Thahane to dish out bitter pills

MASERU — When Finance Minister Timothy Thahane delivers his budget next year the common man is likely to get a sinking feeling in the tummy.
That’s because it is likely to have a huge dosage of depressingly bad news.
Thahane is likely to present a budget significantly less than this year’s because the South African Customs Union (Sacu), Lesotho’s cash cow for years, is simply no longer coughing up enough money.
And Value Added Tax (VAT), those 14 lisente the government takes for every loti you spend on goods, is likely to decline sharply because people are likely to buy less because they will be broke.
Thahane is expected to cut some of what he calls “non-productive” expenditure to rein in spiralling costs.
Those money-leaking holes in government like corruption and unbudgeted spending will be plugged, he says.
But if you think this is reason for you to start whining already then wait until you see the full list of bitter pills that he proposes to prescribe to fix his money problems.
Thahane, whose portfolio looks after government money, is planning to look no further than your pocket to raise a little more money to boost state coffers that he warns are likely to be very scarce in the next three years.
The government is set to review the fees for services that it provides to the people.
That means you are likely to pay more next year when you want a passport, a driver’s licence or number plates for your cars.
It’s not clear how deep Thahane will go into everyone’s pockets but there is a likelihood that his fundraising will include an increase in general fines for public crimes.
For instance, if the police catch you crossing a red robot or making an illegal U-turn along Kingsway then they will make you pay more heavily than they have done this year.
Other services like the fee for obtaining a lease or burying the dead are likely to be sources of funds for the government as well. The reason, Thahane says, is that for “a long time our service charges have been stagnant”. 
“That is what it means to tighten our belts and share the pain,” he says in an interview with this newspaper.
Thahane says his reason for slapping the taxpayer’s pocket with an increase on service charges is because he really doesn’t want to hit it with more taxes which he admits are already high in Lesotho.
“Our taxes are already high so we can’t push them further. We will therefore have to look at the charges,” he adds. 
Thahane says Lesotho is headed for tough times and “people must remember that it won’t be business as usual” from now onwards.
“We should relook at the way we do business and tighten our belts because the road ahead is tough,” he says.
That, according to the cautious Thahane, means some “things that had to be done now might have to be pushed to later dates”.
But he insists that he won’t be closing the financial taps on productive expenditure, which includes infrastructure development, education and health. 
So even though Lesotho’s share of the Sacu revenue is likely to be cut by 60 lisente in every loti that we were supposed to get from Sacu Thahane insists that there will be enough money to build roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. “But we will be looking at the quality of the projects and their impact to the people,” he says.
Thahane however says since last year the government has been preparing for the worst of the crisis.
“We have been diversifying. We have provided loans to companies and encouraged small businesses,” he says.
“Also we have worked hard to save jobs in the textile industry.”
Thahane says the government’s defence mechanism against the crisis includes the controversial Land Bill which has been a target of strong attacks from the opposition. 
“The idea behind the Land Bill is not to take people’s land as some are alleging. The idea is to increase land utilisation by allowing those with land but who cannot afford to plough to let it out to those who have the capital to farm,” he says.
“Those with land will be able to get some value out of it while at the same time we get people who can grow more crops to feed the country.”
Thahane is quick to point out that had it not been for prudent fiscal and monetary management Lesotho could have been facing a total knockout from the crisis.
But he says the crisis won’t be as bad as it should have been because when times were good the country managed to stash away some more money for the rainy days.
Now that those rainy days are coming it’s time to take some of the money out for immediate problems.
“That way we won’t have to rely on borrowings because we have learnt that when you are indebted to someone you will be their slave,” Thahane says.

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