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Only M15m disbursed under Covid relief fund

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MASERU – OUT of the M50 million allocated by the government under the Covid-19 relief fund, only M15 million has been disbursed to deserving companies.

This is according to the Ministry of Trade. The ministry was working closely with the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP) in disbursing the funds. Principal Secretary for Cabinet, Kabelo Lehora, said most businesses were struggling as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the government introduced the Covid-19 relief fund to help small and medium businesses. Lehora said the funds did not reach all relevant Basotho, a matter which was of great concern to the affected parties.

The Project Manager of PSCEDP, Chaba Mokuku, said his office has been working with so many ministries over the years to ensure that service delivery is smooth.

“After Covid-19 knocked, the government allocated about M50 million as a relief fund to small and medium enterprises,” Mokuku said.

He said they are still waiting for the outstanding balance of M35 million. He said they managed to assist 1 018 formal sector businesses covering all the 10 districts of Lesotho where M9 million was issued.

He said M5 million was further issued to 11 455 informal sector businesses. Mokuku said two requests for the release of the relief fund for disbursement to the private sector were made to the Ministry of Finance in July 2021 and October 2021.

However, he said his office has still not received the funds. He said the request made in July 2021 amounting to M990 000 was due to be disbursed to 132 formal sector businesses. He further said the request for October 2021 amounted to M1.8 million was due to be allocated to 33 formal sector businesses and 3 003 informal sector businesses.

Mokuku said there are still 319 applications amounting to M1.9 million that have been received from the formal sector businesses, duly registered and licensed with relevant authorities but have not been supported.

He said the businesses have not been supported as they do not have financial statements for the financial year ending either in March 2017/2018 or March 2018/2019 which are key requirements for receipt of support.

’Makopano Mosakeng, from Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Program (LEAP), said for formal sector businesses to qualify for this fund, they should have been registered before 2020 and should have been operating for at least two years.

She said most of the informal sector businesses failed to qualify because their registered names were different from their M-pesa or Ecocash registered names which were the mode of payment.
She said these are some of the reasons for the delay of payments.

The secretary of Thibella Zone Street Vendors, ’Mareni Mabothoane, said they submitted their list in 2020 at the Ministry of Small Businesses and the lists were delivered to the PSCEDP. Mabothoane said in their zone, the list of street vendors was about 600 but only about 200 received the M500 relief fund.

She said their main concern is how the names were selected since they had only one list. She said the explanation that most of the informal sector business names were not matching with their payment accounts was not true. She said they will do anything in their power to ensure that they get the funds.

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Jalad Africa wins top exporter award

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MASERU – LEATHERWORKS exporter, Jalad Africa, was yesterday recognised as Lesotho’s number one exporter at a function organised by the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), Lesotho Post Bank and USAID Trade Hub.

The awards, celebrated yesterday in Maseru, were meant to empower local exporters. Jalad Africa, a Basotho owned company, was recognised as the exporter of the year.

Local exporters were awarded under the categories of best emerging exporter, best exporter for market and product diversification and best exporter in market sustainability. The best emerging exporter award was won by Garal Africa while the best exporter for market went to Centimetre.

Under the category of the most innovative and versatile exporter and high impact exporter, Leafglow and Liberation clothing were recognised as the winners. The LNDC set aside M45 000 for all the winners where the overall winner got M10 000 and the rest in their respective categories received M7 000 each.

The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Dr Francis Sefali, said there are a number of initiatives such as the 2019/2025 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Response Strategy.

He said the 2021/2025 National Export Strategy has been adopted by the government to increase exports and instigate product diversification to tie well with the objectives of this initiative.

“As a small country, we need to aim higher and go beyond our borders to international markets,” Dr Sefali said.

“Our prosperity as a country unquestionably depends on that,” he said.

Dr Sefali said Lesotho’s exports to the United States may have marginally decreased in 2020, and exports to South Africa increased.

“This is a demonstration that the exporters’ contribution registered a noticeable success even in the face of adversity,” he said.

“This exhibits the versatility and competence to respond to various challenges.”

Dr Sefali said we have to be aware, however, of the possibility of continuing to experience a host of uncertainties that we may not even be able to predict how they will affect us in future, citing Covid-19 example.

“We need to stay vigilant and invest in sectors that will make us more competitive in these markets even without the market access preferences that we are fortunately beneficiaries to.”

The LNDC Acting General Manager of Corporate Service, ’Mamoiloa Raphuthing, urged local exporters to conform to buyers’ standards and specifications to improve their global export competitiveness.

She further urged the local exporters to understand target market requirements, list export products in relevant e-commerce platforms and participate in relevant trade promotion events.

“It is crucial for local exporters to create business networks and connections and acquire deal negotiation skills,” Raphuthing said.

Raphuthing said this platform allows the participating exporters to assess themselves for export readiness and in turn adopt tools to improve their business performance.

“This national competition is only a stepping stone into a regional competition,” she said.

The Director of Jalad Africa, Lebeoana Matsimane, said this has not been a happy year for Jalad Africa, however, they feel like this is the happy ending. He said the company has been through a rough patch which was triggered by Covid-19 pandemic however, they have been standing.

“Despite all this, we are elevating our company to the Amazon platform very soon,” Matsimane said.

Speaking at the event, the United States Embassy’s acting Chargé d’Affaires, Keisha Toms-Boutaleb, said the US supported the development of the AGOA Utilisation Strategy for Lesotho, which was launched in January 2020.

This was meant to increase exports from Lesotho to the United States under AGOA by at least five percent per year for the next five years.

“Today, we are seeing some fantastic results from the companies represented here,” Toms-Boutaleb said.

