The problem with our MPs

The problem with our MPs

I love newspapers. I read and collect any newspaper that I come across, whether South African or international. I always try to read most of the local newspaper to catch up on the latest blunders made by our politicians.

Well, there’s usually nothing on development on the front pages of our newspapers. You’ll never see a headline about Lesotho erecting a crane for the tallest building in Lesotho.
You’ll never see a headline about a student from Lesotho Polytechnic or NUL coming up with an innovation or groundbreaking research. No, no, no!
Our headlines are all about cheap news. Cheap news about who’s killing whom? Who’s fooling whom?
It’s mostly news about one Ntate and one Mme from a certain house in Maseru West. That’s all we ever read about, week in-week-out and I think I’m honestly getting tired. Oh Jesus!
That’s the narrative of our headlines in Lesotho and who ever said we’re interested in cheap news/headlines? Almost all the street-lights in the city have posters of negative headlines. What does that say to potential investors? No maan!

Anyway, without offending my editor, let’s carry on with the business of the day.
Whilst reading one of the newspapers, I saw a story that caught my attention. It was an article about MP’s going on a ten day break in order to study the budget speech to approve or reject the proposed estimates.

Now, it made me wonder. The MPs are going to take a ten day break to study what exactly? A national budget estimate? Based on what exactly? What is the basis of those estimates? Last year’s estimates?
Here’s my point. We are a country that hates to account. We love to spend but hate to account. Look at our utility companies/corporations for example. They always run to LEWA praying for tariff increases. Do they ever account to their consumers? No! What for?

Have you ever seen any of those companies publishing their annual financial results? For example, an income and expenditure statement or a balance sheet?
Not at all. They just want a baseless tariff increase without consumers knowing what the annual income is, what the asset base is, how much cash is in the bank accounts or even the expenditure for the year.

Yes, consumers have every right to know. This is a disease that our country has. Unfortunately, it is also a disease that our government has. A disease of not accounting to parliament or the Senate or even the electorate.
I must applaud efforts made by the Central Bank of Lesotho to force the banks to publish their annual financial results. I still don’t understand why the insurance companies have been left aside. There is one insurance company that is blatantly doing illegal things but I won’t name it on this platform. I don’t want to start a fight with my editor.
What is the meaning of to account? To account is to give a satisfactory record of (something, typically, money, that one is responsible for). The definition of account is a report or description of an even or experience.

An account is also a record or statement of financial expenditure and receipts relating to a particular period or purpose. So, how does the Minister of Finance deliver budget estimates without giving a record or statement of financial expenditure and receipts of the previous year, 2019/2020?
Here is my point. We (the public) are given budget estimates for expenditure for the year 2020/2021. Problem number one, the budget estimates are based on estimated revenue streams. It is a budget based on money that is not yet in the hand. Well revisit the revenue side of the budget later in the article.

Let’s go back to the expenditure for the year 2019/2020. Why doesn’t the Minister of Finance account first on expenditure before delivering the budget?
Why doesn’t he account on the budget estimates he had projected for the year 2019/2020? Why doesn’t he first account on the expenditure of each ministry before making new budget allocations?
That is where our problem is. Not accountability! It is a budget based on nothing. Nothing meaning no account for previous expenditure, no account for previous income and no certainty that we’ll receive the projected income. How do you spend money that you do not have?
Let’s go back to the previous expenditure for the year 2019/2020. Like in the case of the utility companies, we, the public, deserve to know. We deserve the right to know fundamental issues because we are tax-payers.

At the end of the day, it’s our money that we worked hard for and we deserve to know where every cent was spent on.
We deserve to know! Unfortunately, the electorate is financially illiterate. Our MPs are not number crunchers. They are politicians. Sadly, most of our MP’s can’t interpret a balance sheet, which is very unfortunate. How will they ask pertinent questions to the finance minister? Let’s try this option.

What do we need to know as the public/electorate? We need to know and understand the basic fundamentals of financial report.
What is financial reporting? Financial reporting is the disclosure of financial results and related information to management and external stakeholders (e.g., investors, customers, regulators) about how a company or institution is performing over a specific period of time.
What should the Minister of Finance report on? The first thing is to give an account on the income and expenditure statement.
What is an income and expenditure statement? According to Google, an income and expenditure statement is a summary of all items of incomes and expenses which relate to the ongoing accounting year.

It is prepared with the objective of finding out the surplus or deficit arising out of current incomes over current expenses.
Secondly, the Minister of Finance also needs to give an account on the balance sheet. What is a balance sheet?
According to Google, a balance sheet is a statement of the assets, liabilities, and capital of a business or other organization/institution at a particular point in time, detailing the balance of income and expenditure over the preceding period.

According to Wikipedia, a balance sheet or statement of financial position or statement of financial condition is a summary of the financial balances of an individual or organization, whether it be a sole proprietorship, a business partnership, a corporation, private limited company or other organization such as Government or not-for-profit entity.
Assets, liabilities and ownership equity are listed as of a specific date, such as the end of its financial year.
Now, what the MPs need to demand or should have demanded from the Minister of Finance is an income and expenditure statement for the year 2019/2020 to account for what he had budget for in the last financial year.

Secondly, the MPs should demand/should’ve demanded a balance sheet before the budget estimates were delivered. Allow me to demonstrate why?
Do any of our MPs know the total assets owned by the Lesotho government? Do they know the total liabilities of the government? Liabilities could be loans taken by the Lesotho government since independence in 1966. It could be loans from the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB of the DBSA.

Do our any of our MPs or Senators know the number of bank accounts held by the Lesotho Government? Why? How much is in those accounts? How much money was unaccounted for in the past financial year? (yes, that’s a function of the auditor general) How many civil servants are on the government payroll? How much are they paid in total per month? How many ghost workers does the government have?

How many cars does the Lesotho Government own? How many are rented? How much fuel do those vehicles consume? How many properties/sites does the Lesotho government have (inventory list)? How many are unaccounted for (either sold illegally or in a derelict state?).
How much money is siphoned out of the Lesotho economy? What percentage of money is in the hands of Basotho nationals? How much is in foreign hands. How much of that money is transferred to South Africa on a daily basis? How much of it is transferred overseas? How big are the leakages?
Sadly, none of our MPs, Senators or the electorate has answers to those questions. Not even Ntate Tom has answers to those questions. Not even the Statistician General of which is a terrible mistake.

My advice is as follows: Before we can even talk about spending, let’s first correlate the income from the previous year to what is projected in the coming year.
An example is the SACU revenue that is projected to M8 billion this financial year. How much of the SACU revenue was collected last year? What is the factual amount that went into the account last year?

Lastly, according to the newspaper I read, it is stated that Minister Majoro has a deficit of 1.9 Billion Maloti in the revenue estimate in order to reach budget of 21 Billion Maloti. In other words, he doesn’t know where the 1.9 Billion will come from in order to finance his budget obligations/estimates.
1.9 Billion Maloti is a lot of money in a small economy. That also puts a huge question mark on the revenue estimates. Will that money actually be there physically in this financial year 2020/2021? Was it ever there in the last financial year 2019/2020?
Tell us. We deserve to know!

Mako Bohloa

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