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LESOTHO wants to brand itself as an investor-friendly destination. At the Lesotho Investment Forum in London last week, a ministerial delegation highlighted the country’s effort in diversifying its economy, presenting a host of investment projects, ranging from renewable energy and agriculture to information communication technology and tourism as well as the burgeoning diamond mining industry. “There are certain things that we cannot change,” said Minister of Trade and Industry Joshua Setipa, speaking at the forum and referring to the country being landlocked. “But what we can do is improve efficiency, bringing down the cost of doing business.”Setipa spoke to a journalist from the Global Trade Review on the side-lines of the forum about what else Lesotho wants to achieve and what challenges it faces in trade and investment.

 

You became minister last year. What goals would you like to achieve by the end of your mandate?

We have a number of priorities which fall in different categories of our work. If we talk about the policy reform side, we have a policy agenda that includes reviewing certain pieces of legislation, such as consumer protection, putting in place new legislations, putting in place a new investment policy and a new industrial policy, both of which we’ve done, and working on an overall trade policy, which we will begin working on in the next 2-3 months.

What are the priorities for your trade policy?

The priority is on how to use trade to develop our development strategy, so anything that would help us reposition ourselves and have the right mix of trade policy to facilitate growth, which of course drives development, is good. We also want to use that to drive our capacity to trade. At the end of the day a brand new shiny trade policy in place is useless if we cannot trade, so we need to improve our capacity to trade.

How does that relate to enabling access to finance?

Financing is an integral part of that strategy. Over 80 percent of our economy is made up of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and those SMEs need access to trade finance. Being a small market, trade finance is very costly. It’s not possible for the average company in Lesotho to walk into a bank and get a letter of credit. Banks find them highly risky so they’ll only work with them if there is an intervention by the state or another institutional bank to mitigate that exposure.

Banks in Lesotho are sitting on so much liquidity of government resources, but they are still not lending. Clearly the solution is not on the banking side anymore, it is on alternative ways to mitigate risk or to provide that type of financing. We’ve got innovative things that can be done, such as warehouse receipts systems that hedge against the actual harvest, which is what you do for clients who do not have balance sheets at the moment. Those are the type of interventions that we need.

One of the most promising sectors in Lesotho is the diamond mining industry. Zimbabwe has recently pushed for nationalisation: what is your strategy to develop the sector?

I don’t think the idea of nationalisation has ever crossed our minds and I don’t think in 2016 we should even be talking about that. Our objective is to drive increased investment into the sector, not just foreign direct investment, also domestic investment mobilisation. Our preoccupation is to continue to improve the value proposition.

South Africa, one of your most important trading partners, is going through a period of economic downturn. How does that affect Lesotho?

Unfortunately for us, all our major economic partners are going through a rough patch. The slowdown in the US saw a very big decline in the demand for our products, particularly in clothing, so we felt it. South Africa is our second-biggest export market for clothing and 35 percent of our exports go to South Africa. We do see a decline in that market so we feel it.

Which other markets are you turning to?

We are looking at non-traditional markets. I was in Poland, I am going to Turkey: we are going to new alternative markets to try mitigate all that. I think the US is saturated.

How does the US negotiation of big trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) affect your trading relationship with the country, with whom you enjoy preferential trade relations under the African Growth and Opportunity Act?

Our preliminary assessment is that TPP is bad news for us. The TPP includes a country like Vietnam, which exports the same line of products that we export to the US and is already much more competitive that we are. What the US gives on one hand it takes with the other hand.

Lesotho is one of the 10 African countries to have ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. How important is the WTO for a country like Lesotho?

For countries like Lesotho the WTO is the only insurance policy we have that we won’t be trampled and run over. It levels the playing field, it gives us the same weight and the same attention that the US gets. — Global Trade Review

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Short courses for ex-mineworkers

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THE Lesotho Diamond Academy has introduced mining short courses, particularly to ex-mineworkers, to help them re-enter the mining sector.
The Essential Introductory Courses, which will run for two weeks, will start from June this year. The courses are meant particularly for people who worked in mines in South Africa.

The Academy’s CEO, Relebohile Molefe, unveiled the new courses during the graduation of 18 students last week, four of whom are now armed with Cutting and Polishing certificates while 14 graduated with Rough Diamond Evaluation certificates.

The new courses include the Essential Certificate in Diamond Grading and the Essential Certificate in Diamond Evaluation.

“The decision to offer these courses aligns with the Academy’s dedication to bridge the gap and ensure that individuals with valuable experience can seamlessly reintegrate into the diamond and jewelry industry,” Molefe said.

“By providing short courses, the academy does not only impart essential skills but also contributes to the sector’s growth by reactivating experienced individuals who had lost access to the industry due to no formal documents showing their experience in the industry,’’ she said.

During the graduation celebration, Molefe also unveiled a new sponsorship programme for various courses.

One outstanding student previously sponsored, who demonstrated exceptional proficiency in Rough Diamond Evaluation, was granted a fully funded bursary to further his studies into Advanced Certificate in Round Diamond Brilliantering.

In pursuit of its multifaceted objectives, one of which is to serve as a catalyst for employers in the diamond and jewelry sector to devise skills development strategies, the Academy is set to sponsor four additional students in the upcoming intake starting from February 15.

Two of these bursaries will afford a 30 percent discount on overall fees for two students progressing from Cutting and Polishing to advanced studies in Rough Diamond Evaluation.

Two will be fully funded bursaries to study for a Certificate in Diamond Cutting and Polishing.

