Lesotho needs to  invest in quality assets

Lesotho needs to invest in quality assets

My friend, Ts’epang Ledia, has so many funny stories about his childhood. The funniest of them all are stories of his primary school days at St James Primary School. There is one story in particular that left me laughing for days.

He once narrated a story of how corporal punishment used to be the order of the day and mostly embarrassing. In most cases, their teacher, Madam, as they were referred to in those days, would get so frustrated because they couldn’t grasp simple things.

So, Madam would take a duster and knock it onto the forehead with words that say, “u hlooho e thata”. “U hlooho e thata” simply means your brain doesn’t work. Each word of that phrase would be accompanied by a bang from the duster and all the chalk dust from the board would land straight onto the face.

The end result would be a white face full of chalk and teary eyes blinking uncontrollably. This would be more of an embarrassment to guys that had girlfriends or “cherries” in the same classroom.
Those were the good old days when commonsense could be manually induced into the head. Sometimes, I wish I could drive to St. James and borrow one of the dusters to knock some sense into a few individuals especially our politicians and lazy PS’s. Jesus, please help us!
Our people fail to grasp basic concepts of saving and investing. They don’t understand a basic concept of creating value and building wealth. They don’t understand the art of investing in long-term assets that will leave a legacy.

Our people believe in consumption. Their philosophy is that money has to be spent until there is nothing left.
My mentor always emphasized the need for Lesotho to invest in quality assets. He would say, “Invest in quality assets. The problem is that our leaders never understand the importance of investing in quality assets. They live from hand to mouth (Ba khabella hanong)”. The message didn’t really click at the time until the current crop of politicians and PS’s assumed power.
We live in a frustrating country. A country made up of men and women that don’t want to work hard for their country to be a better place. They are content with earning good salaries and driving nice cars. No aspiration to leave a legacy.

We live in a country that is surrounded by world-class infrastructure but fails to even copy and paste on the successes that its neighbour has achieved. It is like failing an open book examination. The answers are right there in front of you.

If there is one thing that I will always admire about the apartheid regime was the emphasis on investing in high quality assets. The road infrastructure is by far the most impressive. As well as various buildings such as the University of South Africa campus in Pretoria, as well as the Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg.
Those buildings were meant to make a statement and to create a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Coming back home, there was once a move to invest in quality assets. We have in the past managed to invest in buildings that are still standing to date.
I am referring to buildings such as the Lesotho Bank Tower, Hilton Hotel/Avani Lesotho Hotel and the Post Office buildings amongst others. Of-late, the new pension fund building has managed to make a very good impression of how small sites can be used optimally.

Even though we have a track-record of assets that are still standing, they certainly didn’t come easy. Some of them faced fierce opposition before they were built.
I remember when the Post Office Building was still in a planning phase and there was heavy opposition to scrap the project. Well, of-course, without valid and sound reasons. It needed a considerable amount of political-will to bulldoze the red-tape until the buildings came into fruition, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
Here we are, twenty years later, with assets with a combined value of about a billion maloti.

The same can be said about Pioneer Shopping Centre/Mall. The development faced opposition from all quarters before it was built. Some people claimed that the development failed Environmental Studies and was built on a wet land. Some claimed that the site was not adequate for a mall and should have been built somewhere in Masianokeng or Mazenod.
Here were are ten years later with an asset that demonstrated how well the private sector can work collectively, given a conducive environment. The development also “pioneered” modern

shopping centers in Lesotho and further created over 500 sustainable jobs.
Where are the sceptics now? I saw one of them that was against the Pioneer Mall development, busy shopping in Pick’n Pay last Sunday.
If there is one weakness/disease that Basotho people have, is to shoot down ideas without even fully understanding what is being said. Their favourite phrase is, “no, it won’t work”. That is the reason why Lesotho is so under-developed.

Let me make a short example of what I am talking about: In 2016, I approached an enterprise development corporation that deals with development of small and medium enterprises for Basotho (name withheld). The corporation had a vacant site somewhere next to Lakeside hotel in Sebaboleng.

I pitched a mixed-use development worth about M350 million. The development was made up of retail space on the first two levels and offices on the third to the fifth level.
The idea was to position the new development as a small business center in order to cater for small business incubation amongst other activities.
At the time, Honourable Selibe Mochoboroane was the Minister of Small Businesses. From what I was told, he was sold and really applied some political-will for the development to see the light of the day. Unfortunately, the regime changed and ushered in, very questionable characters with it. Very questionable indeed!

The development was then met with political meddling, lack of political will, timid executives, indecisive board members and very greedy individuals that claimed to be politically connected. There was one individual who even tried to hijack the project with a “Chinese businessman”. Yes, that one!
The major problem that I picked up was that, most of our executives are not clued up with Public, Private, Partnerships (PPP). The pitch was a simple and straight-forward BOT model (Build, Operate, Transfer).

However, I was told a long story of how the parastatal/corporation does not have governing laws on PPP’s. I was also told that there has to be a study tour to Botswana to get ideas on how PPP transactions are structured. Well, we all know that the study tour to Botswana was just meant for per-diem allowances, nothing else.
That is the end of the story and the development died a slow and peaceful death.

I recently drove past the site and to my shock, I saw park-homes (mek’huk’hu) that seem to have been erected there about a month ago. It made me wonder how the corporation could opt to utilize a prime site for park-homes instead of a development worth 350 million Moloti.
Well, my guess is as good as yours but I’ve recently learnt that park-homes have become the latest gold mine in Lesotho.

Our country is going nowhere unless we have people that are focused, determined and dedicated. We need long-term thinkers that are pro-development, especially in executive positions. More importantly, in Government structures.
Lastly, we can’t afford to have board members that only attend board meetings in order to feast on sandwiches and snacks. We need people that contribute meaningfully in meetings instead of chasing board fees. Otherwise, we are simply going nowhere as a nation.

‘Mako Bohloa

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