MASERU – Transformation Resource Center (TRC) has condemned parliament’s decision to approve tax free petrol allowances for Members of Parliament (MP). The decision was taken this week when parliament adopted a report on the Members of Parliament (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations, 2020.
It was presented by the Portfolio Committee on the Prime Minister’s and Departments, Governance, Foreign Relations and Information Cluster and has among the existing benefits recommended that MPs be paid a tax-free petrol allowance as part of their allowances. TRC says the monies should be directed towards addressing poverty, and youth unemployment.
Scores of Basotho took to social media to show their disapproval of the decision and TRC has called on them to interrogate the caliber of their representatives and the extent to which they enact laws that seek to address issues that resonate with their needs as MPs.
The human rights body says MPs decision does not resonate with the interest of citizens and should therefore be undone. In a hard hitting statement published this week, TRC said MPs should demonstrate their commitment and prioritize curbing the spread of the COVID-19 which remains the course for concern.
The need to prioritize COVID the statement says it has become particularity important when Easter Holidays are fast approaching.
According to the organization, Lesotho’s economy is experiencing challenges brought by among other things, youth unemployment and thereby worsening the Covid situation.
“…economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lesotho have been severe, with a weak regional environment reducing remittances,” the statement read in part.”
It further states that “the pandemic comes at a time when Lesotho’s economy was already facing challenges with levels of poverty and especially youth unemployment remaining worryingly high. And that worrying also has been a difficult political context, characterized by a series of unstable coalitions that have struggled to deliver strong governance and quality public services.”
The tax free allowance, according to TRC, will be a further burden on the already high packages for MPs and should be undone.
“It remains amiss that in a country with a GDP projected to trend around 2.30 USD Billion in 2021 and 2.50 USD Billion in 2022, that for example, a ministerial package and a deputy ministerial package (minister/ deputy minister, 11/10 support staff) cost the country no less than M220 000 per package monthly.” The petrol allowance will add to the existing litany of allowances that the MPs are already receiving.
They include: a housing allowance which is a fully furnished rent free government house and maintained surroundings or a tax free housing allowance of M3 000 per month, the now tax free petrol allowance for a vehicle used for official business at the rate of M5 000 per month, a tax free electricity, telephone, cellular phone and water allowance at the rate of M2 000 per month, a tax free expense allowance to an amount of M1 000 per month, a tax-free sitting allowance of M150 per day as well as a tax-free constituency allowance in respect of an elected member of M400 per month in the lowlands and M600 per month in the highlands.
On top of that, an elected member is entitled to Constituency Secretary and Official Travel – Official travel in business class, 100 percent per diem and 10 percent entertainment allowance.
A tax free gratuity at 25 percent of the gross salary paid at the end of two years of continuous service and the balance shall be paid at the end of the term of parliament or when he or she ceases to be a member; and a tax free death gratuity which shall be four times the annual salary of a member.
The Centre also took an opportunity to remind MPs that as a collective in the main legislative body, they have an obligation to enact laws for the good governance and the administration of the affairs of the land to the benefit of the people of Lesotho and argued that the regulations presented in parliament do not resonate with the priority issues of the population, given the current global health crisis and social ills.
“The Centre reiterates that it is an abominable disgrace that despite the state sponsored luxurious life of the MPs as reflected in the Legal Notice in question on the Members of Parliament (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations, MPs would still insist on undermining and disrespecting Basotho, who due to COVID-19 and other social ills, poverty has gnawed down at the roots of their existence.”