Lesotho: Metsing "Shocked" By Lack of Covid-19 Vaccine Budget

20 February 2021

OPPOSITION Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, says he is shocked by the government's failure to allocate funds to procure Covid-19 vaccines for its citizens.

Mr Metsing was reacting to yesterday's budget speech by Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea. The former deputy prime minister said by failing to allocate funds to procure vaccines, the government "had missed an opportunity to make a big statement underlining its seriousness in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic".

In his budget speech, Mr Sophonea said the country would acquire the Covid-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility (a fully subsidised initiative by the World Health Organisation [WHO] to enable poor countries to get free vaccines) in April 2021.

COVAX has committed to donating vaccines to cover only 20 percent of the populations of each of the 92 countries in the facility. These countries, including Lesotho, will hence have to purchase extra vaccines to cover the remainder of their populations.

However, in his budget speech, Mr Sophonea did not say anything about allocating funds for procuring additional vaccines.

"Lesotho will access the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility," Mr Sophonea said yesterday.

"As part of the COVAX Facility, Lesotho will be fully subsidised for Covid-19 vaccines covering 20 percent of the population.

"This House will note that there is a minimal supply of the Covid-19 vaccines globally hence its shipment is expected in phases. Efforts to exceed the 20 percent coverage of our population requires cost sharing with the COVAX Facility for supplementary doses as opposed to that which is fully subsidised by the COVAX donors."

Last month Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro said the government would set aside M240 million to procure Covid-19 vaccines for 1 million people.

Mr Metsing yesterday said he had expected Minister Sophonea's budget speech to indicate how much had been allocated to procure the Covid-19 vaccines.

"I expected the budget speech to announce the allocation of funds to procure vaccines and to say how soon the vaccines will been rolled out.

"A wider availability of the vaccine will facilitate the opening up and subsequent recovery of the economy," Mr Metsing said.

While Lesotho appears content to wait for vaccine donations under the COVAX facility, neighbouring South Africa has already begun rolling out a programme to vaccinate people within its borders.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said his country has so far secured nine million doses and more are expected.

Even Zimbabwe has taken delivery of 200 000 doses of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese government.

As other southern African countries begin procuring vaccines, Lesotho risks being left behind unless funds are allocated for the procurement of vaccines or the country receives donations like Zimbabwe.

Mr Metsing however, commended the government efforts to address youth unemployment by unveiling a M700 million youth in-service programme to capacitate youths with entrepreneurial and other skills.

On his part, Limpho Tau from the Democratic Party of Lesotho (DPL), expressed concern on the proposed overall capital budget in the budget speech, saying the government was contributing very little and relying on donors to fill the gap.

"I am concerned that that government's contribution to the overall capital budget is 37 percent while donor grants and loans account for the remainder of the capital budget.

"This is a sad state of affairs because it may mean we are financing our development projects through loans. If we are not careful, we could find the country immersed in deep debt that will overburden future generations," Mr Tau said.

Mr Tau also said he was disappointed that the government had failed to allocate funds to the National University of Lesotho's research programme aimed developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

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