MASERU – The cash-strapped government has reportedly splashed M12 million on a fleet of luxury cars for the prime minister and his deputy, raising the hackles of a rights group which has accused the administration of hypocrisy.
In a bristling rebuke at government, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) yesterday suggested the money could have been used to lift poverty-stricken Basotho out of penury.
Last month, government approached the international community with a begging bowl asking for help to feed over 500 000 Basotho facing hunger, following successive patchy rain seasons.
TRC human rights officer Advocate Lepeli Moeketsi told a press conferences yesterday government’s spending priorities were awry considering the parlous state of its coffers and the country’s sickly economy.
Moeketsi’s attack left Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government red faced despite its immediate push back.
“It is mind-boggling that a government which campaigned on fighting corruption today callously has the audacity to utilise state funds extravagantly to maintain cabinet members’ lavish lifestyle at the cost of the poor,” Moeketsi said.
“How can the government that preached intolerance towards the excesses of the previous regime today abandon the concerns of scarcity of funds as characterised, among others, in the institutions?
“Instead of addressing financial challenges facing the country, priority is directed at buying the prime minister and the deputy prime minister a fleet of expensive cars which are estimated to have cost M12 million,” Moeketsi added.
Government came out guns blazing to clear its name with its spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane telling Public Eye that TRC was “comparing diamonds to rubies” in a covert operation aimed at discrediting government’s image.
“It is now an open secret that the matter of the security detail of the premiership has been a concern with the national security establishments for some time now,” Selinyane said.
He added: “This is a matter that has been left in their (security establishments) hands with consideration for both affordability and dependability of the security convoy or security fleet of the premiership.
“The premiership being the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.
“We come from a situation where we had those Land Rovers of 2012 and they were touted again for the premiership of 2017 but we were told by those in the know that they were a few times more expensive than the Lexus.”
Now, the Prime Minister’s official car is a Lexus LX (Luxury Crossover), a full-size luxury SUV.
“His security detail uses a fleet of the same model, Lexus LX manufactured by a division of Toyota.
“We were also told that those Lexus vehicles which have been used from before 2017, and nobody complained about them up to this far by the way, were in no condition to continue performing to the standards that were required of the security risks that the office of the Lesotho Prime Minister attracts,” Selinyane said.
“Now those are not the choices that cannot be made easily. This procurement (of new fleet for Prime Minister) has been delayed by anything between six and eight months, or even a year. They were supposed to have been bought last year but their procurement has come to be settled this year out of the best consideration led by those responsible, those who should account,” he added.
Moeketsi, however, told reporters the country now “needs vigilance in both government and opposition to pay much attention and take actions and formulate clear policies against high levels of unemployment and rampant poverty among all vulnerable groups, particularly most disadvantaged unemployed tertiary graduates, youth and women who are a majority of our population”.
He added that it was “unacceptable” that farmers and government service suppliers “are rarely paid on time unless they have political connections with senior government officials who also endlessly continue with their unnecessary international trips with a view to receiving per diem”.
He urged government to concentrate on preparing for the “perennial food insecurity which most people are already experiencing”.
Media reports indicated earlier this month that government needed over M200 million to buy 25 255 tonnes of grain for the country’s most vulnerable communities.
Crop production in this country declined by 21 percent and the sale of livestock products dropped by 70 percent due to drought, Disaster Management Authority (DMA) announced.
The number of people who will need food will increase to about 640 000 from July until June next year unless production is boosted by intensive agriculture practices.
“The TRC is in a position now to know that about half a million Basotho face famine or severe food shortage because of the efficiency of the government,” Selinyane said yesterday.
“It is because of the openness, accountability, transparency and responsiveness and answering to the people for its actions on the part of the government that those statistics have been compiled, checked and rechecked, discussed and resources being deployed to ensure that nobody is left out of the net of potential beneficiaries and then the strategies are being put afoot.”
He further indicated that there was a recent announcement by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the DMA on behalf of government, of the preliminary estimation of the rollout of assistance.
“Other means and forms of assistance will be publicised and rolled out. This has nothing to do with, and it is not in competition with and it cannot be replaced by or it cannot replace the consideration of the security for the premiership.
“Those two things have nothing in common, it is like talking of pebbles and rubies. In this case I am not saying the pebbles are the premiership’s security and rubies are the food insecurity or vice versa,” he said.