Ombudsman escalates case to parliament


. . . pleads for payment of overdue public officers’ gratuities, terminal benefits


MASERU – The Ombudsman, Tlotliso Polaki, has implored parliament to compel government ministries to prioritise payment of outstanding public officers’ gratuities, terminal benefits, under-payments, and acting allowances by various government ministries. The Ombudsman recommends that these payments be made immediately after the said ministries are allocated funds in this new fiscal year, and to ensure that the ministries are allocated a sufficient budget to cater for these outstanding payments. This follows an avalanche of complaints from aggrieved persons to her office claiming not to have received their terminal benefits, gratuities, underpayments and acting allowances, from different government ministries. 

Some of the complainants allege that since their retirement, they have not received their terminal benefits and, as a result, they are not drawing monthly pensions. This situation has left them with no means of livelihood. Others claim to have gone into debt trying to make ends meet while awaiting payment of their gratuities.  On the other hand, some have lodged complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman to help them recover their salary underpayments which are long overdue since they are owed from as far back as 2013.

The Ombudsman has identified this as a systemic issue because it has adversely affected several people, and pointed to possible systemic issues through handling of complaints and analysing complaint trends, as well as through information from the media. A special report on the matter to parliament by the Ombudsman, presented before the House by deputy prime minister and justice minister, Justice Nthomeng Majara, tabulates approximately 40 complaints against various ministries and state-owned institutions before the Office of the Ombudsman – making the status quo a systemic issue that requires parliament’s urgent attention.

The Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) has welcomed the recommendation, noting that their members going on retirement retire into poverty. The association says they still have to fight for the rights of those members arising from previous employment. LEPOSA stated that Section 150 of the Constitution of Lesotho is being violated in delayed disbursement of pensions to retired public servants, articulating that the section provides that any law relating to pension should not subject members to a less favourable position than they would have been under the previous law.

“In this case we talk about the Pension Proclamation of 1994. Under the proclamation, members were not contributing five percent. It is quite illogical and irrational that any pension benefits calculated in terms of Public Officers Defined Contributory Fund Act of 2008 is far less than any benefit under the Pensions (amendment) Act of 2011,” said LEPOSA. It further stated that before this amendment pension benefits were calculated at the rate of 1/600 of public servants’ pension emoluments in respect of each completed month of their pensionable service, adding that the fraction in 2011 has been amended to 1/540 and the purpose was to increase the amount of gratuity. “So as it stands, our pensioners have been underpaid their gratuities and the amount used to buy their annuities is less. Therefore, they continue to be underpaid.  “It is, therefore, prudent to curtail the underpayment because as years passed it will compound into exorbitant amounts. Government should sit down with pensioners and associations to come up with a long term plan to solve the problem. They can, for instance, adjust their monthly pension and work on underpayment of arrears,” LEPOSA noted.

Public Relations Officer at the Public Officers Defined Contribution Pensioners Association (PODCPA), Ithabeleng Phamotse, on the other hand, told this publication that her association also welcomed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and they are hopeful that this time their long awaited grievances will be attended to. She said the recommendation addresses what they have been fighting for for years, but to no avail. She said recently they even requested a forensic report of the Pensions Fund but they did not even get a mere acknowledgement to their request.

“They are way overdue. The government should have paid pensioners as of now considering that it acknowledged the debt years ago and even made estimates of how much is needed to settle the debt,” Phamotse said.   General Secretary for the Coalition of Lesotho Public Employees Association, ’Makatleho Mphethom, said they are very happy with the report even though the challenge is that it is just a recommendation which is not binding.  She said their expectation was that once investigations have been made the recommendations would be obligatory. She said this means that the National Assembly may or may not take the Ombudsman’s recommendations. She said it is their plea that the national assembly will be considerate of the recommendations and ensure that they are implemented.

Also in an interview with Public Eye, General Secretary at the Lesotho Association of Teachers, Letsatsi Ntsibulane, confirmed that there are indeed a lot of teachers who have not been paid what is due to them dating back to 2017.  He said some of the teachers who were supposed to have received their terminal benefits as soon as they retired have died before getting what is due to them.

Non-payment of teachers is the greatest challenge the education sector is facing which left teachers and retired teachers distressed, he added. Ntsibulane said, among others, Qacha’s Nek acting principals have not been paid their acting allowances dating back to 2012. According to the Ombudsman’s report, the ministries have not disputed these claims but pleaded that due to budgetary constraints, they are unable to effect such payments. They have further submitted that the situation has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic which forced government to effect more budget cuts in order to respond to the health needs of the nation.

During investigations, the Ombudsman found that indeed ministerial budgets were diverted to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. However, prior to the pandemic, ministries had not prioritised paying gratuities, terminal benefits, and pensions of retired public servants.  The sad part, according to the report, is the fact that some of them have even died before receiving their monies. Post-pandemic, these cases have continued piling up and the funds are not enough to cover all expenses due.   It has also come to the attention of the Ombudsman that while the problem cuts across most ministries, the majority of these unpaid claims are from the Ministry of Education and Training.

There have been claims received by the Office of the Ombudsman which were from service providers who have provided goods and services to different government ministries but whose claims remain unpaid. This has adversely affected their profit-making businesses because they have incurred expenses to offer services to the government without pay. Some of these are small enterprises that rely on the little profit they make on a daily basis, and for the government to take such a long time to pay them has led to the collapse of many businesses.

The Office of the Ombudsman has experienced an influx of cases from aggrieved persons claiming not to have received their terminal benefits, gratuities, underpayments and acting allowances, from different government ministries. Some of the complainants allege that since their retirement, they have not received their terminal benefits and, as a result, they are not drawing monthly pensions.  Section 7(4) of the of the Ombudsman Act No 9 of 1996 provides that if the Ombudsman upon completion of his investigation or inquiry is of the opinion that if any person has suffered an injustice or infringement of a fundamental right or freedom as a result of an act or omission in the administration, he shall inform the specified authority concerned of the reasons of his opinion and make such recommendations as he may deem fit.

Section 7(5) of the said Act provides that if in his recommendations made under Section 7(4), the Ombudsman decides that an injustice or infringement of a fundamental right or freedom should be remedied, he shall specify the manner and time within which the injustice or infringement has to be remedied; and if at the expiry of the  time specified no  sufficient action has  been taken to remedy the injustice of a fundamental human right, then the Ombudsman shall sub m it a special report to parliament on the case.  The Ombudsman has, therefore, undertaken to remedy the injustice or infringement of a fundamental right or freedom by submitting a special report to parliament in these cases.

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