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Bid to revive Smart Partnership Hub

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MASERU – THE government is reviving the Lesotho Smart Partnership Hub in an effort to boost industry and eliminate bottlenecks on investment projects. Shata Mothae was appointed the new director of the Hub last year. He took over from ’Mampai Lebeko who has since retired.

The Smart Partnership Hub, housed in the Prime Minister’s office, helps the government to eliminate bottlenecks resulting from bureaucracy which may obstruct entrepreneurial projects in industry and commerce.

Lebeko told the Smart Partnership Hub’s revival indaba last Thursday that civil servants had sabotaged the project leading to its collapse. She said she battled to stop civil servants from using the Hub as a means to claim per diems even when they had not travelled for foreign trips.

“The Smart Partnership Hub had turned into a tool through which they had a chance to fly abroad,” Lebeko said.

“They would call each other and reserve their names in the list of those who would travel with the rightful participants at the international Smart Partnership activities.”

Lebeko said when she realised that this was the practice she stopped the abuse by inviting only eligible smart partners, especially from the professional links, who did not work in government.

“After I did that our progress was deliberately hampered,” she said.

The links, that include the academia, business, economy, media, youth, and social and cultural, abruptly stopped participating in the Hub. Speaking at the revival indaba, Mothae said it is now “time to reflect and see where we went wrong so that we correct and move forward”.

One of the pioneers of the Smart Partnership Hub, Tlohang Sekhamane, said the hub is a good initiative but unfortunately “Lesotho is where good ideas are born and also the graveyard of the same good ideas”.

“In my lifetime I have seen many good ideas in this country wax and later melt,” Sekhamane said.

Exhorting Mothae to be a good leader, Sekhamane said “the mark of a good leader is how many leaders better than himself he has created”. Sekhamane said the Smart Partnership Hub “encourages people to work together, create and sustain opportunities to access the global trade”.

“We create opportunities that if I was alone would not achieve,” he said.

He said it is because of the Smart Partnership Hub that Limkokwing University of Creative Technology decided to set up a campus in Lesotho. It is also because of the Smart Partnership Hub that the Ministry of Trade established the One-Stop-Shop to ease business registration process, among others.

The Smart Partnership Hub was also instrumental in bringing the warring famo gangs together and struck a peace agreement before 2016 but after the links stopped participating there were violent clashes again.

The man who led the peace talks between the Terene and Seakhi under the auspices of the Smart Partnership Hub, Lira Ralebese, said “at the time it was becoming more and scarier to even talk” about famo issues.

“However, the office motivated the leadership of the day to engage all the warring factions to lay down their weapons and make peace,” Ralebese said.

“The warring factions did at the time lay down weapons, victims were given counselling by our sister Ministries of Social Welfare and the LDF,” he said.

Ralebese said unfortunately this noble initiative did not live beyond the government that supported it. He said it is “implying that lack of political will also poses a challenge for some good initiatives to succeed”.

The Smart Partnership Hub is also credited with uniting the business community in a forum where they held the government accountable – talking directly in the same room with the cabinet. Ralebese said “that noble initiative was choked to death by ill-application of politics”.

Mothae called for unity, pledging to do his utmost to reunite the Smart Partnership Hub links “so that we are back on track”. The Smart Partnership Movement is an initiative under the auspices of the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM).

It is targeted at combining the resources of the CPTM with those of the private sector to facilitate optimal exploitation of technology for attainment of economic development.

Caswell Tlali

 

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LAA wins another international award

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MASERU – THE Land Administration Authority (LAA) has scooped yet another international award from the European Society for Quality Research (ESQR).

The award was presented to the LAA at a function held in Barcelona, Spain, last month.

The award was for best outstanding business results, best practices, quality awareness and achievement by companies in the regional and global markets.

This is the second time that the LAA has received an international award.

Last year the LAA was honoured with an international award on technology.

The LAA Director General, ’Mataeli Makhele-Sekhantšo, said the LAA was established as an autonomous government body by the Land Administration Authority Act.

She said the objective was to modernise and improve land administration services and to reduce land transaction costs.

