MASERU – INCOMING Prime Minister, Sam Matekane, will next week take over a government whose coffers are empty.
Matekane, who is already selecting his cabinet, will find huge holes in the government’s finances.
The government has been battling to pay salaries for the past six months and has suspended payments to suppliers.
Last month, the government borrowed M500 million from the local market, through treasury bills, to pay salaries.
By Monday this week officials in the Ministry of Finance were reporting that the government owes local suppliers a staggering M1.2 billion, with some of the debts dating several years back.
Sources this week told thepost that officials in the Ministry of Finance are not agreeing on the exact amount of the arrears.
Part of the problem, several sources said, is that the government’s accounting is a mess. “The figures keep fluctuating and no one knows what the government owes to the local companies,” said one source.
“The truth is that no one in finance has the exact amount,” said another source.
thepost understands that the Ministry of Finance has been negotiating with local banks for a financial package to help clear the arrears.
The negotiations are said to have started three weeks ago but have been slow because there is no clarity on the arrears.
Also complicating the negotiations is that the government doesn’t want the loan to be deposited into its accounts but paid directly to the suppliers.
That, however, is not possible unless the Ministry of Finance knows exactly how much it owes. thepost has been told that finance officials met the bankers again yesterday afternoon.
Apart from the arrears, the government is also struggling with its M600 million month wage bill which has been ballooning over the years despite stern warnings from local and international economists.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has repeatedly advised Lesotho to cut the wage bill. Successive governments have not made good on their promises to put a cap on recruitment and weed out ghost workers.
The source said the government only has enough money to cover salaries for this month and the next.
“December is likely to be a huge problem,” the source said.
Matekane takes over at a time when revenues from local, regional and international sources have dwindled.
The impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns still lingers, with companies struggling to get back on their feet and others shutting down.
The companies, especially those owed by the government, have been unable to keep up with their tax obligations to the Revenue Services Lesotho (RSL).
At the same time, VAT receipts have been low due to poor demand. Revenues from the Southern African Customs Union have been slow to recover from the impact of the pandemic. Donor fatigue has also set in as rich countries focus on their own problems or shift aid to Ukraine.
Matekane’s coalition partners have already started raising alarm bells about the government’s financial problems. Liteboho Kompi, the spokesperson for the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), told thepost that they already know “the government’s bag is empty”.
The MEC, Alliance of Democrats (AD) and Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) have cobbled up a deal to form a government.
“We have employed a local consultant who told us that the government has no money,” Kompi said.
Kompi said their priority as the new government will be to collect money from all government sources.
However, the outgoing Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea told thepost last night it is not true that the government is totally broke.
“Every day the revenue authority is collecting, every month we get money from SACU and the water royalties,” Sophonea said.
“Under these circumstances, how can one say there is zero balance in the government coffers?” he said.
Sophonea cautioned that social media sources could be misleading because “you don’t even know their source of information”.
“Even if the information does not come from social media, where did they get the zero balance information from?” he said.
He however referred other questions to the accountant general.
Accountant General ‘Malehlohonolo Mahase said it is not true that the government’s coffers are empty.
“You can even come and see for yourself but don’t bring the camera,” she said.
SR mob attacks journalist
MASERU – TŠENOLO FM presenter, Abiel Sebolai, was allegedly beaten and injured by a mob of Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) supporters on Saturday.
Sebolai said the mob, which he suspected was drunk, attacked him with fists, sticks and stones.
He said the group was enraged after he tried to take pictures of their cars which belonged to the Ministry of Local Government
Sebolai told thepost that he had gone to Thaba-Tseka with the Thaba-Moea MP, Puseletso Lejone Paulose, on a work trip when he spotted a group of people clad in SR regalia riding in the government vehicle, hoisting beer bottles.
“We were in Mantšonyane when I saw the Local Government vehicle full of men and women with bottles of beer in their hands,” Sebolai said.
“I saw that the majority were wearing Socialist Revolutionaries regalia.”
He wanted to talk about the abuse of government vehicles on his programme the next day.
“I then took out my phone to capture a few pictures and a video,” he said.
He said just as he started taking pictures, the vehicle made a U-turn and approached him.
