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Public demands accountability at tax indaba



MASERU – “WE are fed up with the government’s irresponsible expenditure.”
This was the loud message from a two-day Lekhetho Khotla (tax indaba) held in Maseru this week.
Participants at the expo, held between Tuesday and Wednesday, did not mince their words when they demanded that the government should account for every cent it spends.
The Lekhetho Khotla was hosted by the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).

The public used the platform to vent their frustration at and disapproval of the lack of accountability regarding the use of their taxes.
“The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has revealed that our funds are mismanaged, yet instead of coming up with mechanisms to curb the misuse of public funds, the LRA is coming up with more ways to collect tax,” complained Phomolong Guest House director ’Mawinnie Kanetsi.

One of the participants, a former employee of the Ministry of Finance, Moyepi Sematlane, said government expenditure needs serious evaluation and monitoring by an independent body.
“When there is money we tend to create entitlements for ourselves and end up financing those entitlements with public coffers for something that is not for the benefit of the public,” Sematlane said.

The accountant-general Sam Mphaka said laws need to be strengthened in order to fortify the weak system currently in place.
Mphaka said the system places a lot of emphasis on tax collection and auditing but fails to direct similar efforts towards the accounting and management of public funds.
“We do not have a national treasury. We only have a department of treasury under the Ministry of Finance in which the accountant-general does not have power,” Mphaka said.
He bemoaned the absence of a national treasury saying it makes it difficult to hold the government to account on how it uses public funds.

“As a result we will still have qualified audit reports, tax leakages for the next coming years because the management and accounting part of the chain are very weak,” he said.
He emphasised that to change the status quo and have an efficient collection, accounting, management and auditing of public coffers laws should give more power to the accountant-general.
“The inefficiency is in the law itself, it does not say anything about the accountant general,” Mphaka said, adding: “He is a mere officer at the mercy of other officers or seniors to get his job done.”
“Unless the laws are changed we will remain in this state.”

Mphaka said fortunately “we are going through reforms and these are issues that we need to look at”.
Other participants complained that the LRA poses stringent tax laws for locals while being lenient on foreigners.

’Marethabile Sekhiba of Scenery Guest House said although tourism has been identified as a priority sector, not much has been done by the government to help develop the industry.
“We do not see the same determination that was used to attract foreign direct investment when we wanted to develop the manufacturing sector,” Sekhiba said.
“There are no tax and other incentives for the industry,” she said.

She also complained that the government fails to pay suppliers on time resulting in the collapse of businesses and job losses.
“Even banks do not want to give us credit because they say we do not pay as the government is holding us hostage,” said Sekhiba.
Nthako Sekome of the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said corruption within government ministries is a serious issue affecting the private sector.
Sekome stated that to stimulate the economy, the government should consider cutting taxes.

“By so doing, government would be making it possible to have more money to spend, stimulating the demand for goods and services, which in turn will drive production up and grow the public sector,” Sekome said.

“The growth of the public sector will translate into more jobs and taxes,” he said.
He said the business community is currently held hostage by a few corrupt individuals who demand bribes before issuing contracts.

The board chairman of the LRA, Robert Likhang, said the tax expo will be an annual event to be held at the beginning of the annual fiscal planning cycle.
Likhang said this will enable a conversation that will inform the authority’s advice to the Ministry of Finance as the ministry decides on its tax policy priorities for the next year.
“The conversation will also provide the authority itself with feedback on how it discharges the tax administration function that it has been entrusted with, which includes suggesting appropriate legislative amendments,” Likhang said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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