“The ESQR awards recognise organisations’ distinctive performance improvement, organisational excellence, customer focus and encourage them to share their best practice, experiences and knowledge with other organisations,” Makhele-Sekhantšo said.

“The recognition is independent assurance for organisations stakeholder and customers and it motivates the organisation employees to strive for sustainable excellence,” she said.

The Board Chairman, Ratšele Ratšele, congratulated the staff of LAA for their hard work.

However, he said as much as the organisation has improved, “there are still some challenges which need to be addressed by the government”.

“The organisation still seeks to extend the issue of licenses in all the places across the country,” Ratšele said.

“The act that regulates estate agents still need to be strengthened,” he said.

He said sectional title deals which distinguish the size of land to be registered still need to be reviewed to allow people who can afford to buy small pieces of land.

Local Government Deputy Minister ’Mathato Phafoli said the government is proud of this organisation since “it fulfills the mandate of the local government for administering the lease holding”.
Phafoli said the administration for the lease is not only crucial for regulating land, but also to boost the economy of the country.

“Land is the crucial treasure which needs to be registered with the LAA so that it can benefit even the coming generations,” Phafoli said.

She said one of the government’s strategic plans is to improve food security.

However, agricultural land is being utilised for industrial purposes, business premises and for household purposes.

“We are worried as to how Basotho will in the coming years acquire food,” she said.

She said immediate action must be taken because Lesotho could fail to grow food for its people.

Phafoli said the government is more concerned about agricultural land which is being utilised for industrial purposes instead of food production.

She said this exposes the country to high risk of food security failure.

Refiloe Mpobole

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ETL flies students to USA

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MASERU – TWO Basotho students are off to the United States, thanks to Econet Telecom Lesotho’s HigherLife Foundation.

A farewell ceremony for the two was held in Maseru on Tuesday.

HigherLife Foundation is a social impact organisation that invests in human capital. It was formed by Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and his wife, Tsitsi, in 1996.

The Public Relations Officer of Econet Telecom Lesotho, Puleng Litabe, said each year they reserve two percent of their budget for the foundation.

She said they have so far sponsored 524 students ever since the foundation was established in Lesotho in 2011.

“These two students will add up to 18 students who studied in America through the assistance of the HigherLife Foundation since its establishment.”

Litabe said of the over 18 students they have sponsored to study in America, five of them are now working in Lesotho while seven of them are working in the US.

She said one student is working in Canada and three students are in their Doctor of Philosophy studies.

The Econet Chief Executive, Dennis Plaatjies, said HigherLife Foundation sponsored the two students since their high school days at Soofia International School in Leribe.

He said after completing their Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE), the foundation took them to Waterford University in Eswatini.

He said the foundation has several programmes with education as the major priority.

He said they assist Grade A students who are vulnerable.

One of the students, Nthati Lehloenya, will be studying at the University of Oklahoma. She said he was raised by a single parent.

Lehloenya said life was not a walk in the park due to financial constraints her family had.

She was lucky to be introduced to the HigherLife Foundation which ultimately changed her life.

“The foundation did not only change our livelihood but it has also impacted our communities,” Lehloenya said.

She explained that while at school she won a M16 000 fund for a community project she was working on at work.

The other student is Mahali Mabesa.

The one will be studying engineering while the other will be studying mathematics and physics.

A parent to one of the scholars, ’Mamahali Mabesa, said in 2012 the financial problems forced her to transfer her daughter from the National University of Lesotho International School (NULIS) to Soofia International School.

She said it was still hard to support her daughter’s education. The teachers realised that her daughter was working so hard and deserved financial assistance.

“They said they could not let this talent go to waste because of our struggle hence they would try all means so that she could be assisted,” Mabesa said.

Meanwhile, Econet Telecom Lesotho yesterday in partnership with Gem Institute Lesotho launched a tree planting campaign for 1 408 apples and peach trees at 16 schools in the lowlands and highlands.

The Founder of Gem Institute, Mpho Letima, said one of their mandates is to encourage the youth to venture into entrepreneurship, technology and agriculture.

She said they have partnered with the school ever since 2016.

Refiloe Mpobole

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LRA’s modernisation project extended to October

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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.

Refiloe Mpobole

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