“The driver came to me and asked me what I was doing with my phone,” he said.
He said he told the driver that there was nothing wrong with taking pictures as a journalist.
“The person I was with reprimanded him and he attempted to walk away only to turn back and punch me.”
“After the first punch, I retaliated by throwing a punch too. I managed to hit him hard and he fell.”
He said the group then jumped off the car and started assaulting him with stones and sticks.
Sebolai said he tried to flee but was stopped by the “stones that were coming to me like rain until I was hit and fell”.
“What nearly took my life was a stone that was thrown while I was falling. It hit me on the forehead and from then I went blind.”
“They were insulting me so much.”
Sebolai said he was helped by a Good Samaritan who risked his life to drag him into his vehicle.
“From there I was taken to the clinic in Lesobeng before an ambulance took me to Mantšonyane Hospital.”
“I went to the Mantšonyane police station where I found the same Local Government vehicle parked,” he said.
“I am told that the Local Government Minister instructed it to be impounded and my assailants arrested.”
He complained that he was injured while doing his work “but the Ministry (of Communications) and MISA are silent about my attack”.
The SR spokesman, Thabo Shao, told thepost that they received a report about the incident and the party does not “condone that behaviour”.
“I hear arrests are not yet made, those people should be arrested,” he said.
The MISA director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said the board will soon meet to discuss the matter and call the victim before issuing a statement.
“We are going to work it out and then issue a condemnation,” Ntsukunyane said.
Infighting rocks BNP
MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has become the latest party to be rocked by infighting triggered by its dismal performance in the October election.
As the party grapples to come to terms with its thumping defeat bigwigs have been pelting each other with blame for the poor performance.
So intense is the internal feuding that the party is now said to be on the verge of implosion.
In the tug of war is the party’s secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, who this week fired a salvo at party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe.
Hanyane told a press conference on Tuesday that Mofomobe should accept the blame for leading the party to its worst election defeat in history.
He said instead of taking responsibility as a leader, Mofomobe is blaming him for the dismissal performance.
Mofomobe has however fired back, accusing Hanyane of being rebellious.
“It has been a while since I have been shouldering the blame for the general election’s poor results,” Hanyane said, adding that Mofomobe has been instigating his supporters to insult him.
He said the party did not perform well because it didn’t have money to campaign.
He said the BNP did not get its share of the political campaign funding from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it failed to account for what it received in the 2015 election.
Out of the M175 000 that the BNP was supposed to get from the IEC, it got only M15 000 as campaign funds, Hanyane said.
He also said those in the past BNP national executive committee, of which Mofomobe was a member, did not account for the campaign funding received in 2017.
“As a result, our party failed to secure M111 000.”
Hanyane said because of the financial problems the party used rentals from its BNP Centre to fund the rallies in Maputsoe, Quthing, Mafeteng and Teya-Teyaneng.
He said this was the first time since 1993 that the party could not afford to print campaign regalia.
Hanyane also said the national executive committee is chaotic under Mofomobe’s leadership.
“They accuse other members of sabotage, which shows a lack of cooperation in the party.”
Mofomobe, Hanyane added, spent more time mocking other party leaders instead of advancing the BNP’s values and policies.
He said instead of pleading with members of other parties to vote for the BNP, Mofomobe called them “idiots beyond redemption”.
No wonder, Hanyane said, people turned against the party.
He said Mofomobe was not ashamed to use valuable campaign time to mock leaders who own aeroplanes.
“He said their aeroplanes were made of cardboxes, and that was his campaign message,” he said.
He also said the BNP supporters were put off by Mofomobe’s close relations with
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu.
“That issue did not sit well with some party supporters and followers in constituencies,” Hanyane said.
He said Mofomobe angered the chiefs and the church, the party’s traditional pillars.
“The chiefs regarded our party as one of the parties that were fighting them and the church too, those are the pillars of the party.”
He said Mofomobe should “go back and apologise to the chiefs and the church for hurting them”.
“The leadership should also apologise to the members where they did wrong.”
Mofomobe however said Hanyane will face the music for organising a press conference without the national executive committee’s approval.
“The party will meet as soon as possible to take internal measures against the secretary general for doing what he did,” Mofomobe said.
