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Driving growth in banking



MOLEFI Leqhaoe finds himself behind the driving wheel of the only fully Basotho-owned bank, the Lesotho Post Bank, at a time when the banking industry is undergoing a radical shift. The shift is driven by new competition from mobile money platforms, changing business models, and disruptive technologies among others. Leqhaoe does not only have to keep an eye on the business but also to guard it against politicians’ interference since the bank wholly belongs to the government. Our business reporter, Refiloe Mpobole, spoke to Leqhaoe about these subjects. Below are excerpts from the interview.

As you know very well that most government-owned institutions often do not succeed, were you not afraid when you joined the bank, fearing that you would fall in the same pit?
My team and I are here to take challenges. This is what keeps us going. When you look at the history of Lesotho banking, most of those banks failed because of poor corporate governance.

This is what kills most of the organisations, especially banks. That is why we need to be on top of our game. When we came in as new management, we wanted to initiate some changes and demonstrate to Basotho that Basotho are capable of running big institutions. This is also being portrayed through our engagement in several countries where we advise on good corporate governance.

We have to ensure that our potential customers are given a fair treatment in whatever they want us to do as the bank.
What safeguards have you put in place to ensure that you don’t go where these other banks went?

Look at why those banks failed. The major factor was politicians’ interference with their operations and they gave them loans they didn’t qualify for. In most cases, they were not even paying back. We offer loans to people who qualify and those who don’t qualify we guide them so that they can qualify. As corporate governance specialist, I know exactly what should happen.

Most members of my team are highly qualified in different areas so that they can advise the management.
What kind of problems did you encounter which would have been a threat to the stability of the bank? How did you overcome them?

First, there were no good corporate governance structures from executive up to the board. We had to ensure that the executive committee has supporting structures such as financing committee and other committees. This is so critical because we take people with different skills which fit into the executive committee.

The sub-committees are helping the board to provide good oversight while the executive committee works on strategic issues. The operational committee is actually helping the executive committee to ensure that it provides strategic direction. This was so difficult to do because before one can make changes, there should be a change management process and a detailed one where everyone will have to understand and cooperate.

We overcame them through applying some strategy engagement and also by allowing people to raise their views. We listen a lot to ensure that everyone who is part of the team cooperates. Secondly, the business was driving itself which is also wrong because the business has to be driven by leadership.

We did not have the sales force. However, we managed to set up the sales force with a lot of experience, serving different customers. It was a long process before everybody could understand and feel that they were part of that initiative. But today I am glad that it is working. Thirdly, the core banking that we were using was too old.

This could not allow us to provide customers with needed products. We then changed our customers’ core banking to a modern one which allows us to have our customers’ needs in our systems. During its operational period, the bank had accumulated losses of around M187 million from 2005 to 2013. In 2013, it had a loss of M10 million. After changing the management in 2014, we started making a profit of M4.9 million.

Before the new management even the salaries of the staff were paid by the government, after the new management, the salaries are now being paid by the Lesotho Post Bank. From that time we have been growing gradually up until now when we are talking of M74 million audited profit.

This is all about hard work, and knowing the fundamental problem. Before the new management, the major challenge was fraud. There was a loan book of M23 million and M13 millions of it was fraudulent. Around M7 million was unpayable. Looking at our financial statement we had M17 million profits thereafter.

However, in the third year, we declined because we had to write off those debts. We had to be prudent to ensure that our financial statements are corrected. From there we took the upward trend. We got the directive to stop charging certain people and that made a knock of M20 million.

However, we came with a different strategy altogether. Every day after getting the report from different departments, I have to make more strategies on which direction we should take. This is because banking is very fast, it is very evolving, if we don’t take the right strategy when necessary, things change drastically.

If you are working in the banking sector, your team has to understand their everyday responsibilities because things can change drastically. Our balance sheet is now on M2 billion. Before the new management, the balance sheet was M297 million.

Do you want to see yourselves becoming a player as an international bank?
This is what we are currently looking at. Recently I was in South Africa trying to see whether our bank cards can be used internationally. This initiative needs a lot of focus. However, it is what we want to see happening this year.

We also want to see the Lesotho Post Bank as a development bank. We are looking after the unbanked and the under-banked. We are also looking at customers who can create economic activities. Looking at our mandate, this requires development. Right now we are looking at ensuring that Basotho who are working in South Africa are able to remit money to Lesotho.

