Budget not fully pro-poor: LCN
Finance and Development Minister Dr Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane mentioned poverty five times in her 41- page 2023/24 budget speech but the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) has says the budget is not fully pro-poor.
Matlanyane recently told parliament that the overriding objective of the budget was to accelerate inclusive, employment generating and poverty reducing economic growth.
She said the road to recovery and growth that produces employment and reduces poverty was anchored on the pursuit and achievement of two goals.
First, the government, she said, has to restore the macro-fiscal stability and consolidate public financial management reforms to entrench fiscal discipline.
Second, the government has to ensure the efficient use of resources and improved controls and accountability.
“These are critical in rebuilding confidence of the local and foreign investors, as well as development partners in our public policy and management,” Matlanyane said.
The minister also acknowledged that a thriving private sector was fundamental to poverty reduction.
But a few hours after she delivered her speech, Sekonyela Mapetja, executive director of LCN, told a gathering at Victoria Hotel in Maseru that “while the policy options introduced can mobilise revenue which will in turn benefit the poor, in our view the budget is not fully pro-poor though”.
Every year LCN organizes budget speech analysis where it breaks down the speech as presented by the minister of finance evaluating the extent to which the speech speaks and align to the issues of national importance and the needs of Basotho.
Almost half (49.7 percent) of Lesotho’s population, according to the Social Protection Program and Systems Review for Lesotho, lives below the national poverty line and about one quarter (24.1 percent) lives in extreme poverty.
Lesotho’s national poverty rate is measured at the national poverty line of M648.88 (2017 prices) per adult equivalent per month.
In absolute terms, this translates to 994,000 people living below the poverty line and 484,000 living in extreme poverty (most recent estimate).
Therefore, one million Basotho do not live at a basic level of consumption sufficient to easily weather shocks, and half a million live at an extreme level of vulnerability.
The Social Protection Program and Systems Review for Lesotho also found that eighty percent of Lesotho’s poor and 84 percent of the extremely poor live in rural areas.
Not only do Basotho living in rural areas face higher risks of being in poverty, but have lower educational attainment, particularly in post-primary.
Educational attainment by poor students falls precipitously after the primary level.
Fee policies and lack of secondary schools in remote rural areas contribute to limited demand for and access to secondary school, particularly among the poor.
Sixty-nine percent of girls aged 13-17 who were interviewed when the review was conducted cited ‘too expensive’ as the reason for dropping out of secondary school.
Access to health services and low coverage of essential public health services disproportionately affects the poor and rural residents, the review also found.
Matlanyane told parliament this week that with regard to social vulnerability, M1.1 billion had been set aside to take care of the most vulnerable citizens.
“As I have indicated earlier, the living conditions of many Basotho have worsened,” she said.
In its quest to restore household buying power of the marginalised groups of society, she explained that the government would increase child grants from M120 per month to M200 per month and disability grants from M400 to M600.
The number of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) receiving bursaries would also be increased from 26,400 to 36,000.
The minister also said that the government would continue to support free primary education program, and as such, said M238 million had been set aside for this purpose.
In addition, she added, M2.5 billion had been set aside to finance other educational programmes in basic and higher education.
Matlanyane further indicated that the government was continuing its mission to provide efficient healthcare systems by improving access to basic primary healthcare services.
“This budget proposes M3.2 billion for financing health sector programmes. This will allow deployment of the health workforce in critical areas, procurement of critical equipment in hospitals, and implementation of disease prevention programmes,” she said.
Mapetja said the budget still lacked much on doing things differently and still repeated some of the same things as the previous budgets.
“The government, however, needs to focus more on quality of public spending as it is critical for making the state more effective and monitoring and reporting on previous performance,” he said.
“The country has not been bold enough to declare water as a human right commodity,” he added.