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Mines Minister pushes empowerment for Basotho

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MASERU – THE Minister of Mining Serialong Qoo says he is working hard to create a new generation of Basotho millionaires in the mining industry.

Qoo said this last week at a mining indaba with Basotho who want to mine diamonds on a small-scale following the enactment of the Small Scale Mining Act last year. He said their goal is to see Basotho engage in mining activities on a large scale.

“We want to ensure that more Basotho own shares in large scale mining,” he said.

Qoo said they fought long and hard to ensure that the Act was passed in parliament, He said they also hope to create more jobs in the mining sector. Qoo said during the Covid-19 lockdown, the mining industry contributed more revenue towards the economy of Lesotho.

“We realised that it has the potential of spurring the economy,” he said.

He said they realised that after Basotho were denied the chance to mine on a small-scale some decades ago, the industry’s contribution to the economy declined.

“It is crucial for Basotho to make a living out of their minerals,” he said.

“Hence we are announcing this Act as effective,” he said, adding that Basotho can now start mining on a small-scale.

He said they will work with different ministries, departments and councils to ensure that Basotho acquire licences. He said this is open to every Mosotho.

The registration to acquire the licences will be conducted by the councils and village chiefs. He said they will go around all the districts of Lesotho to identify places where they can locate Basotho. He said the ministry will further conduct training programmes for such Basotho who hold licences.

Qoo said all the diamonds mined by Basotho will be collected for auction in the country. Diamonds mined at a grander scale in the country are exported to Antwerp, Belgium, for auctioning.

“We are working hard to ensure that all the minerals are auctioned in the country, including those from large-scale mining,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Lesotho Diamond Academy, Relebohile Molefe, appealed to Basotho to allow this new venture to be led by the youths. She said this has been his late father’s dream to see leaders engaging Basotho in this industry without political favours.

The late Mpalipali Molefe, who was the All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s ’Maliepetsane MP, is remembered for his passion for diamond beneficiation when he started the Lesotho Diamond Academy.

A small scale miner, Lebohang Ramone, said it has been more than 15 years since Basotho were denied a chance to mine on a small scale. He said they have been fighting for the enactment of a law that would allow small-scale mining.

“The struggle continued until the issue was politicised,” Ramone said.

However, he said the sad truth about this is that there are more Basotho who are being killed each day in the illegal mines in South Africa. He mentioned the case of an old Mosotho woman who was caught mining in South Africa yet Lesotho is rich in minerals.

“This was so unfair to Basotho,” he said.

He applauded the hard work done by Qoo to ensure that the diamonds are auctioned in the country.

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Business IDs for Lesotho

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MASERU – ALL businesses operating in Lesotho will now be required to register with the Ministry of Trade to acquire a Business Licensing Identity Document (ID). The requirement to register is contained in the Business Licencing and Registration Act 2019 and Registration Regulations of 2020.

The business ID will help, among other things, to identify Basotho-owned businesses so that they can receive preferential treatment. Foreign-owned businesses will also be required to register so that it will be easy for the authorities to monitor them for compliance with relevant laws.

The Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and the Ministry of Trade held a workshop in Maseru on Tuesday to sensitise businesses about the requirement. The Maseru District Administrator (DA), Mpane Nthunya, said local businesses have been complaining for years about unfair treatment with foreign businesses.

He said this is why the LCCI has embarked on an initiative to listen and address the challenges for local businesses. The President of LCCI, Ntaote Seboka, said the new regulation “will affect all entrepreneurs regardless of their business class including the foreigners”.

“This regulation will further affect the businesses which are operating illegally,” Seboka said.

He said for an entrepreneur to be registered under this new regulation, there will be inspections conducted to ensure that such an entrepreneur has all necessary documents to be running a business. Seboka said they realised that there are more businesses operating illegally hence they fought to ensure that the Act is implemented.

He said the registration of businesses under this law will act as a catalyst to reduce the rate at which foreigners are operating without following legal processes. Advocate Tšeli Lehohla said the Business Licensing and Registration Act and registration repealed the Trade Enterprises Act.

She said the main objective for this Act is to ensure that the informal sector is included in the business Act. She said most Basotho-owned businesses were affected by Covid-19.

However, the ministry could not help them since they were not registered. The Minister of Public Works, Lebohang Monaheng, on behalf of the Minister of Trade, said the road show which was held by the LCCI together with the Ministry of Trade has enhanced the business environment.

“It is our responsibility to create a conducive environment for businesses in the country,” Monaheng said.

He said the ministry has since realised that most of the businesses are being operated by foreigners, hence it is their responsibility to ensure that Basotho take the lead in the business sector. He said they have selected some businesses of which Basotho are best performing to ensure that the sector is fully run by Basotho, such as logistics.

He appealed to entrepreneurs to collaborate with the ministry to overcome these challenges. The compliance officer, Limpho Makholela, said this new Act aims at facilitating promotion of private sector development through inclusion of all types of businesses into the formal sector.

He said this will help in facilitating the speedy issuing of licenses and registration of businesses. Makholela said the fee for registration is M500 which is renewable after three years for local businesses unless the business or a holder ceases to exist.

However, he said for foreign business the registration is valid for a year. Makholela said the business registration identity card will be used by all public authorities in their dealings with the business enterprises.

He said this will ensure that a business can be easily identified by its business identity number by all public authorities rather than a different number for each authority. He said the regulations provide for reserved business activities which are exclusively reserved for the citizens of Lesotho. He said this will give Basotho an opportunity to grow their businesses in other sectors without fear of facing stiff competition from foreign businesses.

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