We have seen that once we have done that, we will support our customers’ initiatives of getting money and transferring it into Lesotho. We are going to partner with other institutions abroad to remit money from South Africa to Lesotho. What we can only do is to combine our system to see how we can integrate them. Operating in other countries will not be easy.

We are also planning to remit money through our branch network more especially to SADC countries since we are part of SADC and I am sitting in the SADC board. We are also looking at being the lead bank to ensure that money remittances become convenient and easy for Basotho.

What have you put in place to cater for international remittances?
International remittances are an important factor in Lesotho. We also have a large group of Basotho working in South Africa.

This is our major objective as a bank to ensure our customers can use our services at their convenience through our bank cards. We are in the final stages with this one. However, it requires a huge infrastructure and money for its set-up. Around September this year, our bank cards will be operating everywhere.

The bank card is going to be the debit card which will allow customers to use them in every country. We are also working on introducing the credit card, once the process is complete, this will be open to every Mosotho.
There is stiff competition between the banks and mobile money platforms. What is the bank doing to meet the competition? Are you winning?

We have a Khetsi product and our e-wallet. Khetsi is the digital platform which deals with transferring money electronically. The only challenge we have now is to ensure that Khetsi penetrates every place in Lesotho. Our mobile money and improved services have helped us in increasing our customer base from 23 000 to 140 000 currently.

This says the technology we have implemented and the good governance has enabled us to attract more customers. What we have realised is that Basotho like the Lesotho Post Bank and what is required from us is to love them back and try to understand their needs. We still remain the cheapest bank in Lesotho and we want to remain there.

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All set for Lesotho Tourism Festival



STANDARD Lesotho Bank, in collaboration with Alliance Insurance, on Tuesday launched Lesotho Tourism Festival (LETOFE) Lifestyle Experience.

The launch was meant to lighten up the festive mood in preparation for the LETOFE event to be held in Thaba-Bosiu on December 23.

LETOFE is an annual event that takes place at the Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village, which has since been transformed from a mere jazz affair to a lifestyle event.

Speaking at the launch, Standard Lesotho Bank CEO Anton Nicolaisen said he was pleased to launch the LETOFE lifestyle experience.

“This festival is arguably one of the biggest music festivals that Lesotho holds and we are pleased to continue as the headline sponsor of this event that brings moments of jubilation and friendship,” Nicolaisen said.

He said since the arts industry should be guarded jealously, the bank will continue bringing joy to Basotho as a means to promote artistes.

“As patron of arts, we have jealously guarded the creative industry. The SLB is still here to promote the arts and bring happiness to Basotho,” he said.

He said the bank has been sponsoring the festival for the past 18 years.

“We are now 18 years on the trot and I am proud that we have been a significant contributor to the growth of this festival.”

He said this festival has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the biggest features of their entertainment calendar during the festive season, attracting multitudes within Lesotho, Basotho in diaspora and tourists from neighbouring countries.

“We have benchmarked on the successes of these festivals and we will improve our offering every year to the level of a full lifestyle event.”

He said the event is a way of acknowledging the talent that Basotho have as well as the avenue for cross-fertilization of local artists to experience and present their craft.

He added that the bank had made an arrangement for their customers to enjoy a six percent discount when they buy festival tickets using Standard Lesotho Bank cards at any Computicket in Lesotho or other countries.

The promoter of the LETOFE Lifestyle event said they are transforming the event from a jazz festival to a lifestyle event.

“We are introducing young stars to the concepts hence our event is composed of the upcoming stars.”

The co-sponsor from Alliance Insurance, ’Makearabetsoe Mabaleha, said as sponsors they sponsor the LETOFE Lifestyle experience because they are also benefiting from the event.

“Our benefaction is seeing the event creating jobs for Basotho and attracting foreigners in order to improve the economy,” Mabaleha said.

Alice Samuel

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Joang locked in rentals row with tenants



FORMER Home Affairs Minister Joang Molapo is in a nasty fight with tenants over rentals at a shopping complex in Maputsoe which he is managing.

The main tenant, Ha Seotsanyana managed by Jaan Mahomad Suleman, says Molapo does not have authority to demand monthly rentals from him as he does not legally represent the company owning the property.

The property belongs to Litjotjela Mall (Pty) Ltd. The owners of the mall are however locked in a fight for its control.

