MASERU – WHEN Maine Maine was forced to drop out of university due to lack of fees, he was dejected but not defeated.
Today, the 27-year-old moves in the circles of Lesotho’s business leaders – a sign of how determination to succeed paid off for a man who grew up in poverty and at one time seemed destined for perpetual paucity.
Maine, from Leribe district, has grown from being a tuck-shop owner to becoming the boss of one of the most identifiable supermarkets in Maseru.
Maine is the Chief Executive Officer and the brains behind the rapidly growing Enrich Store, a company wholly owned by Basotho and its shelves are stocked with Basotho produce.
The second born in a family of four siblings, Maine was raised by a single parent. He explains that he has been working hard so that his dreams can come into existence since high school.
His mother was working as a housemaid. Since the age gap between him and his siblings is narrow, there was a time where they were all in high school.
“She had to pay all our fees, and then also look for money to pay for food and other living expenses. It was hard to survive,” Maine said.
Maine says he would work hard to obtain good grades when he was at Hlotse High School in hopes that a good education could help pull his family out of poverty.
“My dream was to be an engineer like the other hard workers who graduated from the school,” he told thepost.
In 2012, after passing his Form E, he applied to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where he enrolled in the BSc General programme in 2013.
“My wish was to further my studies at Wits University in South Africa so I had to at least complete the first year of studies at the NUL or at least go to Machabeng for a bridging programme,” he said.
Maine said he was admitted at Wits University in 2014, and he officially withdrew from NUL.
“Since I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I had to save throughout the whole of the 2013/2014 academic year so that I could be able to go to Wits University,” he recalled.
Normally, students who were moving from Lesotho’s universities had to pay at least 50 percent of their loan to the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) and they were allowed to pay it in installments.
However, in 2014, he said they were expected to pay the 50 percent at one go.
“I took all my savings to pay the NMDS. However, the money was not enough. I had to pay for medical aid costing M4 000,” Maine said, adding that he was given a month to raise the money.
He said he started knocking on many doors asking for financial assistance and only managed to get M2 000 from his high school teacher.
He said when the deadline passed, authorities gave him a grace period but he still failed to raise that outstanding M2 000.
Maine said it was too late for registration when he eventually raised the money so his dream fell by the wayside.
“However, I still believed that I could still go to the university the following year so I went home to do some business so that I could raise the money for the following year,” said Maine, who needed about M10 000 to enroll for the upcoming academic year.
“I started with a tuck-shop where I was selling airtime, M-Pesa and accessories.”
His tuck-shop was generating about M70 profit a day.
Instead of saving the profits, Maine said he went on investing his money to open other tuck-shops until he had four of them in different places.
“I believe in investing more than saving,” he said.
He adds he was generating a profit of about M360 a day.
Maine said to widen his financial base, he started teaching high school students privately in the evenings and during weekends, helping them with different subjects, especially Mathematics.
He said he had about 250 students and each was paying M25 per month.
“I was making about M6 000 per month.”
He also compiled all the question papers and their answers to come up with a consolidated compilation.
The compilation was so much in demand that he went further to compile one for Mathematics in BSc together with his former classmates.
Maine said looking at the money he was generating, “I decided not to go to school anymore the following year and the love for business gradually grew”.
He said, with the little he had, he would buy data so that he could research more on how to make money.
He said he would research big companies, then conduct deeper research focusing on how they generate their profits and their contribution to the economy.
He said he then found out that the retail sector had the potential to stir up the economy.
“That is where the idea of Enrich was born,” he said.
Maine said he found that most of the big companies are not owned by individuals but by a wide range of shareholders.
He then established Enrich.
“It takes time to single-handedly raise the huge capital but if we come together, we will not only be able to raise the huge capital within a very short period of time but also broaden the ideas and skills to establish stable businesses,” he said.
Maine said their main objective of establishing the company was to contribute to economic growth through the creation of jobs and support local producers to market their products.
He said he realised that there are more creative producers in the country which are still struggling to market their items and ideas.
“If we are able to help them, we will not only be able to create jobs in the Enrich stores but for the local producers hence grow our economy,” he said.
