…as government pays out backdated fuel allowances
THE country’s lawmakers have begun receiving monthly tax-free fuel allowances of M5000 each.
The new fuel windfall came into effect in the 2021/22 financial year which began on 1 April 2021.
Various members of parliament (MPs) and senators confirmed that they began receiving the allowances last week. The legislators went smiling all the way to the bank as they received allowances backdated to April this year. This means that each of them pocketed M75 000 for the five months from April to July 2021.
The government went ahead with the payments despite an outcry from some of the opposition legislators and the public who argued that the allowances were ill-conceived especially as the country had more pressing problems like the Covid-19 pandemic to deal with.
MPs who argued in favour of the allowances said they needed them to travel to hard-to-reach areas in their constituencies.
However, the Monyane Moleleki-led Alliance of Democrats (AD) opposed the allowances. The party had initially said its MPs would take the money and use it to assist individuals and businesses that had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This week, AD spokesperson, Thuso Litjobo, said now that the allowances had been paid, the party would have to deliberate on the issue before deciding on the next course of action.
His comments have however, come too late as some party members including secretary general, Mahali Phamotse, have already used their allowances. Dr Phamotse said she had used part of the money to buy an internet router to help learners in her Matlakeng constituency to study online as most schools have introduced online classes to counter the disruptions to normal learning by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I bought and connected a router,” Dr Phamotse said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
“I am also incurring monthly data charges to facilitate online learning for learners in my constituency. I have also rented an office where they can work from.
“I also donated part of that money towards prizes for the social soccer teams in my constituency. The allowance does not cover all these expenses and I’m even using part of my salary as well.
“I had to do this because I had already promised my people. It is a noble thing to keep your promises,” Dr Phamotse said.
However, another AD non-constituency legislator, ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli, defended the allowances, saying there was “nothing sinister” about them as they helped MPs, particularly those from far-flung areas, to meet their travelling expenses.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), argued that it was not a well thought out idea to give the MPs petrol allowances when there were more urgent issues to deal with like the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I was and I am still am not against MPs getting allowances but all I was saying is that we need to prioritise. This is not the right way to go about things. As things stand, the government doesn’t have money and our youths are still unemployed. This money could have gone a long way to assist many people.
“They could have paid for Covid-19 vaccines instead of relying on donated vaccines only. A larger proportion of the population would have been vaccinated by now if the same money had been used to purchase vaccines,” Mr Metsing said.
Although the fuel allowances are still a significant amount, they represent a huge climbdown by the MPs who had last year demanded 100 percent salary increments which would see each of them take home a whooping M75 000 per month.
They first made the salary demands in November 2018. At the time, the MPs, who are also lavished with a number of perks including M500 000 interest free loans, also demanded 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.
The MPs even coerced the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane into ordering his then Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro to establish an inter-ministerial team to consider a revised salary structure for them. Dr Majoro succeeded Mr Thabane on 20 May 2020 and a month later, he too was presented with the salary demands.
They even demanded official funerals even if they died after their terms had ended.
A massive outcry from the public and analysts, who described the MPs’ demands as “heartless and selfish”, eventually forced the MPs and the government to abandon the proposals to award the legislators salary increments.