Finance Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro has once again delivered a set of desired policy actions in the form of austerity measures that will never see the light of day without political will to ensure enforcement.
This proposal to return to basics and gulp the medicine of austerity measures remains a mere rhetoric if demonstrable attempts to ensure their enforcement is not well taken care of.
Enforcement of proposed austerity measures can largely be achieved if enacted into law to make it binding for ministers and chief accounting officers to adhere to these. Also, having a legal recourse taken against anyone breaching such legal instrument shall go a long way to enforce compliance.
In a speech to a joint sitting of the Senators and members of the National Assembly on budget day, Minister Majoro proposed to this sitting of parliament a set of relatively good austerity measures, but one cannot help notice he is singing the same tune since his appointment as Finance Minister.
Yes, I must admit there are relatively a few changes in the lyrics, especially regarding international travel.
Peradventure it is important to note that “austerity measure” is a phrase referring to policies aimed at reducing government budgetary deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, or even a combination of both.
These policies are usually employed by governments to lower budget deficits and avoid a debt crisis. As a result, they turn to reduce unnecessary, luxurious spending, wages bill and officials’ benefits.
When working with parliament to have the 2018/2019 budgetary estimates approved, Majoro presented to the Parliamentary Committee of Supply on 21 March, 2018, that principal repayments budgeted for in that year amounted to M748, 528, 548.00 for servicing loans and other borrowings while the country’s debt amounted to M12.5 billion.
The huge debt burden, according to Majoro’s Economics or better put Majoronomics was incurred by the country as a result of borrowing from multinational organisations such as the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank, European investment bank.
Loans acquired from countries with whom the country enjoys bilateral relations with, and a small fraction from borrowing from domestic sources such as issuance of Central Bank of Lesotho Bonds and Treasury Bills.
Meanwhile, it is Finance Minister’s submissions in this year’s financial policy that he plans to have ministerial international travel reduced by undertaking that, “the Prime Minister sets up a special committee to authorise all ministerial international travel with the purpose to reduce such travel.
“Government to use its foreign representatives to attend most meetings, ministers to attend only representational meetings and to avoid conferences, workshops and consultative meetings”.
Majoro adds another means of containing travel expenditure; ministers will be expected to “cut their delegations to the bone and limiting the number of nights any minister can spend in outside meetings to 5 only”.
The Minister further provided in his address to Parliament that with the exception of His Majesty, Members of Parliament and Statutory Officers, all public servants will “travel economy class”.
This exception, although hard hitting on a larger population of the public service comes as an afterthought on austerity measures after failing to convince his peers in Cabinet curb their luxurious travel spending in the past financial year.
In fact, Majoro seemed to be walking the talk sometime when a horde of government envoy accompanying the Prime Minister to the United States flew first class immediately after spending cuts announcement was made.
He expressed also that there is a pressing need to “reduce the incentive to travel by adopting the lower UN rates and amend the Annex B of the Ministry of Public Service Circular Notice Number 8 of 2009 to reduce Per Diem rates”.
This is a development that shall await the publication of a new circular notice amending the 2009 notice accordingly as suggested by Majoro.
But this is all not news considering the past two government financial policies still raised the same issues as points of concern.
The IMF has also registered similar concerns to the ones shared by Majoro when presenting the budget during their recent visit.
In a press release dated 5 September, 2018, IMF Joseph Thornton notes “Lesotho has been experiencing an economic shock resulting from a decline in revenues from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
“Public expenditure increased rapidly while SACU revenues were buoyant but has not been reined in as SACU revenues fell after 2015 despite the lack of growth in other revenues sources.”
But it is the recommendations of the same mission led by Thornton that urged Prime Minister Thomas Thabane administration to ponder a number of options for containing the deficit to a level that can be fully financed.
Thornton said the IMF sees other possible areas of savings that could be considered to be including “expenditure on government travel, foreign embassies, and procurement”.
Meanwhile, Majoro’s rhetoric can be traced back to country past budget speeches, which is including his past two delivered on behalf of the Thabane led administration.
It was his submission in the last financial year policy that reduced government spending on “class of airline travel” which he said “has been lowered from first to business class”.
In financial policy of 2017/2018 he provided as part of reducing expenditure that government has taken a decision to device that “ministers and equivalent ranks will no longer fly first class”.
That this salient issues are now on ‘repetitious mode’ is as exactly as that monotonous sound of a broken record.
The fact that Majoro raises this issue of international travel and its benefits again means not enough is being done to ensure enforcement. It remains just well-intentioned rhetoric.
Unlike his fellow colleagues in His Majesty’s government, he is said to be the only one still adhering to his proposals of not travelling in first class.
But without political will to ensure the enactment of a law that promotes these initiatives, government of Lesotho’s austerity measures remain a useless initiative meant to deceive the masses into thinking the big-wigs are walking the talk when in actual fact they continue to milk government dry.