Public Accounts Committee chairman, Selibe Mochoboroane, has called on the government to reverse a decision to include legislators among people who will lease their vehicles to the state.
The former small business development, co-operatives and marketing minister told the Lesotho Times in a recent interview that the inclusion of parliamentarians in the scheme to lease 300 vehicles from locals was a recipe for disaster as it would only serve to compromise the legislators and prevent them from effectively fulfilling their oversight role over the executive.
Mr Mochoboroane’s call comes just a week after Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, announced that the cabinet had resolved to lease 300 vehicles from Basotho with immediate effect as it moves to ensure that all its vehicle needs are procured from locals.
Dr Majoro disclosed this at a recent press conference in Maseru which was also attended by cabinet members, Mahali Phamotse (Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation) and Samonyane Ntsekele (Water) and Home Affairs Deputy Minister, Machesetsa Mofomobe, who were tasked by cabinet to oversee the government’s fleet acquisition project.
Dr Majoro said of the 300 vehicles, 150 would be procured from taxi operators, 90 from the districts and constituencies, 20 from the disabled groups and 20 each from youth and women’s groups.
He said those that were not included in the first procurement plan, like the legislators, would be considered in the next procurement phase at the end of this year or early next year.
Dr Majoro however, said that senior civil servants from the position of director upwards would be excluded from the scheme.
He said the decision to include the legislators in the scheme was made after the realisation that despite all the benefits the legislators enjoyed, they were burdened with huge financial tasks in their constituencies.
However, Mr Mochoboroane said while government had taken a positive move to uplift the lives of different sections of Basotho, parliamentarians should have been left out of the vehicle scheme.
“I was also impressed by the decision by the government to prohibit certain categories of civil servants from leasing their vehicles to government as this would be a conflict of interest,” Mr Mochoboroane said.
“However, I strongly feel that government ill-advised itself when it included parliamentarians who are backbenchers in this scheme because the same conflict of interest rule applies to parliamentarians.
“Parliament will be compromised. It will not be able to play its oversight role as effectively as it should and we will be repeating mistakes of the past by doing this.”
He said there was a precedent where parliament failed to demand payment from legislators and ministers who defaulted on their loan repayments after purchasing tractors from Germany under a government loan scheme in what was known as the Block Farming Scheme of 2008.
He said soon after that a PAC report under the then chairperson, Moeketse Malebo, was tabled before parliament but even today, “No one is saying anything about that report because some legislators and ministers were involved and that comprised the legislators’ oversight function over the executive”.
“Parliament failed to scrutinise that report. As a PAC chairperson looking at a previous damning PAC report before, I can’t afford to keep quiet when government is making the same mistake it did years ago and it would be unfortunate if this is allowed to go ahead.”
The legislators earn salaries of up to M469 884 per annum and M150 in daily sitting allowances. They are also entitled to M500 000 interest-free loans.
Dr Majoro had however, argued that their salaries and allowances were not enough in view of the work they had to do in the service of their constituencies.
His sentiments were echoed by Mr Ntsekele who said that, “Mostly their benefits are spent on addressing different constituency needs and they need to be met half way in order to carry out their duties as parliamentarians as well”.
Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation Minister, Mahali Phamotse, also defended the government’s decision to include legislators in the vehicle scheme, saying it was not a political decision but one arrived at after considering the work they had to do in their constituencies.
“If it was a political issue, we would have said only legislators of the parties in government should lease vehicles to government but we are saying all parliamentarians not serving as ministers are given the opportunity to leave vehicles,” she said.