salaries in the upcoming 2021/22 financial year.

Instead of salary increments, Mr Sophonea unveiled a M23, 8 billion austerity budget underpinned by the need to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, reduce the government’s recurrent expenditure and commit available funds to promoting economic recovery.

He said it was not possible to award salary increments due to the prevailing economic hardships which had been aggravated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These budget estimates and policy proposals are made under economic challenges,” Mr Sophonea said.

“It is therefore our responsibility to steer the ship in the right direction by taking bold measures even if they prove to be unpopular for as long as we are convinced that they are for the benefit of Basotho and will prevent economic collapse,” the straight-talking minister added.

He said in future, salary increments would be performance- based instead of the current system where everyone gets a raise regardless of whether or not they have performed well.

“We are convinced that we need further fiscal consolidation to reduce the growth of recurrent expenditure by focusing on measures that will contain the wage bill. Performance-based (salary) increments will be implemented in 2022/23 fiscal year to replace automatic notching.”

The proposed austerity measures are likely to be well-received by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has repeatedly told the government it can only provide a financial bailout to help reduce the budget deficit and boost foreign currency reserves on condition the latter adheres to stringent pre-conditions.

The pre-conditions put forward by the Bretton Woods institution include the implementation of 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 also advised the government to award performance-based salary increments. The IMF prescriptions are inimical to the civil servants and other workers’ demands for wholesale wage increments.

Last year, Mr Sophonea announced a five percent salary increase for civil servants but they were still unhappy as they had expected more.

This year’s austerity proposals have however, been accepted as a necessary evil by one of the country’s teachers’ unions, the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT).

LAT secretary general, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, yesterday said in as much as they wanted an increment, they understood that the government is broke.

“Every employee expects an increment from the employer but we are all aware that the government is struggling financially.

“It is understandable why there is a zero percent increase for civil servants as funds have been diverted to fighting Covid-19. We only hope that the funds will serve the intended purpose of helping the nation fight the pandemic than be diverted into corrupt government officials’ pockets,” Mr Ntsibolane said.

It remains to be seen how other teachers’ unions, magistrates, nurses and other civil servants will react to the salary freeze.

Magistrates have a pending High Court application to compel the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions.

Nurses at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) have been on strike for the past three weeks to to press the government to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.

QMMH nurses say they have not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.

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