He accused Hanyane of ignoring his orders.
“I told him to go on radio to campaign for the Stadium Area elections but he refused and I ended up going there myself,” Mofomobe said.
He said he will not hate Mokhothu without a valid reason.
“I will not hate him just because people want me to hate him,” he said.
He also stated that although they work well with Mokhothu he has his own reservations that include the DC’s support for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been wallowing in remand prison for the past five years as he goes through trial for murder, attempted murders and treason charges.
The DC is on record pushing for the withdrawal of charges against Lt Gen Kamoli.
Mofomobe said he is not the first BNP leader to work with congress parties as Leabua Jonathan, the party founder, once worked with Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)’s Pokane Ramoreboli who he made justice minister.
Rogue soldier loses bid to save job
MASERU – A soldier who insulted his superior for stopping him from joining a crowd that later killed a civilian during a drunken fit of anger at a bar has lost his bid to overturn his dismissal from the army.
The Court of Appeal last week ruled that army commander, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, followed the law to the letter when he fired Private Lehlohonolo Alotsi.
The case was before the President of the Court of Appeal, Professor Kananelo Mosito, Justices Phillip Musonda and November Mtshiya.
The court found that on Christmas Day of 2018, Alotsi, together with nine other soldiers, was on patrol at the Ha-Peete Military Base.
They went to a local bar and ended up staying outside the barracks until after 10pm, which is the prescribed time for soldiers to be back inside the barracks. A fight broke out at the bar between the soldiers and some civilians.
The soldiers went back to the barracks and ordered their superior, one Corporal Thabi, to hand over some riffles to them. Corporal Thabi ordered them not to go but his orders were ignored.
Alotsi told the court that he did not go but admitted that he used abusive language against his superior. Thereafter there was a shootout at the bar leading to the death of a civilian. Some civilians were also injured in the shootout.
On New Year’s Eve Alotsi and his co-accused appeared before Presiding Officer, Major Lekoatsa, for summary trial relating to military offences they had committed at Ha-Peete. They all pleaded guilty to the charges laid against them.
Alotsi was charged with disobedience, acting in a disorderly manner, and using inappropriate language to a superior officer. Major Lekoatsa found him guilty and sentenced him to 80 days in detention.
He was also severely reprimanded. Major Lekoatsa told Alotsi that he had 14 days within which to appeal against the sentence.
Alotsi did not challenge both the conviction and sentence at that time and only did so when Lt Gen Letsoela wrote him a letter saying he should give reasons why he should not be fired.
It was during this time when he revealed that Major Lekoatsa had coerced him to confess even though he was not involved in committing the crimes, apart from disrespecting his superior.
In his letter to Lt Gen Letsoela, Alotsi apologised for being out of the barracks beyond 10pm, saying he did not do it intentionally.
“My intention was still to make it back on time but being human, I got carried away,” he pleaded.
“General Sir,” he continued, “here I give a full account of the truth.”
He told the army boss that there was a fight that broke out at a bar and he had no idea how it started and how it ended.
He said they ran back to the barracks to ask for guns to rescue one Private Ramarou.
“I, Pvt Alotsi, was never given a gun, the guns were given to Private Teolo and Private Khoaisanyane,” he said.
“Commander Lesotho Defence Staff, General Sir, I yet again implore you for mercy as I had been in an unwarranted exchange with Corporal Tlhabi, where it appears that I insulted him,” he pleaded.
“I am not a vulgar person at all. I am a soldier who respects a lot, I follow orders,” he said.
“Corporal Tlhabi was ordering me to not go back with the soldiers to go get Private Ramarou. I indeed stayed behind.”
“I deeply apologise, General, Sir.”
The court found that Lt Gen Letsoela has prerogative to fire any soldier or officer if in his judgment his continued service “is not in the best interests of the Defence Force” or the soldier “has been convicted of a civil or military offence”.
“Depending on the gravity of the offence, (the army commander), even in a situation where a soldier is pardoned, (may) still proceed to discharge him or her,” the court said.
“There is no dispute that the offences committed were serious and obviously offended the standing ethics of the force.”
Alotsi had taken the commander to the High Court saying he was being punished twice. The High Court dismissed his application, leading to this appeal.
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