MASERU – Opposition MPs are not convinced government will address problems afflicting the education sector despite allocating funds to the sector in the budget announced this week.
The MPs accused government of making grandiose promises at august occasions before going on to renege on its pledges.
Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Selibe Mochoboroane and leader of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) said the pronouncements contained in the budget speech fall far short of addressing striking teachers’ long-standing grievances.
The budget only provides for payment of teachers’ wage arrears and also sets aside some money for infrastructure development, he said.
While hailing the government’s pledge to put aside M300 million for job creation, he however said the crisis in the teaching service should have been given more attention, especially with school pupils now left unattended.
Mochoboroane said this glaring omission made it difficult to believe government was broke, adding he believed, instead, money was available but was being misused.
He said that the government had misplaced priorities, a malady underlined by the inordinately long time it had taken to deal with teachers’ grievances.
“As long as there is no component in the budget that specifically answers teachers’ grievances, their salaries included, the country is dismally failing,” he said.
He said government had not set aside resources with which to deal with training of teachers on the new curriculum and that besides the wage issue, this was at the heart of the tensions in the sector.
Qalabane constituency representative, Motlalentoa Letsosa, noted there was no guarantee teachers’ grievances would be addressed as promised in the budget speech as oftentimes the government tends to budget for things without fulfilling the pledge.
This year’s budget, Letsosa said, was a replica of last year’s budget as it seemed items slated for funding last year were still pending.
He accused Government of getting sidetracked at the expense of issues that affect most Basotho.
Consultations with teachers was needed so that the government and teachers can hammer out a durable solution to the niggling issues that has led to the closure of schools, he added.
Minister of Finance Dr Moeketsi Majoro has proposed M3.1 billion, 17 percent of the total budget, to be spent on education with M2.4 billion allocated to the Ministry of Education while M577 million will be set aside for bursaries.
In his budget speech, Majoro said the Government regrets the time wasted by the teachers’ strike and informed parliament teachers’ unions are being engaged to negotiate their return to duty.
He added that most teachers’ grievances, including payments of gratuities, outstanding arrears, and reinstatement of dismissed staff, have been met.
According to him, M35 million has been set aside for payment of teachers’ wage arrears while M11 million will go for teachers’ training.
“The Ministry of Education also plans to spend M60 million as top up funding for construction of classrooms and laboratories, particularly in the rural areas.
“The Ministry will develop transition policy to facilitate progress of learners from lower basic education schools to secondary schools in an endeavour to ensure inclusiveness in learning. It will further upgrade and build appropriate infrastructure for high schools (St Catherines, Abia, Motsekuoa and Mount Royal) for learners with special education needs,” Majoro said.
He added the escalating number of sponsored students and sponsorship costs; tight fiscal constraints and poor loan recoveries call for urgent implementation of Loan Bursary Fund Reforms.
In the next financial year, the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) will review and amend the legal framework governing the Lesotho Bursary Fund Regulations of 1978.
Majoro added government will further review and improve resource mobilisation and financing model of the fund by changing endorsement and repayment of loan bursaries from partial to actual incurred costs of sponsorships.
In an endeavour to ensure equitable access to bursaries in light of the constrained funds, NMDS will develop a “Means Testing Mechanism” which will seek to ensure that bursaries are granted in favour of students from financially disadvantaged families.
Majoro did not propose any adjustment in salaries except for ministers who will take a five percent pay cut.
Lesotho Teachers Trade Union secretary Letampu Mafaesa sniggered at suggestions government was broke, arguing if that was the case, it should have dispensed with deputy ministers.
He said failure to do so shows the government has enough money but has wrong priorities.
LAT president Letsatsi Ntsibolane said the Government should cut on foreign trips and acquire modest and cheaper-to-run vehicles instead of the top-of-the range cars in government service.
The decision not to grant civil servants salary increments, he noted, coupled with the five percent salary cut for ministers, was a ruse to fool people into believing that the Government was really broke and ultimately make teachers’ demand for an eight percent increment look unreasonable.
If government was unable to meet the wage hike demand, it should consider reducing their pay as you earn tax, which suggestion, he said, had been ignored.
He added that the budget partly addressed their grievances, making them wonder where the ministry of Education would find more money to settle outstanding arrears and pay for errors.
According to him, from the onset, the Minister of education told union bosses he had asked for M60 million from the Ministry of Finance, but he only got M35 million.
Ntsibulane, however, applauded the Minister of Finance for making M11 million available to train teachers on the new curriculum.
Mochoboroane acclaimed government for responding to gender issues, a sensitive area government had failed to deal with in the past.
According to him, removal of VAT on sanitary towels as a way of increasing access and school attendance was laudable.