Poverty needs to be uprooted

Poverty needs to be uprooted

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane is a man under pressure.
He has to deal with squabbles in his own party, keep his flagging government intact while trying to keep the lid on the growing anger in the country.
Things have not been going well for both his party and government.
He too seems to have become fixated on the factional fights in his party while seemingly forgetting that he has to deliver on his campaign promises.
It had been long since he spoke about something other than the troubles in his party.
That is why it was refreshing to hear him talk about jobs when he spoke at the sod turning ceremony of Tikoe Phase III.
The prime minister promised thousands of jobs during the construction and in companies that will operate at the industrial site.
He said the government will help fund small construction companies to have a piece of the action during the construction.
It was a rare dose of positive news in a country that seems overwhelmed by political skirmishes.

The question is whether these jobs will be created. It would seem obvious that the construction will create jobs.
What is doubtful is whether there will be companies to occupy those factories.
And even if they do come there is doubt that they will last long given the political instability and labour unrest.
What is clear is that after presiding over a struggling economy, Thabane cannot afford another batch of unfulfilled promises.
At Tikoe he talked about specific numbers that many will watch as the project unfolds. If things don’t turn out as he promised this will be counted as one of those many promises he has failed to fulfil.
It will not look good on him, especially now that there is already anger against his government. Time is not on his side.
The past two years have been nothing short of a disaster for his government. Poverty remains chronic and unemployment remains high.
Thabane and his coalition partners know that to win the battle against poverty they have to start by creating jobs.
To have those jobs they have to create a conducive environment for business to thrive.

The quality of the jobs is important but not entirely urgent at the moment.
What matters now is that people, especially the youth, urgently need jobs to start earning a living.
In time they will talk about better wages but for now all they want is to be hired somewhere.
It doesn’t take rocket science to create jobs.
Already there is a policy guide in the form of National Strategic Development (NSDP) whose main goal is to pursue high, shared and employment creating economic growth. It says the most effective way out of poverty is the creation of employment.
The current situation however makes it harder to achieve those goals even if the government is working hard on them.
The odds seem to be against the government.
And it is dealing with problems that keep multiplying every day.
For instance subsistence farming which used to act as a buffer against poverty for the rural population is in steep decline.

Successive droughts, changing rainfall patterns, lack of inputs and poor soils have combined to cut food production.
Unable to make a living from farming, many young people have trooped to towns where companies are either closing or cutting jobs.
We are just not creating enough companies to absorb both the unskilled and skilled labour in this country.
The mines in South Africa are in decline and unable to hire more Basotho.
South Africa’s economy itself is going through a tumultuous phase that makes it impossible to create jobs.
Meanwhile colleges keep churning out more graduates than the waning industry can hire. Thabane is therefore chasing a moving target.
By the time the thousands are employed in Tikoe there will be more youth out of school and hunting for jobs.
The trouble, as I see it, is that the government keeps focusing on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a panacea to the high unemployment.
The reality though is that it is not easy to attract investment especially in a country blighted by political instability.

In any case, we are scrambling for investors in a highly congested market.
There are other countries with better infrastructure, skills and incentives to attract the same investors we seek.
Perhaps that answer doesn’t lie in big conglomerates but small companies owned by local entrepreneurs.
We need to create an environment that allows small companies to thrive.
We have to inculcate the spirit of entrepreneurship among our people.
But for that to happen we have to create a sustainable funding model.
Any businessperson will tell you that their biggest challenge is capital to start operations and cash-flow to sustain the business running.
Yes, banks offer loans but many people don’t have the required collateral.
Lesotho has to create its own industry if its wants to have a shot at reducing unemployment.

‘Matšilo Nkabane

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