In April this year, the High Court issued an order giving Molapo power to manage the mall pending finalisation of the case.

The tenants have however refused to pay rentals to Molapo. Molapo then filed an urgent application in the Northern Region High Court seeking intervention.

The Deputy Sheriff Mpho Maphiri padlocked the shopping complex last week executing an order sought by Molapo in the property dispute.

Molapo, who is a former deputy leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), claims that the tenants owed him rentals for 10 years.

He has sought to terminate the sublease agreement entered between the company and the tenants.

The High Court’s deputy sheriff closed down the shops on Monday last week amid resistance by the tenants. The police told the tenants that they would be arrested for contempt of court if they continued to resist the order.

Six businesses trading there were closed.

However, before the end of the day, Maphiri was sent back to open the pharmacy under condition that the owner was still paying directly to Molapo and did not owe any rentals.

Suleman told thepost that his company, Barakah (Pty) Ltd trading as Ha Seotsanyana, was in agreement with Molapo to use the property but “we are surprised to find a court order without notice”.

He said even in that order they inserted wrong company details.

“I find it illegal that they are closing me down,” he said.

He said Molapo’s company, Litjotjela Mall (Pty) Ltd, had entered into an agreement with him through lawyers that there was a new board of directors.

He said Molapo illegally kicked out the other shareholders from the company and they have a pending case in the High Court.

“Molapo acts as a secretary and does not have any decision-making powers alone,” Suleman said.

He said Molapo’s actions should be directed by the board.

He said Molapo does not want to discuss the agreement he had entered into with the former board of directors.

“He must honour the previous agreement on the sublease,” he said.

Suleman said what pains him is that they have made a lot of developments on the property under the previous agreement with Litjotjela, which Molapo is now ignoring.

“We have made developments worth over M4 million, constructed a garage and other buildings,” he said, adding that it is odd that Molapo wants him to pay rentals to use them.

“This cannot happen under my watch,” he said.

Suleman said it is either they take all their investments away or Molapo has to compensate them for all the developments on the site.

Molapo told the court in an affidavit that he is the one who was put in charge of collecting rentals from all tenants.

“They have failed to pay rentals to me without any justification and have refused to comply even after the demand had been made,” Molapo said.

He said the tenants owe him about M110 400.

He said he is a director, shareholder and board secretary of Litjotjela Mall (Pty) Ltd.

He said in June 2013 Litjotjela Mall and Ha Seotsanyane concluded a sublease agreement of 10 years.

He said it was agreed that Litjotjela was going to develop the site and was to collect all the rentals to be generated from the development site in order to recoup its expenses.

He said the 10 year period expired in May 2023.

“Prior to the expiry of the sublease agreement we engaged with Litjotjela (Pty) Ltd on the possibility of extending the sublease agreement,” he said.

He said after a lengthy deliberation, it became evident that they could not reach an agreement on the terms of the extension of the sublease agreement.

“It was at that time that we instructed our legal representatives to write to Litjotjela on September 20, 2023 that if the parties cannot agree on the extension of the sublease agreement the sublease shall be given a period not less than a year to find a market price to sell (the) business,” he said.

He said Suleman was informed that he was going to vacate the premises in a period of a year from June 2023 and that he had to pay rentals for that period at the rate of the rental payment immediately before the expiry of the sublease agreement.

He said other cited parties were further informed that they should no longer pay rentals to Ha Seotsanyane (Pty) Ltd.
He said to his surprise Suleman responded that Molapo does not have any authority to represent Litjotjela.

He said there is a court order issued on April 27, 2023 that he together with ’Mamphaphathi Katiso and Mpeuoa Mafike will remain in control and administration of Litjotjela Mall until the dispute has been resolved by the court.

He said Suleman is now benefiting from occupying the premises of Litjotjela without paying anything to him.
He said he has a right to receive rentals from its premises from the tenants occupying the premises.

He emphasised that his authority to represent Litjotjela in this matter cannot be questioned.

‘Malimpho Majoro

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The lawyer who designs wedding dresses



Fikile ’Makhang Khang has always loved working with her hands, designing and producing fabulous patterns of knitwear.
“The sewing has always been something I have always liked to do,” Khang says.
“While I was still at the NUL (National University of Lesotho), I would crochet and sew my own skirts and even for others. It was common practice that I would be seen walking around working with a crotchet.”