Maine said after establishing the idea in 2019 together with one of his colleagues, Refuoe Monaheng who is the deputy CEO of Enrich, they then had to market the idea and look for investors.
He said around June 2019, they registered the company and continued with the marketing to raise more money.
“We then found a place to rent where we were asked to pay three months’ rent upfront, which was around M400 000. We used the money which we were raising to pay the rent, which was a risky move,” he said.
They ended up paying about M1 million in rentals and salaries before the operation could start, he said.
Maine said they continued marketing the business idea until they raised about M7 million before they could commence operations.
“The capital increased to this point because we had to pay the rent for about eight months before the operation could start,” he said.
Maine mentions that the business has now grown into a medium sized venture, with their outlets also operating butchery and bakery sections.
“We have created about 70 jobs so far and we have about more than 100 local suppliers working with us,” he said, noting that they are now supplying big businesses such as Stadium Food Court.
“The business is in a stable position now,” he said.
He said the team of shareholders includes experts in different fields, which makes the business more stable and reduces the expenses of sourcing expertise from outside when the need arises.
“This business has the potential to grow within a very short period of time since we are now generating profits,” he said.
However, Maine said it was not easy to sit down with each and every person for more than an hour to convince them to buy into the idea.
“Bearing in mind that most of the people we were trying to lure were the victims of forex scams, convincing them to be part of our idea was not an easy thing,” he said.
He said they plan to expand their business to other districts, including establishing a presence at high volume malls “within a very short space of time”.
Maine said Basotho should learn how to work in collaboration instead of opening small businesses individually.
He also urged people earning low salaries and the unemployed to pool their resources and buy shares in local companies.
“I have realised that shares are mostly bought by people who already have money and this is increasing inequality. People should invest the little they have so that they can earn more,” he said.
“Even the Bible says the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him,” he said.
LRA’s modernisation project extended to October
MASERU – A four-year project to modernise the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA)’s system which was supposed to have ended in June has been extended to October. The Lesotho Tax Modernisation Project is designed to address weaknesses and target areas for improvement that are linked to the main causes of weak tax administration in Lesotho.
It focuses on improving efficiency and service delivery, increasing Value Added Tax (VAT) compliance, and broadening the tax base. It is also meant to support the LRA to consolidate and deepen reform by focusing on redesigning and upgrading business processes.
It is also meant to develop an enabling legal and institutional framework, introduce modern information and communication technology to increase tax compliance and efficiency in tax administration. It also promotes peer learning and experience sharing with similar national revenue authorities in the region.
The purpose is to strengthen the government’s capacity to raise domestic revenue and provide fiscal space for priority public expenditures including counterpart funding for ongoing operations. The LRA said the project is at 90 percent towards completion.
Speaking at a media briefing in Maseru on Tuesday, the Project Manager, Mokhethi Mabeea, said the project began in July 2018 and it was supposed to end in June this year. They have extended the time to October 2022 because implementation it took longer than expected.
The project, he said, was designed to enhance their services and modernise old systems. Mabeea said they were working on a different scope which includes E-taxation. The E-filing was developed for Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) and deployed for piloting.
“We believe in October it will be up and running,” Mabeea said.
He said E-payment was also developed and under testing while E-registration is under testing development. Mabea said there is the Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse. He said the Business Intelligence was strategically developed and they are still in the process with the strategy which will assist in the implementation stage.
He said Operational Reports and Dashboards were developed and in use. He further said the Data Governance Framework was also completed and it is being operationalised. Mabea said an E-invoicing Solution was established late hence it will be completed around March 2023.
He said they also realised that the staff needed to be equipped with training as technology changes. They included amongst others the Block Chain Technology, special sectors in the financial sector and telecommunications sector, as well as business processes management.
Mabeea said in the Tax Administration Bill that was sent to parliament before it was dissolved two weeks ago. The Income Tax Bill was also sent to parliament while the VAT Amendment Bill has already been considered by both Houses.
