MPs demand review of pensions, gratuities

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MASERU — MPs last Friday brought parliamentary business to a halt after they demanded that Finance Minister Timothy Thahane should review their pensions and gratuity packages.

The MPs wanted Thahane to make an undertaking to continue paying their salaries even after the dissolution of parliament, until the holding of the general election which is expected in May.

In a rare show of unity MPs from across the political divide blocked the afternoon sitting of the National Assembly reserved for ministerial budget allocations for the 2012/13 fiscal year so that they could have an “urgent” meeting with the finance minister.

Pleas by National Assembly Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai for the MPs to halt their demand for the meeting until the end of the day’s business were also ignored.

The MPs insisted that officials from the Ministry of Defence and National Security who were about to make their ministerial budget presentation should wait outside while Thahane dealt with their complaints.

Sello Maphalla, the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader, told Motsamai it was imperative that the day’s business be halted because their concerns were a major part of the budget.

“What we need to be ironed out affects the whole budget allocation process. We cannot allocate monies having not sorted out this issue once and for all,” Maphalla said to raucous applause from the MPs.

It was then that Thahane and the MPs were locked in a lengthy closed meeting that lasted until after 6pm.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times this week, Maphalla said MPs were not happy that their pension packages had not been attended to and updated to their satisfaction.

Maphalla said after the passing of the Specified Offices Defined Contributions Pensions Fund (SODCPF) Act 2011, there should have been a pensions fund set up for MPs.

Under the scheme MPs would contribute a certain amount of their pensionable remuneration while the government would “contribute another percentage to the fund”.

Section (5) (1) of the Act prescribes that MPs should contribute five percent of their pensionable remuneration to the fund while the government contributes 10 percent.

The government would also contribute 10 percent towards a gratuity.

The purpose of the Act is to provide contributory retirement pension for political office bearers such as MPs.

According to Maphalla, the contributions to the fund should have begun in October last year after filling the employment verification forms indicating that “we qualified for the fund by virtue of us being political officer bearers”.

“But we never received those forms even though the cut-off date for eligibility of members who were already in employment when the law was enacted was supposed to be October 2011,” Maphalla said.

“MPs’ past pension service liabilities would then be transferred to the fund while new MPs will automatically join the SODCPF office fund.”

Maphalla said MPs only received their employment eligibility forms in February even though insiders told them that they had actually been sent to the National Assembly by the pensions office in January.

“Even then it was too late because it was stipulated in the forms that the deadline for submission was December 2011,” Maphalla said.

He added that after they had raised their concerns, Thahane then suggested that after filling new forms, they should start making contributions to the fund from February 25.

“But we refused because it was not our fault that deductions had not been made on our salaries since October 2011. We insisted that the deductions be backdated to October last year,” Maphalla said.

“It seems like we have reached an understanding on that one and that deductions will probably be made on our gratuities when
parliament is dissolved to cover the period dating back to last October.”

Maphalla said the eligibility forms had now been submitted to finance principal secretary Mosito Khethisa.

Maphalla said MPs had also told Thahane that they want to be “treated with dignity like ministers”.

“In the event that parliament is dissolved, we have requested that our salaries should continue to be paid until we go for
elections,” Maphalla said.

“We need to be treated in the same way as ministers because the fact remains that they are also MPs who remain holding office
during the preparation of elections.”

He said it is a constitutional mandate that MPs can be summoned to parliament even when it has been dissolved to attend to urgent national business.

“This in essence means that we’re still answerable to parliament even if it’s dissolved, at least until after the elections and
swearing in of new members for a new parliament,” he said.

Basotho Democratic National Party leader Thabang Nyeoe said it was only natural for MPs to request that their salaries be paid
continuously until an election is held.

“It’s a worldwide practice that MPs continue to be paid their salaries even after the dissolution of parliament because they still
technically answer to it and continue to perform its duties,” Nyeoe said.

“Our work never ends. It actually continues until outgoing members have actually handed over to new MPs of the successive
parliament.”

Nyeoe also criticised ministers for watching out for their own interests without “taking ours into consideration”.

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