M200m blown on foreign trips

M200m blown on foreign trips

MASERU – THE chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Selibe Mochoboroane, says their preliminary investigations have revealed that the government has spent a staggering M200 million on international travel in the past eight months.
Mochoboroane made the revelations at a hearing this week as the committee grilled Ministry of Finance officials over expenditure.

So massive was the profligacy that the government had to dip into contingent account to fund the trips. This means that every month the government has been spending an eye-watering M25 million on foreign travel.
Mochoboroane said the figure came from the committee’s initial investigations.

He then instructed the ministry officials to give the committee all documents related to transfers made from that vote and “show how much of the amount spent so far came from the contingent fund”.

Mochoboroane also said according to documents from ministry officials, it would appear that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s office overshot its international travel budget by M12 million.
He said according to the documents that M12 million seems to have come from the contingent fund.

Mochoboroane later told thepost that those figures will only be confirmed when the ministry officials bring the updated documents this week.
“That means on top of what they were allocated in the budget they spent M12 million more,” he said. “They had to go to the contingent fund because what they had been allocated had been finished.”
He said the committee is deeply shocked at the government’s extravagance.
“You have to remember that we are only in the third quarters so you can imagine what will happen when we get to the fourth quarter. It’s shocking.”
If the committee’s initial findings turnout to be true it means the government has broken its promise to cut back on international trips.

Former Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro made that pledge in his budget speech earlier this year. Dr Majoro said international trips will be limited to the most crucial and urgent.
He said to cut costs only the most senior government officials will travel First Class and ministers should scrutinise every request for a trip before approval.
Dr Majoro also promised that there will be a special committee to approve all international trips and ministers should limit the number of days they spend outside the country.

These controls, he said, were part of the austerity measures to deal with the financial crunch the government faces.
This year the government has failed to increase civil servants’ salaries, citing financial problems. It owes more than M2 billion to suppliers and has delayed paying some pensioners.

Several projects have also stalled as the government battles to close the gaping holes in its books. Some government ministries and departments have run out of basic tools like paper, pens, forms and printer cartridges.
Funding to state-controlled tertiary institutions like the National University of Lesotho has been slashed.
Yet ministers and senior government officials have continued to travel the world on premium tickets and fat per diems.

In September the government spent more than M5 million to send a 30-member delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
On Monday the PAC pressured finance officials to explain why foreign trips have gobbled so much money, especially from the contingent fund.

This was after the acting Principal Secretary ’Mamakopoi Letsie revealed that the government has used about M90 million without parliament approval.
Letsie said they are using funds from the contingency budget.
Budget controller ’Maleshoane Lekomola said they took M90 million from the contingency budget and allocated it to ministries that were in desperate need for money.
“Most of the money was used on international trips,” Lekomola said.

Lekomola said they always try to follow the law but sometimes “political decisions are made”.
She said the transfer of the M90 million for the contingent budget was one of those political decisions.
Lekomola said laws governing the contingency budget state that funds should be used on important emergency and unforeseen circumstances.
Mochoboroane said their investigations have uncovered that more than 70 percent from the funds are used in travelling.

Mochoboroane said the committee wanted to know why funds set aside for emergencies had been used for foreign trips. He said the parliament will instruct those who transferred the money to pay it back.
“We see that thugs hide behind trips to squander the funds,” he said.

Mochoboroane said according to the committee’s investigations the actual amount spent on trips is not M90 million but over M200 million.
He said trips were allocated M83 million and then the parliament slashed it to M12 million “but you decided to use contingency budget”.
“We cannot subsidise even meals because contingency money is used on trips,” he said.

Staff Reporter


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