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Duty-Free purchases barred

…PS says diplomatic staff misuse benefits

…Staff shun the suspension saying the PS has no right

Lerato Matheka

Diplomatic Staff working at the Lesotho Consulate Offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Klerksdorp and Welkom have been barred from making any further duty free purchases as of October 31, Newsday has learned.

The Lesotho High Commission in Pretoria issued a memo on October 30 suspending all duty purchases owing to ‘abuse’ of the benefits.

The memo which reads: “All Lesotho Diplomatic Staff are hereby notified that they are no longer allowed to make duty-free purchases at any diplomatic shops in Pretoria.

The Decision is immediate and is aimed at curbing the misuse of duty-free purchases by staff who have been known to buy duty-free goods for third parties in flagrant and illegal misuses of the privilege. It is regretted that this blanket restraint will affect all staff without exception.

In accordance with their status, diplomatic staff are obliged to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner and in compliance with the laws of their host country. The High Commission requests staff to heed and comply with this decision.”

The memo was copied to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A diplomatic staff who spoke to Newsday on condition of anonymity told this paper that they were shocked when they received the memo.

“The PS (Foreign Principal Secretary Maphunye Monare) prior to the memo called the manager of the duty free shop where most dignitaries buy informing him not to let Basotho buy and we are talking about diplomats here. Then following was the memo,” the staffer said.

They added, “This decision by the government of Lesotho is simply infringing on privileges given to Lesotho Diplomats by the South African government, and the sad part is that unlike other diplomats whose salaries are converted to their host countries, ours remain the same as those of Lesotho rates. The allegation of misuse is a baseless accusation levelled against us.”

When asked how duty free affects the Lesotho government’s economy, the source indicated that the duty free purchases are privileges given to them.

“We wonder just how the PS plans to control this because she wrote to the shops and not the government of South Africa to perhaps issue a formal sanction. And according to Vienna Convention agreement on treatment of diplomats, what the PS has done is not allowed,” the staffer said.

Article 23 1, of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 notes that “The sending State and the head of the mission shall be exempt from all national, regional or municipal dues and taxes in respect of the premises of the mission, whether owned or leased, other than such as represent payment for specific services rendered.

“We are not about to listen to her when we are expected to endure so much of Lesotho’s injustices to us,” another staffer said indicating the memo was Pretoria specific.

“We will simply go elsewhere,” they said.

When contacted for a comment by this paper, Monare lashed out that she has an obligation to perform her duties without being questioned.

Demanding to know this paper’s sources, she stressed that all officers have signed an oath to keep official matter out of the media.

“I have a right to execute my obligation. I hate unformed allegations against me. I wrote to my staff and I did not speak with any shops,” the PS confirmed.

She added, “They don’t see the dangers of their misusing their benefits. I am merely trying to help them stop embarrass themselves. They are busy buying alcohol for their friends in access, an act that amounts to immediate dismissal. Clearly they are looking at this from face value, not realising the dangers it stomachs.”

“I want to believe this has reached you because they feel aggrieved and are complaining, but I will not justify my actions to you because when I acted, my actions are within my lawful capacities.

“All I can say is that I wish they can see the dangers of what I am trying to prevent, but since they chose to speak to you, then let them give you all they want, I will not be saying anything to the media,” Monare said refusing to take further questions. 

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