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MPs grill ministers over service delivery




WHEN ’Mamokoena Mafeka retired from the civil service in May last year, she had given virtually all her adult life in service to her nation.

Mafeka joined the Ministry of Health in 1981.

When she retired after 34 years in the civil service, all she expected was that she would be promptly paid her pension and gratuity and get on with her life.

What she expected was a cosy retirement away from the hustle and bustle of government offices.

But that was not to be.

From the moment she retired, she was sent from pillar to post in her quest to access her pension.

Regrettably, she died on ** 2016 without accessing her pension and gratuity from the Pension Fund.

Her sad story was the subject of a fierce debate in Parliament last week as MPs discussed the quality of service, the state of schools in Lesotho and the non-payment of workers in the civil service.

The ABC MP for Mokhothong, Tefo Mapesela, was the first to take Health Deputy Minister Liteboho Kompi to task over delays by the ministry to process Mafeka’s pension.

Mapesela told Parliament that Mafeka started working for the Ministry of Health in May 1981 and retired in 2015.

Kompi apologised saying the ministry was sorry that Mafeka had not received her pension and gratuity payments.

The deputy minister said the ministry was unaware of the problem until after Mafeka’s death.

She said her file was taken to the Pensions Department in February last year.

But there were some administrative issues that involved her earlier salary increment after she was promoted which had not been captured in the system and included in the records.

She said it was only on May 13, 2016 when the file was sent to the Public Service Commission for the corrections.

The ABC’s MP for Motimposo, Pitso Maisa, stood up to complain that it seems that the government across all ministries has a tendency to sit on retired workers’ claims.

Maisa said it is always known ahead of time that a certain civil servant will retire but the government “always does not facilitate the payments on time”.

Kompi said she did not have complete answers but she recalled that the Public Service Minister Tsukutlane Au had in the past told parliament that he was working on the problem.

The MP for Pela-Tšoeu constituency, Tieho ’Mamasiane, also stood up and complained that the Ministry of Health had not built a health centre for the people of Kota and Teraechareng.

’Mamasiane said there is need to build a clinic near those villages to reduce the distance for villagers from Ha-Pentši and Ha-Makepe “who still travel more than 16 kilometres to the nearest health centre”.

’Mamasiane wanted to know how soon the ministry would intervene.

Kompi said the ministry is aware of the need for more health centres around the country adding the ministry is planning to set up such centres in all electoral divisions where nurses can go and provide services.

But ’Mamasiane was not satisfied with Kompi’s response.

She said the government should work hard to help the communities as “currently there is a businessman who has undertaken to provide mobile clinics every Thursday”.

“What is the government doing to help that businessman who is helping the community with this service?” ’Mamasiane asked.

Kompi said although the help from the businessman is welcome, the government will go to the villages once a month to provide health services.

“We understand that people will not wait for us to bring services so that they can be sick on that date. However, we cannot pledge to co-opt the businessman into the health system because by so doing we will have invited every businessman to do the same with the expectation that they would be absorbed into our system,” she said.

Education Deputy Minister Thabang Kholumo also came under fire from MPs who wanted him to explain why some schools are in a poor state.

Mapesela asked the deputy minister when the ministry will fill up a vacancy at Senekane Primary School.

The MP said the pupils had spent over a year without a teacher after their former teacher, who was also the school principal, retired in 2014.

Kholumo said the ministry had suspended the hiring of principals after it was seen that their contracts “had some problems that needed to be solved”.

“Once that problem of contracts is solved, that vacancy will be filled up,” Kholumo said.

Mapesela fired another question, asking the deputy minister why the ministry had not reviewed the salary of a teacher at the same school despite improving her academic qualifications in line with the ministry’s policy.

Kholumo said the teacher, ’Matumelo Molupe, together with many others, have not had salary increases as per Teaching Service Regulations of 2002 that require that teachers who have improved their educational qualifications should be paid according to their newly acquired certificates.

The deputy minister said “the ministry managed to pay others but did not pay others because of lack of funds”.

“Currently the Teaching Service Commission is working on finding funds to pay all teachers who have improved their educational qualifications,” he said.

The ABC’s Kolonyama MP, Halebonoe Setšabi, complained that Seetsa Primary School has only three classrooms to accommodate grades one to seven.

Setšabi wanted to know how soon the ministry will intervene “as the teachers are compelled to hold classes in any available space including dilapidated chicken coops which place pupils’ lives in danger”.

Kholumo said those classrooms are enough according to the ministry’s policy because each room is expected to accommodate a maximum of 50 pupils and the school has only 131 pupils.

He however said the sharing of classrooms among pupils of different grades affects the quality of education and “therefore the ministry is raising funds to build classrooms for all schools that are in need”.

“Because there are many schools that are in need, the ministry will start with those that are in great need,” Kholumo said.

“Seetsa will be one of the schools that will be assisted when there are funds,” he said.

’Mamasiane also complained that the village of Ha-Nkopa in Pela-Tšoeu does not have a school and “there are no bridle paths or footbridges and pupils have to travel more than 13 kilometres to and from the nearest schools”.

’Mamasiane said she is concerned that pupils have “to cross either a stream or a river” and lives have been lost in the overflowing rivers in the past.

Thabang kholumoKholumo said the “ministry is aware of the worrying condition” of the village adding a pupil was recently swept away by the flooded river.

He also acknowledged that the lack of bridges affects the time some children start school as parents wait until they are old enough to walk long distances and cross rivers on their own.

Kholumo however said the Leribe district’s education office had approached the village leaders with suggestions on how to approach the office so that the school can be built there, which they did.

He said the problem now is that there are no funds and the ministry is preoccupied with raising funds to build additional classrooms for the already existing schools.

Dissatisfied with Kholumo’s answer, ’Mamasiane said the ministry should be worried that the children’s right to education is being compromised especially because it is the government’s policy to ensure education for all.

She also complained that other constituencies have many schools and there is no fair and equal distribution of school facilities among the constituencies.

“If some children have died when they were trying to go to school, this should be a great concern for us,” ’Mamasiane said.

Kholumo said although he is of the feeling that the children are not treated fairly if they walk long distances to go to school and that they die when they cross rivers, he could not say when the ministry would respond to ’Mamasiane’s call “because we are yet to ask for funds”.

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