Get your  priorities right

Get your priorities right

THIS edition carries a story on how the government is struggling to pay a staggering M350 million for tertiary students on state bursaries.
Nearly every college whose students are sponsored by the state is owed.
By some estimates, 80 percent of college and university students are funded by the state through the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
This means the tuition from the government is the lifeblood of most tertiary institutions.
Some of the institutions have been battling to pay salaries and keep their doors open.

Others have resorted to withholding the students’ results to pressure the government to pay.
The government is however pleading poverty, claiming that its coffers are empty because the Covid-19 pandemic has affected its ability to collect enough tax.
No one can dispute this obvious reality.
The pandemic has affected tax revenues across the globe. Trade has been curtailed, thousands have lost their jobs and companies are shutting down.
Rich countries are cutting back on their financial assistance to poor countries.

Lesotho’s fragile economy and narrow tax base have not been spared.
Given this cash squeeze, one would expect everyone to share the pain.
Yet that is not what is happening. Just this week, the government paid about M3 million to MPs in fuel allowances backdated to April. In the next 12 months, the government would have spent nearly M9 million on those allowances. That amounts to M45 million over five years.
The basic rule is that if you are struggling to meet your financial obligations you should not create new ones. Rather, you must be looking for things to cut. It’s common sense.

But the MPs, with the government’s tacit approval, have done the exact opposite by passing a law for them to receive a monthly fuel allowance of M5000.
Their justification is that they need the money to travel to their constituencies.
While this might be true, their timing is horribly wrong.
They come across as greedy politicians feathering their nests at a time when the government is broke and everyone else is struggling. They are dipping into the same purse they know is empty. This is the same pocket from which the government has to pay tuition for college students and assist people whose livelihoods have been destroyed by Covid-19 lockdowns.

The same pool from which the state has to buy Covid-19 vaccines critical to the total reopening of the economy. That they are getting those allowances when hospitals and clinics don’t have basic personal protective equipment is gulling.
They are eating more of the same shrinking cake they should be sharing with orphans and other vulnerable groups. Cashflow management is about prioritising the most urgent and important obligations. The MPs’ fuel allowances should not be anywhere near the list of priorities.
They should not have been created in the first place. But it’s not too late for reason to prevail and stop such reckless expenditure.

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