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Schemes move to mobile money

Lemohang Rakotsoane

MASERU

MOBILE money transfer platforms have become the latest conduits for pyramid schemes to move monies between depositors, entangling telecommunication companies in a war they have been losing for the past six months.

Several local Ponzi schemes have mushroomed in recent weeks, touting people to make deposits through M-pesa and Eco-Cash.

Like MMM which has taken Lesotho by storm, founders of the local Ponzi schemes promise mouth-watering profits to depositors into the mobile money platforms. One promises as much as 50 percent return in week.

Another offers a 100 percent return in a month.

Until recently the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL)’s battle against pyramid schemes has been centred on commercial banks, which have been used to transfer monies between depositors.

The CBL has urged banks to be vigilant so their services are not used to participate in pyramid schemes like MMM.

Although banks have heeded the central bank’s warning they have not been able to stop the Ponzi schemes because they don’t operate through a central account.

In the case of MMM the money is moved through ‘investors’ accounts. In a way it is just like people transferring money to each other, seemingly innocent transactions banks are finding difficult to police.

The emergence of M-pesa and Eco-Cash as new ways to move money between pyramid scheme investors creates a new headache for the central bank.

On Monday CBL, Vodacom Lesotho, Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and the police launched an anti-money laundering campaign.

“It is the mandate of CBL to make activities concerning payments safer, so that the consumer can have confidence in their money services,” ’Mankaba Thabane, Acting National Payments Systems Director at the CBL.

“Hence we are embarking on a nationwide campaign to sensitise the nation about such activities.”

Palesa Mphunyetsane, Head of M-pesa Operations at Vodacom Lesotho, said the company was aware of Ponzi schemes using M-pesa.

“We have also realised that our logos are being used by some pyramid schemes that have emerged in the market and we want people to know that we are in no way involved with those schemes,” Mphunyatsane said.

“Let it be known that when those schemes collapse Vodacom Lesotho will in no way be accountable, no one will be assisted by being given their money back because we do not take anyone’s money,” she said.

ETL Chief Executive Leon de Fleuriot said a concerted effort was required to stop the inappropriate use of Eco-Cash.

“We are caretakers of the money that our customers have entrusted in our hands and to avoid our services from being used inappropriately we should work together,” de Fleuriot said.

“Agents, report to us when there are any suspicious transactions so that we can also report to CBL and the matter can be dealt with.”

“Our people should understand that we do not support pyramid schemes at all and should understand that if anything is too good to be true then it is really not true.”

He added that sharing of information between stakeholders will make it easier to deal with the abuse of the money transfer platforms.

Senior Inspector Bothata ’Nei from the police’s Serious Crimes Unit lamented the use of money transfer platforms for illegal activities.

“It is a serious challenge because criminals can buy 50 sim cards to deposit their money until it reaches the amount of money they want to launder,” ’Nei said.

“We are also not able to trace or retrieve money if it has been sent to the wrong number”.

He stated that what is infuriating is that Basotho do not want to listen when they are being warned “but when those schemes collapse they come running to us seeking help and usually by then it is too late”.

Speaking on the CBL Governor’s behalf Seabata Ntelo, director of operations,said while technology has brought convenience the challenge now is to find ways to guard against its abuse by criminals.

“These (Eco-Cash and M-pesa) created a much needed avenue for extending financial services to the majority of the country’s population who would otherwise have no access to such services due to lack of banking infrastructure in their vicinity,” Ntelo said.

“However, while we celebrate these mobile money achievements there are unfortunate emerging trends by criminals who want to use mobile money to undertake mischievous criminal activities,” he said.

“The first group of these criminals takes counterfeit currency, deposit it into their Eco-Cash and/or M-pesa wallets and subsequently withdraw it from such wallets at different agents’ stores”.

“By so doing the criminals are actually deceiving the agents who cannot distinguish between counterfeit and genuine currency. At the end these agents lose their money as they cannot use counterfeit currency anywhere”.

“The second group of criminals uses Eco-Cash and M-pesa platforms to promote and carry-out their pyramid schemes transactions,” he said.

These activities are illegal and classified as money laundering and negatively affect the economy. In addition, they destroy the reputation of Eco-Cash and M-pesa platforms, which are legal, safe and efficient services that are not intended for use in pursuing criminal activities.”

Despite the central bank’s public awareness campaigns Basotho continue to invest in pyramid schemes, some attracted by the lure of quick returns and some pushed by poverty.

One MMM member who identified himself only as Motsamai said he did not understand why the central bank is fighting MMM.

“It’s considered as throwing away of money by some but to me it is an investment,” he said as he stood in a queue at a local bank.

“If the money gets lost, I’m the one losing my own money and nobody should get worried because it is not their money,” Motsamai said.

Defending the pyramid scheme, he said it is“where we are just making a stokvel and we are a community of generous people donating money to those who need it”.

“How are we supposed to survive with no jobs in this country? Now when we are trying to make money for ourselves we are threatened by being told that we are engaging in money laundering.”

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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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