Additionally, the institution will extend two fully funded bursaries to the public, fostering inclusivity and expanding opportunities.

The Academy says it plans to announce the search for two deserving Basotho individuals on its social media pages and website.

“Importantly, the bursary programme bears no age restrictions, reflecting a commitment to fairness and inclusiveness, ensuring that opportunities are accessible to all, irrespective of age,” it says in a statement.

The Academy says it seeks “to be a dynamic force in shaping the industry, not just within national borders, but also on regional and international platforms”.

“The emphasis on competitiveness within these markets underscores the institution’s commitment to producing graduates who are not only proficient but also globally competitive,” the statement reads.

“The recent graduation ceremony symbolises a milestone in the Academy’s journey. The success of its students is a testament to the quality of education and the foresight embedded in the curriculum.”

The Academy says its decision to sponsor further education for outstanding performers reflects a belief in nurturing talent and contributing to the continuous improvement of the diamond industry.

The Lesotho Diamond Academy was founded by the late Mpalipali Molefe, a prominent educator, diamond trader and an MP, who recognised the imperative to elevate professionalism in the diamond industry.

Staff Reporter

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Bank hands over uniforms to students

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THE Lesotho Post Bank donated uniforms to students at Leqele High School worth a staggering M60 000 as part of its Back-To-School campaign.
The bank said it did this “to keep needy children in school and to promote their education”.

A teacher at the school, Tšepo Semethe, said the uniforms will likely motivate the students to work harder in their studies.

Semethe insisted on giving the bank the names of the students so that it could check their performance at the end of the year.

“At Leqele High School, we work very hard because what we want is excellence above all. To us, hard work pays,” he said.

The bank’s Chief Risk Officer, Molefi Khama, said they are getting old, they will soon retire and Lesotho Post Bank will be in the hands of these children.

He pleaded with the students to work harder.

“This is why we decided to come here to support the students in their education so that when coming to school, they should be confident,” Khama said.

“We are watching you and waiting on you,” he said.

The school’s head prefect, Tholoana Monatsi, said from now on, “no student will be identified by what they wear”.

“(Lesotho) Post Bank made us one and we thank them for that because what we wear cannot stand before our education. We indeed thank you and forever you will hold special places in our hearts,” she said.

A parent, ’Marorisang Latela, said they were very grateful for the gift from Lesotho Post Bank adding that they must also donate to other schools.

Minister of Trade, Mokethi Shelile, promised to go back to the school to discuss how the children could learn in comfortable surroundings.

Relebohile Tšepe

 

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Mamello School of Special Needs wins prize

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MAMELLO School of Special Needs is the first-place winner of Standard Lesotho Bank’s Scaled-Up Pitching Den held at Maseru Avani on Tuesday.
The school has secured a grand prize for an all-expenses-paid trip to Kenya to participate as a finalist representing Lesotho at the Standard Bank Africa Awards.

The school, pioneered in 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic through Zoom classes, deals with children who live with conditions such as autism, attachment disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) dyslexia, Down syndrome and slow learners.


STKTM Solutions claimed the second-place spot, receiving a commendable M10 000, while Masia Farms secured third place and a M5 000 prize.


Pheello Masia of Masia Farms, thanked Standard Lesotho Bank for backing their vision and that of other Basotho entrepreneurs.


He acknowledged that the bank’s faith in their endeavours serves as a source of inspiration, propelling them to work harder and foster growth within the community.


The event, aimed at fortifying support and fostering regional integration for Basotho entrepreneurs across the African continent, showcased the bank’s commitment to driving the growth of Lesotho.


Malatola Phothane, Head of Enterprise Banking at Standard Lesotho Bank, set the tone in his welcoming remarks.


“As Standard Lesotho Bank, through business and commercial banking, we strive to turn possibilities into opportunities,” Phothane said.


“Lesotho is our home, and we drive her growth,” he said.


His words resonated with the bank’s dedication to nurturing local talent and fostering economic development.


Phothane acknowledged the eight finalists, commending them for their resilience and passion for their businesses.


He emphasised how each entrepreneur had stood their ground, displaying knowledge and unwavering commitment.


The recognition not only highlighted the achievements of the finalists but also underscored the bank’s role in recognising and uplifting the entrepreneurial spirit within the community.


Aliciah Motšoane, founder of Prestige Furnitures and Sentebale Gap Funeral Services, played a significant role at the event as a motivational speaker, sharing her entrepreneurial journey filled with challenges and triumphs.


She recounted her humble beginnings when she was selling bread in high school, leading to the establishment of Prestige Furnitures in 1998.


Despite facing a significant setback after her shop was burnt down during the riots and incurring a loss of M5 million, Motšoane never gave up.


She said business is always a demanding endeavour adding that it needs hard work and a unique mindset.


She urged entrepreneurs to embrace their roots, seek inspiration, and persevere through challenges.


The keynote speaker, the bank’s Head of Business and Commercial Clients, Keketso Makara, said the bank is committed to foster a thriving business environment, highlighting the pivotal role of youth collaboration across diverse economic sectors.


Makara said their mandate aims to empower youths in steering the private sector towards growth, contributing to economic diversification.


Makara urged the eight finalists to actively involve bankers in refining their proposals for maximum impact on economic stimulation and sustainable development.


The bank said the Scaled-Up Pitching Den not only served as a stage for entrepreneurs to present their ventures but also acted as a driving force for networking, collaboration, and collective empowerment.

Staff Reporter

 

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