The Ministry of Economic Development and Planning

The Ministry of Economic Development and Planning

Botswana and Eswatini have mastered the art of doing instead of talking. That is the reason why Gaborone and Mbabane’s city landscapes are full of cranes everywhere you go, whilst Lesotho is busy planning.
We live in a very strange country; a country that claims to be serious about job creation yet it’s anti-development. In my previous opinion piece, I quoted a phrase that my mentor over-emphasized every time we met. He would say, “Development equals jobs”. No jobs without development and no tax-revenue without the private sector.

Let’s be honest, Lesotho is not serious at all about development especially infrastructure development. Look at the condition of our roads! So, I still wonder what the purpose of the recent jobs and investment summit was.
Was it held with genuine intentions to package projects that can generate jobs? Or was the government simply staging a show to convince the general public that it is doing something about job creation? Or was it a way of convincing donor partners such as the IMF and the European Union that something is being done to address the jobs crisis?

Whatever the reasons were, my opinion is that it was simply a waste of time, money and energy. Some of the efforts that were put in the jobs summit have simply gone in vain.
An example was a project that I personally presented at the same jobs and investment summit. The project has gone straight to the dustbin.

The project I presented was a hotel development that was meant to generate well over a thousand jobs. The total cost of the development/investment was 1.2 Billion Maloti. The development was meant to be the tallest building in Lesotho when completed.
It featured 200 hotel rooms, 30 luxury apartments, conference facilities and retail on the ground floor (kindly refer to the artist impressions of the development as shown in the pictures).

It took about two years to package the project at a heavy cost because I had to engage various consultants for specialized skills. Projects of that nature usually cost about 2.5 million Maloti/Rands to package because of various studies that need to be conducted before any investor can inject a sizable amount of money.

I had to self-finance most of the costs related to packaging the project because the Lesotho government does not have funding or support for the preparation stage of projects. That’s why most serious countries such as Botswana, have a project preparation fund that is made available to entrepreneurs.

Anyway, to cut the long story short, the project was the biggest project at the jobs summit in terms of monetary value and was meant to create the highest number of jobs.
The project ended up destroyed after one government agency that deals with housing and land development (housing corporation), decided to pull the carpet during the process of presenting the development at the jobs summit.
The housing and land development agency that I won’t mention by name on this platform, had given my company a mandate to develop one of its sites under a build, operate and transfer (BOT) deal.

The mandate was unfortunately withdrawn/revoked for very flimsy and dubious reasons. I’m still yet to get the full version of the story from some of the board members of the housing corporation. Well, I was informed that the decision was made entirely by the board of which I still doubt.
I tried tirelessly to request intervention from the parent ministry of the housing corporation, at the Ministry of Local government and got no help. I went to the Ministry of Tourism and got promises for assistance but nothing came to fruition. I wrote a letter of intervention to the PS of the Ministry of Planning and got no reply. Not even an acknowledgment letter.

What we were promised as entrepreneurs was that the Ministry of Planning was willing to assist to break barriers and cut any re-tape that occurred. There was a group of Malaysian consultants that worked tirelessly to facilitate the smooth process of preparing the presentations for the summit.
The Malaysian consultants had a system named economic labs that was meant to focus all efforts into one project and to cut all the red-tape presented in the implementation phase of each project. What I found impressive, were efforts attempted by the Malaysian team in trying to assist entrepreneurs to break barriers. They really tried and acted professionally.

However, I realized that the Ministry of Planning had some serious shortcomings when it came to the facilitation process of projects. Very serious shortcomings. In all honesty, some of the staff members tried to assist where they could but were often sabotaged by government bureaucracy.

All in all the 1.2 Billion Maloti project is no more and Lesotho has lost an opportunity to create over a thousand jobs. My investors have decided to re-direct the investment to one South African metro-municipality and it has been welcomed with open arms.
Look, who cares about business in Lesotho? Who cares whether Lesotho loses an investment or not? No one! Maybe the First Lady could. I’m still of the opinion that the First Lady could have done something to intervene in the madness at the housing corporation.

In my interactions with various Government officials, not one is serious about business and economic development. No one is a champion of enterprise development. Not even the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It is focused on international travel and factory shells. We have a problem as a nation!

That brings me to this pertinent point: There is a gap in government where entrepreneurs and investors can present their projects. There is a vacuum where government officials can run with projects through the various stages of the development process. Some people can argue that, the function is a responsibility of the LNDC.

However, I think the LNDC is not focused on domestic investments. Well, it’s a debate for another day. However, there isn’t a single ministry that can cut all the red-tape and present projects all the way to the cabinet and follow-up on implementation. That is the reason why projects lie idle on Ministers desks and gather dust for years. We have a problem!
Secondly the lack of a project preparation fund will be the reason why most projects will never see the light of day. Entrepreneurs need funding for feasibility studies and other technical studies such EIA’s that may be needed on each project stage.

My opinion is that the Ministry of Planning is focused on the macro-economic planning of the economy and “manpower”. The ministry has also focused entirely on the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP). The main weakness comes in the actual implementation and follow-up of proposed developments and projects.

I think we need to re-engineer the Ministry of Planning & Development into the Ministry of Economic Development and Planning. It is a matter of re-positioning the viewpoint of the ministry from Planning to a wider scope of developing a vibrant economy.

That involves with dealing with different spheres and dimensions obstacles in each of the top four industries that have been earmarked for job creation, namely, Tourism, Commercial Agriculture, ICT and Manufacturing. Each sector needs a separate department of specialists within the new ministry.
Economic development will encompass the macro-economic planning that is informed or backed-up by sound statistics. That is the reason why it is imperative to create an autonomous statistics authority that will assist Government and entrepreneurs with sound decision-making.

The current Bureau of Statistics is under-resourced, under-staffed and lack credibility. It needs autonomy to work freely without any interference from the Ministry of Planning. Statistics are a backbone of any economic planning or policy making.  There is no sound government that can attempt to run a state without sound and credible statistics. It’s impossible.

Look, government needs to walk the talk. Our country has done enough talking to last a lifetime. We have also done enough workshops as a nation. That’s all we see on LTV. We hardly ever see any ribbon cutting of “serious” developments.
Our biggest weakness as a country comes in the doing. In getting our hands dirty. Basotho have a famous phrase that says, “linala mobung”, which can be loosely translated into getting one’s hands and nails dirty by doing the work.

‘Mako Bohloa

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