A false sense of hope

A false sense of hope

My business partner tells me that whilst waiting for his car to be washed at a car wash in Borokhoaneng, a local businessman named Ntate Moliko Mothepu arrived and the first thing he did was to complain about my opinion pieces published in thepost.

I am told that Ntate Mothepu said, “hee monna Karabo, hantle ho etsahalang ka motho eo, eo hothoeng ke ‘Mako. O belaela ka hona le hoane. Hantle o tsekang motho eo?” Simply translated into, why am I complaining so much week-in week-out, in thepost newspaper?

My answer was very simple. “Joetsa Ntate Mothepu hore re lokisa naha”. Meaning, we are fixing this country.
But I must admit, sometimes it feels as if we are trying to fix an engine that has suffered an engine lock. It’s as if we’re fixing a Honda-fit engine that has been running for years on dirty oil and has to be thrown away and replaced with a new fresh engine.

A new engine could mean two things. It’s either King Letsie takes over for obvious reasons or we just surrender to South Africa as a tenth province. Well for one simple reason. Lesotho is about to go into a catastrophic economic mess in the next three months or so. Allow me to tell you why.

Start with looking at the mess in our Parliament. About two weeks ago, the Parliament of Lesotho approved a budget of 23.7 Billion Maloti from 21.7 Billion Maloti that was halted due to the current Covid-19 crisis.

The 21.7 billion maloti budget had to be revised because of the obvious shortfall of tax revenue collections mainly due to the closure of the diamond mines and textile factories that are a major source of tax revenue in Lesotho. The goose has stopped laying the golden eggs unexpectedly.
Now, instead of downscaling/downsizing the budget, Parliament makes a budget overrun of about 2 Billion Maloti. The obvious question is, “how are you going to finance the budget?”

The parliament claims that the budget will be financed from revenue streams mainly made-up of tax revenue to the tune of 17 Billion Maloti which is laughable.

Let us all remember that the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) missed a revenue target by about 500 million Maloti and only managed to collect about 5.5 Billion Maloti in the last financial year.

Now, tell me, how is it possible to generate more tax yet we have an economic crisis in the current financial year of 2020/2021 due to the Covid-19 lockdown? The obvious factor is that the tax revenue streams will be the hardest hit. The LRA won’t even come any close to what it collected in the last financial year.

South Africa claims that the Covid-19 lockdown has dug a 320 Billion Rand hole to the tax revenue collection. A 320 Billion Rand short-fall to what the South African Revenue Services (SARS) had collected this time last year.

That is the reason why the South African Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, has proposed a Zero Based form of budgeting to the SA Parliament from now onwards. His reasons are the things cannot be treated as normal. It’s business unusual.

The SA parliament will start to budget from a clean slate (zero base) and not build from estimates made on the previous year as a baseline. So, why do our members of parliament in Lesotho do the exact opposite to what South Africa is doing?

Why does the Lesotho parliament keep on approving a budget based on money that does not exist? Why not budget 10 Billion Maloti this time around?

But sanity will finally prevail when money runs out sometime in September/October 2020. At a time when the government fails to meet its obligation to pay civil servants on time.

An approval of a 23 Billion budget is not only wrong but very, very dangerous. Not only dangerous but very irresponsible. It does nothing but give a country a false sense of hope more like what has been done with stating that Lesotho has “zero” corona virus cases.

Even more embarrassing was when the nation believed that the 700 million budget allocation for the Covid-19 crisis existed in the form of cash, at the National Command Centre/Convention Centre.
You see, our nation cannot distinguish between a budget allocation and reality on the ground. When you say you make a budget allocation of 23.7 Billion Maloti, it means it exists in the form of cash.
The notion of zero cases has made our nation to believe that it is immune to the virus and God loves Lesotho. Yes God loves Lesotho and Italy and the USA as well.

However, the repercussions of this belief that Lesotho is immune has resulted in a nation that practises reckless behaviour by breaking all the Covid-19 safety regulations. That is because the nation has a false sense of hope.

What does a false sense of hope mean? Imagine a scenario where a security guard arrives home from work in the evening. The guard gathers his wife and kids for a family meeting to inform them that he has been promoted at work and the salary will increase from M1 500 to M1 750.

The wife and kids celebrate in an act of jubilation. As emotions run high because of the increased sense of hope, the security guard promises to build a new double storey house for the family at Masowe 4.

Imagine another scenario where a father promises his family a well-deserved holiday in Cape Town after the Covid-19 crisis settles. On a Saturday morning, the family packs the bags and loads them into the car. The father starts the car and drives to the nearest filling station.

The father pours petrol worth one hundred and fifty Maloti (M150.00), to last the entire trip from Maseru to Cape Town. Basically, the father only has one hundred and fifty between him and poverty. The vehicle will only make it as far as Bloemfontein.

Now, imagine a last scenario where Ntate Tom promises Mr. Thakalekoala to be his successor when he steps down. This promise is made disregarding seniority in the ABC party structures or negating a status in the National Assembly.

What is a common thread on all those three scenarios? They are all based on giving a false sense of hope. Why is the notion of giving the Basotho nation a false sense of hope dangerous?

The first thing is that it gives a nation a feeling that things are normal. They are so normal that the tax revenue collection will go up. The result of this is that Basotho will be caught off-guard in a similar way to how the corona virus will.

It will also give those that are corrupt a sense that there’s money worth about 23 Billion Maloti stashed somewhere at the Central Bank. They will continue to steal taxpayers’ money and this time around they will continue to dig a hole/a negative balance mainly because the money will not exist.

The procurement officers will continue to issue purchase orders based on the budget allocations per ministry. The end result will be a state that runs on credit at the expense of the bankrupt business community. The state will procure basic needs such as toilet paper on credit and the suppliers will not even see a cent.

But the most dangerous thing that is going to happen is that government officials will continue maintaining luxuries as if the money exists.
My friend, ‘Moea Makhakhe, made a very profound statement at one of our economic debates held last week.

‘Moea said should a person be in a position of financial distress, the rule of thumb is to stop digging a hole. You just stop digging and digging. That means one stops creating a negative balance by cutting down or simply downsizing.

To cut on the wants means to cut back and to downgrade. It could mean to cut down on the number of cars and to resort to using public transport if need be. It could also mean to downsize on the family house and to downgrade school from private to public.

That’s just basic common sense. But you see, our MPs go in the opposite direction. They increase their luxuries. Why does a minister need three vehicles yet some of the police stations don’t have one vehicle to start with?
Why doesn’t one minister stick to using a Toyota Prado? South African ministers use one vehicle. Why need three?

Our biggest tragedy is that our MPs do not listen. Not only that, but they don’t read as well. That’s why I sometimes feel that these opinion pieces are nothing but a waste of time. 
I read a hilarious article written by Muckraker last week about how our MPs were likened to donkeys. It kept me laughing throughout the weekend because it was entirely true.

Let me tell you why. About four months ago just before the lockdown, I held an afternoon meeting with my business partner at Ouh la la coffee shop. Whilst having coffee, former Minister of Water, Ntate Ntsekele came to my table for a short conversation.

Whilst talking, I realised one of the MP’s approaching our table mainly to report to Ntate Ntsekele that he had arrived. My guess and other people that I was sitting with was that the poor man was there to negotiate a position to be a new minister of health to replace Minister Kabi.

I immediately asked him (the MP), “Ntate, did you read my article written to the MP’s about what to look out for when approving the budget estimates?”
The MP naively answered back, a re, “which one”. Ka re “Oh Khot, I give up!”

‘Mako Bohloa

Previous Step up battle against Covid-19
Next Justice for the NSS Squad of 2016

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