MASERU – The Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Teboha Sekata yesterday asked the ministry of foreign affairs to pay school fees arrears for the children of Lesotho’s Higher Commissioner in London, Rethabile Mokaeane.
The fees have been outstanding since 2019.
Makaeane’s three children were enrolled at a private school after she struggled to enroll them in public schools in London upon her arrival in the United Kingdom.
Mokaeane’s children owe a private school M600 000 for the three children for three quarters starting form May 2019.
The delay in payments has been caused by lack of proper consultations between the high commissioner and the former PS of foreign affairs and squabbles among Lesotho officials in the London mission.
Speaking before the Public Account Committee yesterday, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tanki Mothae, said education of children is included among the benefits for Lesotho’s diplomats.
There is no limit on the cost of the fees to be paid by the government but fees are paid depending what the government can afford, Mothae said.
There is no law that forces diplomats to enroll their children in public schools but because of the quality of education in England and Canada’s public schools, all diplomats were ordered to enroll their children in public schools as the government is facing a financial crisis and cannot afford private schools’ fees, he added.
He said on the 20th November 2019, the former PS of the ministry, Lerotholi Pheko sent an email to all diplomats in London directing them to all enroll their children in public schools.
While the government is committed to improving the lives of Basotho in missions guided by its Laws and Regulations, due to financial crisis, the government had to cut some expenses.
Mothae said it is the high commissioner’s responsibility in foreign missions to consult with the PS ministry of foreign affairs on the government’s ability to afford where children’s education is concerned.
However, Mokaeane could not get her three children enrolled in public schools as such schools were already full on her arrival in London in April 2019.
She therefore consulted with the former PS of Ministry of Foreign Affairs who gave her permission to enroll the children in a private school as a temporary arrangement until September 2019 while she looked for a space in public schools.
The permission to keep children in a private school was approved by the current PS, Lerotholi and the PAC saw communication between the former PS and Mokaeane.
Mothae noted, however, that after the permission was granted, Mokaeane never consulted again with the ministry but kept her children in a private school to date.
He said fees for Mokaeane’s children exceed the allocated budget for seven children whose parents are also in London embassy, despite a directive that children’s fees should not exceed the allocated budget.
Legal officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malefetsane Moseme noted that because of the school fees issue, Mokaeane took the ministry to court and the court ruled that children’s fees should be paid but should be within the allocated budget and the budget should be equally shared between children.
He said even before the court’s order, the two parties had an out of court settlement and the agreement was that fees should be confined within the allocated budget to be shared equally amongst children.
Moseme read both the Court Order and the Deed of Settlement to the Public Accounts Committee.
Mokaeane noted that the three children’s school fees is still pending and in order to keep her children in school, she had to pay for the first quarter from her pocket and is still waiting to be reimbursed.
She said payment for the fees was not made despite the availability of funds.
Mokaeane noted that her children are still in the private school because the contract she signed with the school does not allow children to be taken out of school in the middle of a term and is obliged to give a notice before hand.
She said before enrolling the children in a private school, she consulted with ministry of foreign affairs also pointing out that public schools notified her that her children will only be enrolled by September 2020.
She said the school is not that expensive as its fees are more or less the same with those of private schools she would have taken her children to if they were in Lesotho.
“The acceptance letter from the public school showed that my children will only be admitted by September 2020. No other school offered an earlier date.
“The school is not even that expensive as its fees are equivalent to those of some private schools in Lesotho that I would have taken my children to if I was in the country.
“It is not true that the arrangement was for one year with former PS foreign Affairs,” she alleged. She noted that she communicated with the then PS that she is unable to take children out of school because of the contract she signed.
She said at a later stage in 2019, she wrote to the former PS demanding that she be shown the law that says children of diplomats in London should be enrolled in public schools, to ensure that whatever she was asked to do was legal and not serving some personal agendas. She said the PS could not give cite any such law or regulation hence she kept her children in the private school.