UN trip to blow M5m

UN trip to blow M5m

MASERU – THE Lesotho government will next week send a huge entourage of 28 officials to the United Nations General Assembly in New York at a cost of more than M5 million to the taxpayer, thepost can reveal.
This is happening at a time when the government is so broke that it cannot pay suppliers and pensioners on time. Some projects have stalled as the government pleads poverty in the face of dwindling revenues from SACU and donor fatigue.

Ministries and departments are running on a shoestring as the cash-strapped government tries to trim costs.
Yet next week the government that claims to be implementing austerity measures will shell out more than M5 million, money enough to build two rural schools, on an entourage that will spend more than a week in the United States.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s team will have government secretary Moahloli Mphaka, a bodyguard, a press officer, a personal assistant and a protocol officer.
The First Lady will travel with a bodyguard, spokesperson, protocol officer and a personal aide.

Curiously, she will also be accompanied by an official described as a ‘social worker’ but whose role in the team is not clear.
The inclusion of a protocol officer in her team is also peculiar because the standard practice is that only the Prime Minister and His Majesty have such services on international trips. In sum, the First Lady will travel with five people who will be at her service.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi is also expected to travel with six other officials from his ministry.
In his team will be the principal secretary, two directors, an adviser, a legal officer and a personal assistant. Health Minister Nkaku Kabi will travel with his principal secretary and a director.
The Minister of Development Planning, Tlohelang Aumane, will take along a director.

There will also be two officials from the Ministry of Communications whose role is likely to cover the event for the government’s media platforms.
But even their inclusion might look odd given that the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Thabo Thakalekoala, an experienced journalist of repute, will be there. So too will be the First Lady’s spokesperson, Silas Monyatsi, a TV and film production specialist.

thepost has been told that the entourage will include two wives of senior officials. This is legal because the officials are entitled to travel with their partner or spouse on one international trip per year.
What might be questioned is the timing, given the government’s delicate financial situation.

The biggest cost of the entourage is likely to be air tickets. Based on estimates the air tickets will cost the government a staggering M3.5 million to fly the 28 people from Maseru to New York.
The Maseru to Johannesburg route alone is likely to cost M153 000.
Who will travel in what class is not yet clear but it is likely that bookings will be made according to what Finance Minister Dr Moekesti Majoro instructed in his budget speech this year.

Dr Majoro said to cut costs all senior government officials, except the Prime Minister and ministers, will travel business class. That means the Prime Minister and the three ministers will travel First Class.
The First Lady is also likely to travel First Class.
The average price of a First Class ticket is around M150 000. That is some M750 000 for the officials.

To put that into perspective, that is enough money to cover the annual tuition for nearly 50 students at the National University of Lesotho which is already battling to keep its doors open because its subvention has been drastically reduced.

The ten senior officials who are likely to travel Business Class for the Johannesburg to New York leg will cost the government about M1.4 million. The average price of a Business Class ticket is around M140 000.
For the same leg the 13 junior and middle ranking officials who are likely to travel in Economy Class will cost the state about M1 million.

It is however important to note that the airfares could be much more because the government makes bookings through travel agencies that charge commission and routinely jerk up prices when the state is paying.
And based on previous trips, there is no guarantee that the junior officials will travel Economy Class.

Accommodation costs could run into hundreds of thousands of Maloti. Prices at five-star hotels in areas near the UN headquarters range from M4 000 to M10 000 per night.
But they could spike to as much as M15 000 for premium rooms because of high demand during UN meetings. Generally, hotels closer to the venue of a major event cost more.

Most delegates are likely to be scrambling for rooms in nearby hotels for logistical purposes. The government will also have to fork out hundreds of thousands of Maloti in per diems. There is also the cost of ferrying the entourage around the city for meetings, errands and even shopping trips.
The 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 74) will open on September 17 and end on September 30.

Government officials who spoke to thepost are questioning why Lesotho needs such a huge entourage.
The main assembly itself will be attended by the Prime Minister and probably ministers.

A country is allowed only five delegates in the meeting.
There will also be high level meetings from September 23 to 27 but these can be attended by ministers or Lesotho’s two ambassadors in the United States.
It is unclear who will attend the Climate Action Summit on September 23 because there are no officials from the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology. The team from the Ministry of Health will be there for the high level meeting on Universal Health Coverage on the same day.

Minister Aumane and his director will be there for the high level Political Summit on Sustainable Development from 24 to 25 September.
It remains unclear who will attend the dialogue on Financing for Development on September 26 because there are no officials from the Ministry of Finance.

It is however possible that Dr Majoro and his team might still join the entourage. If that happens then the entourage is likely to be much bigger.
But Aumane could still stand in for the Minister of Finance. So too can the Minister of foreign Affairs.
There will also be a high level meeting on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Although crucial, the high level meetings do not require many officials.
One representative from each of the 193 member states will speak for about ten minutes.
Questions have also been raised about the First Lady’s inclusion and her entourage.

Last night her spokesperson, Monyatsi, was adamant that there was nothing unusual about her presence and the size of her team.
Monyatsi said her “entourage will be as it should be”.
“There will be several meetings there and one of the major meetings that she will attend is of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development. There will be a lot of networking,” Monyatsi said.

“As we speak now, I am preparing videos of things we will present while there, of the achievements of our First Lady and the projects she is spearheading. My personal role there will be to cover all the events that she will be involved in.”
Monyatsi also explained why the staff includes a social worker.
“Both her personal aide and the social worker will be at her service and at the service of the Prime Minister,” her said.

“They will be doing chores like ironing clothes for them, sometimes cooking because the Prime Minister may want to be cooked for. As you may know, these services are provided for the VIP people of the status of the First Lady and the Prime Minister. It is like that in all the countries where I have been.”
The government secretary, Mphaka, said he could not comment because he doesn’t deal with entourages.

Staff Reporter

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