Mabeea said that in the category of Small Business Tax Enhancement, they are seeking to treat small and medium entrepreneurs differently in terms of registration and filing of tax. The registration, filing and payment processes have been re-engineered. He said the configuration of the Core Tax Management System is in progress.
He said they are still calling upon all Basotho who are employed to file their returns. He said everyone paying tax should update their registration information. The Digital Service Manager, ’Makhothatso Khanare, spoke of an online rating tool which is still in progress.
She said they had introduced a tool management system in some of their offices to improve the quality of services they offer. She said they had so far achieved a 91 percent satisfaction level.
Khanere said however, they realised that since most of their services are conducted online, the level of satisfaction was not traceable. She said they expanded their rating tool digitally and a new product will be launched next month. She said this will allow all their clients who visit their offices and use the digital services raise their concerns and opinions.
We’ll ban import of agric products, says RFP
MASERU – THE Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) says it might consider banning the importation of agricultural products from South Africa to promote the domestic market when it wins power in October.
The party’s spokesman, Mokhethi Shelile, said this in an interview with thepost in reaction to the launch of a new agricultural produce market centre for the northern region last week.
Shelile, who was once the head of the Domestic Investment Promotion Division at the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), told thepost that such a ban would help boost local farmers.
He said for that to be effective, there would be need to support local production as the first stage.
“This is the major challenge for the market sectors currently,’’ Shelile said.
He said since the farmers’ capacity is still low, only a few products such as potatoes are banned this season. Shelile said the production sector will need special attention to help the market centre.
Once they form government, he said they will immediately implement the idea to boost local farmers.
Shelile said an RFP government is going to establish markets where farmers will be able to sell the products even before they can start with the production so that they secure the financial means of increasing the production.
He said they realised that there are farmers who are still losing on their products because they cannot access markets.
“We want to give farmers a market even before they can start,’’ he said, adding that this will encourage farmers to increase their capacity and improve their standards.
The Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) programmes manager, Khotso Lepheane, said the setting up of the market centres will boost the farming industry in Lesotho.
“For the longest time this concept has been a good idea,” Lepheane said.
“Many potato farmers, amongst others, have benefited from this (Maseru) centre,” he said.
However, he said this concept introduction lacks a strong system which will encourage the retailers and the final consumers to buy from the market centre.
“This has caused a stagnation of products from reaching the consumers,” he said.
“This has discouraged many farmers from taking their products in the markets centre since it takes time for the products to be sold out and this might lead to damage of products.”
He said most of the farmers still consider the old method much safer. As much as the initiative is good, he said the concept cannot achieve its goal unless the market is channelled to market centres rather than seeing retailers and consumers importing what the country is producing.
“This is one of their biggest diversification mechanisms to commercial agriculture hence there are still some pricing challenges,” he said.
However, he said the cost is still bearable as compared to the role the centre plays. He said farmers still consider it as part of the change not a hiccup. Despite the challenges, he said they are still playing their role to educate farmers on how to improve their capacity and quality.
He said they also teach farmers on how the commercial sector works so that the pricing issues cannot tarnish the good initiative. He said they are also working with different departments to smoothen the supply chain.
Lepheane said they want to see more market centres being established in all the regions.
The Manager of Maluti Fresh Produce, Nthako Supi, said the market centre has the potential to encourage high productivity and boost the economy of the country. He said for the past 10 years, they were able to gather about 240 farmers who were growing crops, vegetables and fruits.
He said this year they were able to gather about 87 potato farmers and over 6 200 bags were sold out. He said they have a transparent system which allows the farmers to know and see how their products were sold and how they work. He said the centre is only entitled to the commission of the money they generated when the product is sold.
“The product belongs to the farmers until it has been sold out,’’ he said.
As much as they tried to improve their system for the sustainability of the centre, he said they still have some challenges which need to be addressed for its sustainability. He said the consistency and low productivity from the farmers’ side as one of the major challenges.
The setback, he said, is that the place where the market side is located is far from the traffic and shops hence the number of customers is still low. Supi said the major challenge is the tight competition they had with the South African producers.
He said most of the retailers and final consumers still consider buying the products in South Africa rather than supporting the market centre.