Years after graduating with a degree in law from the university, Khang has now transformed her hobby into a booming business. She now designs wedding outfits for lovebirds.

She told thepost this week that for one to thrive in business, they must follow their passion.
Khang says although she graduated as a law student, she just could not fathom spending the rest of her life in the courtroom and in her chambers drafting legal documents.

It was for that reason that she decided to follow her passion by designing wedding gowns.
Khang was admitted as an advocate in the High Court of Lesotho in 2007.
Although the financial rewards as a lawyer aren’t satisfactory, it is a job she says she finds really fulfilling.

“In October 2010, I needed to be more focused in my craft and therefore abandoned practising as an advocate and concentrated on the bridal boutique business full time,” she says.

In an effort to meet the high standards for her clients, she would travel abroad in search of the most impressive wedding gowns she could lay her eyes on.
She would travel as far as China searching the best bridal collection.

She says her husband, who has been very supportive, has always advised her to search for other ventures to supplement the family’s income.
It was against that background that she thought of venturing into the sewing business.

Each and every generation has a way of conducting a wedding ceremony and the question of fashion is always pinned to it.
At some point in the past, shiny apparels were considered to be eye-catching.
Today, when people plan a wedding, Khang suggests that brides should go for heavy bead work, melano draped gowns with exaggerated shoulders, side trains and corsets.

On the other hand, grooms should go for a tuxedo, army green and wine coloured three piece suits.
Khang has not refuted the fact that, although vintage, there are timeless designs out there which remain relevant to this day.
A dent of cultural taste is also acceptable, she says.

It is undeniable that anyone can have a nuptial anytime of the year but for many they consider certain aspects which might impact on their occasion.
For instance, some people may prefer to host a wedding when it is warm so that everyone can showcase and flaunt their fashionable looks.
Moreover, other people can opt for end of year weddings when the majority of people are on holidays so it wouldn’t interfere with their schedules.
This explains the reason why spring marks the beginning of the wedding season.

“September to April is the best time to set a date for a wedding because it is warmer and people are at liberty to sew any design they desire,” Khang says.

Currently, it has proved that a lot of people are discouraged and shying away from having wedding ceremonies for different reasons.
Among them, others feel it is a waste of money as it is costly while others are appalled by alarming divorce rates which have nothing to do with whether one had a wedding ceremony or not.

Khang has however spoken highly of the need to normalise having wedding ceremonies in celebration of matrimony which unifies two devoted hearts in love.

“The celebration of a union between two people is very important,” she says.

“It brings the two families together. It makes everyone in attendance feel included and honoured to be part of the beginning of the union.”

Due to frustrations that often come up on the wedding day, many people are now resorting and adopting to outsourcing the services of wedding planners.
This gives opportunity to the bride and the groom to have a moment of their lives without having to be bothered to attend to the hurdles that are presented by the occasion.

“In the past, this was the role reserved for cousins or any immediate family members but I’m not sure if they are still willing to carry it out,” she says.

With a wedding planner in place, a space for calmness by the bride and the groom is at least guaranteed to a larger extent as there is someone overseeing that all is in order.
Although it’s optional, Khang says everyone can do with some help.

Organising a wedding can be tedious and stressful, a lot of brides never get to enjoy their special day.
If one can afford the services of a wedding planner, then they can go for it.

Khang has also highlighted that from the outlook many people believe that nuptials are for the sophisticated people due to their demands.
For ease of presentation, she has outlined necessities of a wedding: officiator, rings, music, cake, décor, photographer and refreshments.
In a nutshell, Khang is of the opinion that people should make wise decisions when planning for their weddings.

“The wedding day is a joyous day for everyone involved from the couple to their friends, family and colleagues,” she says.

“Everyone anxiously anticipates the day. The mood is always blissful and peaceful. The only thing that could go wrong is when couples fail to celebrate within their means and make ridiculous and unnecessary decisions.”

She says lately, anything seems to go when it comes fashion.
A lot of couples are breaking traditions and doing what best represents their style and preferences.

“Brides have been seen wearing coloured gowns for instance,” she says.
Khang now designs and makes wedding gowns, thanks to the skills she learned at the Bloemfontein Fashion Academy in 2016 which has beefed up her art.

Calvin Motekase

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