MASERU – The government’s plan to freeze recruitment for the current financial year opened a Pandora’s box in parliament on Tuesday.
Opposition political parties attacked Finance Minister Timothy Thahane accusing him of using empty rhetoric to do damage control over the government’s decision to freeze recruitment of new staff.
In his 2011-2012 budget statement in February, Thahane announced that the government would freeze posts for the 2011/2012 fiscal year.
But on Tuesday Thahane claimed his budget statement has now been hijacked to incite youths and students to revolt against him.
He, however, failed to elaborate on the identity of the people plotting the protests, triggering opposition members to accuse him of using empty rhetoric as damage control for the unpopular job freeze statement.
Facing a backlash, Thahane told the National Assembly that the statement had been misinterpreted to mean that the government would not be hiring any more new graduates for the next two years.
He refuted the claims as malicious allegations meant to sow confusion and advance ‘other people’s agendas’.
The government would help create jobs, he said.
“These people are encouraging students to engage in protest marches aimed at the finance minister, to attack him for saying government will not hire students who have just completed their studies and for the next two years,” Thahane said.
“These people are on a mission to lobby the support of youth in tertiary institutions and the public at large to advance their interests.”
However Lesotho Workers’ Party deputy leader, Sello Maphalla, accused the minister of indirectly blaming the opposition “for his indiscretions”.
“His is a sweeping statement directed at the opposition. We want him to elaborate on who has been mobilising the youth to rebel,” Maphalla insisted.
“He (Thahane) is trying to shift the blame and clear his conscience. But it is funny what he says because the constitution protects peoples’ right to protest if they have grievances.”
As far as the opposition was concerned, Maphalla said Thahane’s statement was not going to “make a difference”.
“Why complain now when the issue has been discussed a thousand times on various platforms since February? Where has he been all this time?” Maphalla charged.
But Thahane said the plot had widened to include the spreading of information that the government would force students to repay study loans advanced by the state.
He said the government would continue to help create jobs for the youth and hire public servants to fill in the gaps left by those who had left the civil service.
“The students have asked where I expect them to get finances to repay their loans when they are not working because I said the government should not employ them,” Thahane said.
He said the finance ministry had asked the government for alternative ways of ensuring youths were self-sufficient.
“I said my ministry had proposed to government an entrepreneurship initiative aimed at young graduates, women and other self employed entrepreneurs,” Thahane said.
“This is the establishment of a partial credit guarantee fund which government should capitalise at M50 million. Is there anything clearer than this?”