“We currently have more potatoes in our storage which are not performing so well in the market due to tight competition,’’ he said.
He said this is triggered by inconsistency of local farmers in terms of quality and quantity.
“Consumers buy what attracts their eyes, so if today consumers get a good quality product and tomorrow they get something different they lose hope in us,’’ he said.
“For the market centre to continue functioning, the market has to be regulated.”
The Public Relation Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lereko Masupha, said Lesotho still needs to import basic products from South Africa because local farmers are not able to meet demand.
“However, our consumption is so high hence we still need products from other countries,” he said.
Blow for Akani
MASERU – A company fighting for a contract to manage Lesotho’s biggest pension fund paid bribes to win a similar contract in South Africa. Akani Retirement Fund Administrators, a South African company, has been fighting for the contract to manage Lesotho’s Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODPCF) since 2020.
The basis of its bid for the PODCPF contract was that it had a sterling track record in South Africa where it once managed the Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) which has 21 000 members and is worth M7 billion.
The PODCPF has 35 000 members who are government employees and, like the CINPF, is worth M7 billion. But in a massive blow to its reputation, South Africa’s High Court last week ruled that Akani bribed the trustees of CINPF to topple a rival company and get the contract.
The victim of its corruption, the court ruled, was NBC Holdings, a major shareholder in NBC Lesotho Insurance Company Limited with which Akani is fighting for the PODCPF contract in Lesotho. NBC had been the CINPF’s administrators for three decades when Akani instigated its termination and took over the contract.
It is those allegations of corruption that were at the centre of the long-drawn battle between the companies. The court ruled that in 2019 Akani paid three CINPF trustees to terminate NBC’s contract. It found that the trustees faked the deaths of three relatives to receive the bribes in the form of insurance claims paid through
Neighbour Funeral Scheme, a company with strong links to Akani. The payments were made to the trustees – Bonginhlanhla Dangazele, Reginald Sema and Ayanda Sithole – four months after NBC’s termination and a week after Akani’s appointment.
Dangazele was the CINPF’s principal while Sema was deputised by Sithole as the chairperson of the board of trustees. Akani and the three had vehemently insisted that the payments which happened on the same day in 2019 were insurance claims for relatives who had died around the same time.
The three took up the insurance policies with the Neighbour Funeral Scheme around the time they were aggressively pushing out the NBC from the CINPF contract. Their relatives too died around the same time and their insurance pay claims were paid on the same day.
The court ruled that it was a “remarkable coincidence” that the three had taken out the policies at the same time, their relatives had died around the same time and Neighbour Funeral Services paid their claims within four minutes of each other.
Dangazele received M40 000 while Sema and Sithole got M25 000 each. Justice Adams said there is no explanation why, out of funeral policy vendors, the three trustees signed up for policies with Neighbour Funeral Scheme on the same day, their relatives died around the same week and their claims were paid minutes apart.
The judge said based on “irrefutable inferential reasoning, the true purpose of the payments to Dangazele, Sema and Sithole was a bribe”.
“The explanation for the receipt of substantial payments all on the same day, all from one funeral scheme vendor, which happens to be a company related to Akani, one week after the appointment of Akani, in which decision they were directly involved, implies a series of truly remarkable and unlikely coincidences,” the judge said.
He ruled that the termination of NBC’s contract should be reversed because it had been tainted by corruption and fraud. The court also ordered the CINPF to remove Dangazele, Sithole and Sema as trustees. The judgement in South Africa has serious implications in Lesotho because Akani and NBC are battling for the contract to manage the PODCPF.
The fight started after the PODCPF renewed the NBC’s contract as an administrator following a two-horse race with Akani. Four of the PODCPF’s trustees, who preferred Akani disputed the decision, wrote to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was finance minister at that time, asking him to intervene to reverse NBC’s appointment.
They accused the board, of which they were members, of ignoring complaints against NBC in Lesotho and South Africa. They pointed out that NBC’s contract with CINPF has been terminated for “non-performance issues”.
They were referring to the same termination that the South African court has now ordered be set aside after finding that it was instigated by Akani through bribes to CINPF trustees.
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