Foreign missions starving

Foreign missions starving

MASERU – LESOTHO’s diplomatic missions across the world are so broke that they can no longer pay their bills and employees.
So dire is the situation that some missions are struggling to accomplish key assignments like building and maintaining relations with other countries, as well as attract investors to Lesotho.

Although their plight varies, what emerges from interviews with several current and foreign diplomats is a country failing to adequately maintain its missions.
The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, painted a picture of missions routinely starved of basic resources.
The stories of their daily struggles in the missions are so strikingly similar that they show a trend sustained over the past year or two but has worsened in recent months as government coffers run dry.

“The main problem is that the money comes late when you are already sinking in debts as a mission,” said one of the ambassadors.
The missions receive money quarterly but it comes with specific instructions on how it should be used.

With the government short of funds, most missions have only received money for salaries and very little, if any, for operations.
“The trouble is that during that quarter there are debit orders for electricity, rent and water. So by the time you get to the end of the quarter you don’t have money for salaries because it has gone to paying those costs that make it possible to keep the mission,” said a consular at one of the missions.
He said some missions have been turned “into resort offices where diplomatic staff just come in and while up time because there are no resources”.

He said it is not uncommon for some missions to go for months without salaries.
Sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week told thepost that the situation is particularly dire in London, Tokyo, the United States and Ethiopia.

They said Lesotho’s ambassador to the United Nation, Nkopane Monyane, has had to move houses because of financial problems.
A ministry source said there is a likelihood that the staff at the London High Commission will not receive their salaries this month.
The source said the mission in Tokyo is behind on rentals and has no money for operating costs.

“We have missions that don’t have cars and struggle to pay utilities but are expected to represent the country. It’s embarrassing,” he said.
“In some cases they don’t even have fuel to attend diplomatic events. One ambassador recently told me she could not afford to take her counterpart for tea and even when they visit her at the offices she doesn’t have money for refreshments.”

An official at one of the embassies said often they have to face angry landlords who want to evict them because of delayed rentals.
“We have some here who have been given notices by landlords because they can’t pay house rentals. It is like we are in exile. There is no communication from the ministry,” he said.
He accused the government of turning them into protocol officers who wait for them at airports “when they come for international meetings”.
“Most of the missions will tell you they don’t do much work apart from just receiving government officials at airports and driving them around. Between those protocol duties there is nothing to do because there are no resources.”

He said sometimes they have to stay home because they have not been paid.
“People think those in embassies are having a good time but the truth is that it’s a struggle. Those who accuse us of not doing anything don’t know what we go through in foreign lands.”
Another ambassador said he is “tired of hearing excuses” from foreign affairs officials back home when they ask about money. He said at times they get warrants but the money doesn’t come on time.

And when they call back home they are told that the problem is with the payment system.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all. The point here is the ministry delays to pay and when they are asked they blame their payment system and they have been doing that for quite a long time now,” he said.
“They say the system is new and to the surprise of everyone it never gets old so that it is fully understood. You can imagine the embarrassment of the country failing to pay bills. What do people who supply us with services think of our country?”

“We don’t understand why the government left the old, tried and tested payment system to the one that they don’t know. The embassy’s budget here does not include basics,” he said.
thepost has been told that the fourth quarter of the last financial year was particularly bad for the mission in Germany which had its electricity disconnected over late payment. An official at the mission however told thepost that the situation has somewhat improved since then.

“Maybe it’s because of what we went through in that quarter that those in charge have now started doing things differently,” he said.
“So to be honest, I would say we are fine this time around.”
What makes the budgetary constraints worse is that most missions cover a lot of countries.

“We are asking these missions to do so much with so little. Sometimes you wonder why we have those missions in the first place if we cannot afford them.”
One ambassador said what shocks him is that the government keeps saying it doesn’t have money but they are always receiving huge entourages from Lesotho.
“They come here to do things we are supposed to be doing because they are chasing per diems and want to shop. Our staff here has to take them around for shopping,” he said.

“Sometimes you have five senior officials coming to a meeting that lasts an hour and can be attended by junior officials from the embassy.”
The principal secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Mamonyane Bohloko, declined to comment after citing “confidentiality issues”.
The financial troubles are however not limited to the diplomatic missions. Nearly all government departments and ministries are struggling to pay suppliers and fund operations because the government is broke.
Bohloko declined to comment.

Staff Reporter

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