Lesotho: Ad Promises 'Sparks' When Parly Reopens Next Week

17 February 2021

Parliament will reopen next Monday with the thorny issue of the government's response to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic expected to take centre stage in the deliberations of the august house.

Parliament adjourned for its annual Christmas break on 27 November 2020. In a memo to legislators and other stakeholders this week, National Assembly clerk, Advocate Fine Maema, said it would reconvene on Monday.

"You are hereby notified that the 11th meeting of the First Session of the 10th Parliament will be held in the New Parliament Building in Maseru on Monday 15 February 2021 at 9am," Adv Maema states in his memo.

Although, his brief circular did not provide any further details, Opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) secretary general, Mahali Phamotse, yesterday said her party would demand full disclosures on how the government had spent the M698 million allocated for the Covid-19 response.

Dr Phamotse, who served as Justice and Correctional Services minister and later as Gender, Sport and Recreation minister in the previous Thomas Thabane administration from June 2017 to May 2020, said her party was unhappy with the manner in which the government had spent the funds and therefore expected explosive debates on the matter.

"We want to understand how the government has spent the Covid-19 funds it was allocated for the 2020/21 financial year," Dr Phamotse said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.

"We expect sparks to fly on that issue. The public is also unhappy with the way the government has handled this whole Covid-19 issue. As representatives of the people in parliament, it is incumbent upon us to communicate their views to the government."

There has been a lot of controversy regarding the use of the Covid-19 funds.

First there were allegations of the money being misused by the now disbanded National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) which allegedly gobbled M161 million out of the M698 million budget set aside to fight Covid-19.

Confidential government documents seen by this publication last year revealed that a sizeable chunk of that money was not spent on core activities aimed at fighting the pandemic but on luxuries like food and other items bought at highly inflated prices.

The extravagant command centre allegedly spent more than M10, 7 million on food for its staffers drawn from different ministries at the time health professionals were going with no personal protective equipment (PPE). Other money was spent on purchasing office equipment and other related items at grossly inflated prices.

The NECC, which had been set up in March 2020 by then premier Thabane, was disbanded by current Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) in June 2020.

However, NACOSEC has not fared any better with Acting Auditor General Monica Besetsa's September 2020 preliminary audit findings showing that the Covid-19 budget had ballooned from the initial M698 million to M1, 5 billion "due to extra expenses to pay for operational costs of NACOSEC" and not necessarily interventions required to contain the deadly pandemic.

Apart from demanding full disclosures on the Covid-19 spending, Dr Phamotse said her party would also ask the government to come up with a comprehensive economic recovery plan in response to the Covid-19 induced slowdown in business activity.

The government's plan should detail how it intended to revive the economy and provide relief to vulnerable sections of the population whose livelihoods have been negatively affected by the pandemic, she said.

"Many people have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic while others have lost their loved ones who were bread winners. We therefore, expect parliament to address this matter by continuing debate on a motion that was adjourned before the recess," Dr Phamotse said.

Shortly before parliament adjourned for Christmas last November, the AD's Semena constituency legislator, Tlohelang Aumane, had tabled a motion in parliament calling on the government to develop a national economic recovery plan to stimulate the economy after the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the motion was suspended. Dr Phamotse believes it is now the right time to revisit the motion.

"That motion will address many issues related to Covid-19 that we are currently struggling to cope with. It will assist the government to better respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. We therefore, expect the motion to be revived during the upcoming session of the house."

Meanwhile, Home Affairs minister, Motlalentoa Letsosa, said he expected parliament to dedicate a lot of time to debating and approving the 2021/22 budget.

"The usual business of debating and enacting laws as well as considering reports will continue when we reopen.

"However, with the tabling of the 2021/22 budget estimates on the horizon, my expectation is that the bulk of the house's business will be towards that until the budget has been approved," Mr Letsosa said.

On his part, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) secretary general Teboho Sekata, said he expected parliament to pass outstanding bills into law.

"We expect parliament to finalise the Local Government Bill which seeks to harmonise the national elections with local government elections and ensure they are held concurrently.

"The bill is already before the house and we expect parliament to make a final decision on it," Mr Sekata said.

More From: Lesotho Times

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