MASERU – The office of His Majesty, King Letsie III, is so broke that it cannot afford to buy two cars. This is according to the parliament’s portfolio committee on the prime minister’s ministries and departments, governance, foreign relations and information.
“The Office of His Majesty is faced with the following challenges: lack of funds to purchase two vehicles for the office of His Majesty; and lack of funds to fill crucial positions,” the portfolio committee noted in a report presented to parliament this week.
The King is a constitutional monarch and a head of state. The portfolio committee’s report also revealed that in the previous financial year, 2020/2021, His Majesty’s office approved recurrent budget amounted to about M8.5 million.
It indicated that 90.8 percent of the funds were utilized to fill vacant positions and to maintain office blocks. Approved capital budget was M20 million and “utilized to complete interior architectural work on the structures of the new Palace Building”, the portfolio committee said.
In the current financial year, 2021/2022 which started on April 1, the King’s office was allocated a total amount of M10 799 862 as recurrent budget, according to the committee’s report.
The committee said the main activities for this financial year will include filling vacant positions and repairing and maintaining vehicles.
It said: “However, the Office of His Majesty indicated that the requested funds will not be adequate to cater for all activities, therefore an additional amount of M515 000 is required.”
“Under capital budget estimates for 2021/2022 financial year, the Office of His Majesty has a total funding of M20 000 000,” the committee added.
It said the funds would be used on the new Royal Palace building for interior design and new chapel structural work.
It further said it was also indicated that the funding will not be adequate to finance all outstanding work towards completion of the project (new royal palace), therefore an additional funding of M35 million was requested.
“The committee observed that there is a need to provide the Office of His Majesty with an additional funding to finance all works towards the completion of the new Royal Palace building,” it said.
The new royal palace project has experienced several challenges including withdrawals of two architects since work began in 2010. Palace Architects, a South African company, began designing the palace in 2010 but left the project after a contractual dispute with the ministry of public works.
Another architecture firm, Makeka Design Lab, withdrew in July 2018 citing a breakdown in relations with the ministry of public works as the main reason for abandoning the project. The portfolio committee on the prime minister’s ministries and departments, governance, foreign relations and information also requested that the National Assembly budget be increased by over M7.5 million.
It said the national assembly has the total amount of M89 306 094 as recurrent expenditure for the financial year 2021/2022, allocated for wages and salaries, travel and transport, operating costs and acquisition of non-financial assets.
“The committee observed that the budget will be insufficient to cater for effective oversight function and other crucial activities,” it said.
“The committee recommends that the Minister of Finance reconsider the Ministry’s budget by providing additional budget of M7 542 040 to cover the necessary planned activities,” it added.
Increasing budget for the National Assembly was reiterated by the portfolio committee on the economic and development cluster in its consolidated report on the annual budget and estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2021/2022, which was also presented to parliament this week.
“The Committee requests the Minister of Finance to reconsider the budget ceilings of both the Ministry of Defence and the National Assembly,” the committee stated in its report.
It added that: “It seems both Ministries will not be able to deliver on their mandate under the current ceilings. For instance, in the case of National Assembly it is almost impossible to fully perform oversight duty with a M5 million budget, and the Honourable Minister to reconsider allocating the National Assembly additional M2.2 million extra for Transport and Travel costs.”
The National Assembly received a widespread condemnation from the public and some politicians for passing the Members of Parliament Salaries (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations, 2020 which will see Members of Parliament who are not part of the executive receiving a monthly “tax free” M5 000 petrol allowance, among other benefits.
Aside from the over M37 000 monthly salaries, the regulations entitled members of national assembly and senate to M3 000 housing allowance per month.
The benefits also entitled MPs to M2 000 per month for electricity, water and telephone and a M1 000 expense allowance. They also entitled them to a sitting allowance of M150 per day.
In total, government will spend approximately over 16 million on MPs benefits annually.
The MPs have fiercely defended the benefits.