Change course or we sink

Change course or we sink

THE government’s finances are in a mess with fears that the current porous economic state could knock off key developmental projects. This is worrying but not a surprise. It would appear that the bill for decades of financial mismanagement is now due.
We are also paying the price because we have dismally failed to diversify our economy over the last 50 years since we attained independence. Lesotho has largely depended on Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenues and the shrinking textile sector for years.
That has not been good enough to put the economy on a strong footing. To compound the crisis, revenue collections through taxes have been stagnating largely because our economy has not been growing.

Time and time again, we have resorted to going back to the struggling masses and the few companies that we have to raise taxes. We have not grown the tax base. Instead, we have continued to squeeze the few available taxpayers. This is surely an unhealthy scenario for Lesotho.
As revealed in one of our stories last week, Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro is a deeply worried man. Basotho, too, have good reasons to be worried.
Majoro is said to have told his colleagues in Cabinet that the ship of state is headed for the rocks. We need to change course or else we sink.

This is not the first time that Majoro has sounded the alarm bells on the state of the economy. It is a narrative that we have become familiar with over the last couple of months.
We heard a similar message during his Budget speech in February. Given the porous state of our finances, it is urgent that the government adopts measures to contain and manage the crisis. We expect to see serious belt-tightening on the part of the government.

That will require that we do things differently. It cannot be business as usual. The basic point is that we must live within our means. Profligacy, in any form, must be weeded out.
That will mean cutting out all unnecessary foreign travel for government officials. The days of bloated travel delegations that add little value to the country are surely over. We understand that this government was swept into power on the back of promises to deliver jobs to our youths.

With the government being the biggest employer at 45 000 workers, there is always a temptation to bloat the civil service in order to provide jobs for party zealots. That would be unwise.
The government needs to demonstrate that it is committed to fiscal discipline by living within its means.
It will also need to show greater political will to manage its resources wisely. Most of the suggestions cited above are not entirely new. We have heard them before. The challenge, however, is to ensure they are implemented.

A commitment of that nature will mean coming down heavily on anyone who wilfully violates the government’s financial regulations. We have heard shocking testimonies during the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee hearings of how some civil servants have, with reckless abandon, sought to dip their fingers into the cookie jar.
The recent report by the Auditor General also shows that the government’s finances are in a mess. Most of these problems need no belt-tightening. They can be addressed swiftly as long as there is the political will to fight profligacy.

When everything has been said, the ultimate solution to Lesotho’s economic challenges lies in creating a conducive environment for business to thrive. This will increase the tax base and result in an improvement in the standard of living of our people.

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