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The good, old ‘whore’

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ROMA – Sure you get almost irritated at the mention of Tagetes minuta (lechuchutha), that invasive annoying plant.
It turns out the National University of Lesotho (NUL) is finding its use in detergents — to make a rival of pine gel!
Listen to the story of Thabiso Letseka and his work on Tagetes minuta guided by Dr Mosotho George.
Letseka has developed a pine gel-like product made from oil derived from lechuchutha, with a potential to replace the much-liked but expensive pine gel.
But a bit of history is in order.

The history of Tagetes minuta or lechuchutha in Lesotho is not a rosy one.
The legend goes that this plant was brought to Lesotho after 1914, before which time it was practically unknown.
It is known by many names in Lesotho, depending on which region of the country you live in.
They call it lechuchutha (a whore), monkhane and Jeremane (supposedly because it was brought by our forefathers who fought in Germany – (Jeremane) in the First World War.
The name lechuchutha is fitting.

The seeds of this plant are so good at sticking to human clothing and animals’ fur, the plant spreads itself all over the place pretty quick! “ke ke-ea-le-bafe.”
Add the fact that Basotho sparsely benefit from the plant, a weed that evades even the best of farmers, then you get why it is hated with a passion.
That is, until Letseka intervenes!
“It turns out the plant may be a blessing in disguise after all,” Letseka says.
“And the fact that it is so easy to grow makes it an ideal choice.”
So how did it catch his eye?

“I was once attached to a company called ChemCleaner, owned by Tšukulu Motsamai, a former NUL student who has formed his own detergents company in Leribe,” Letseka says.
In there, he noticed a problem.  Pine oils used to make pine gels are the most expensive components of the ingredients used.
The oils do not only have antimicrobial properties, they also give pine gels their gelatinous (mafatše thothomela) structure.
So what if the expensive pine oil is replaced with oil from locally available plants?
Would that not solve the problem of cost in the long run?

He collected three plants, algae (bolele), datura (letjoi) and lechuchutha and screened them.
They were screened for a number of volatile oils to see which of the three are as close in oil composition as pine oil.
“I used gas-chromatography mass-spectrophotometry to screen the volatiles,” Letseka said.

For instance, here is just a list of essential oils he identified in lechuchutha, don’t go away after reading them 🙂 limonene, ocimene, naphthalene, decahydro-2-methyl, 2-norpinalol,3,6,6-trimethyl, 2 butanone-4-95-methyl-2furanyl, cyclohexanone, (2-methylethynyl) trans and 3,7-epoxy-2-methylene-6-methyloct-en-1-al.
Don’t ask us what those things are! Or what they mean! Frankly speaking, we’ve got no clue!
But “one thing is for sure, the volatiles prove lechuchutha’s antimicrobial credentials,” Letseka says.

“We found that lechuchutha was the closest of the three plants to pine oil, so we selected it as a potential source of oil to replace pine oil in the production of gels,” he added.
“Of course datura was partly rejected for its toxicity.”
His next job was to extract the oils from lechuchutha.

Yes! Lechuchutha does have oil on its leaves, stems and seeds, but he concentrated on the leaves.
“So I used a process called steam distillation,” he mentioned a process that, despite is fancy name, is none other than “ho arubela” in Sesotho.
You see, Basotho used to put plants in hot water and then inhale the incoming steam — rich in “healing” volatiles.
“We use more or less the same old system that served Basotho so well for so long,” Letseka says.
“But in our case, the incoming steam, rich in volatiles, is condensed. The oily volatiles are then separated naturally from water,” following the famous phrase “oil and water don’t mix.”
“Ke metsi le oli”.

However, since there is much less oil compared to water, separation is not that easy.
So Letseka says he adds a chemical he calls diethyl ether.
“This I use to make a more efficient separation between oil and water.”
But don’t lose the bigger picture.

He is after lechuchutha oil, not diethyl ether.
So he has to remove diethyl ether from the oil.
After oil-water separation, he simply lets the highly volatile (e ea fofa) diethyl ether to evaporate leaving the oil behind (of course in industrial application, diethyl ether can be recycled).
The oil is used to make gel, not pine gel this time but lechuchutha gel.

This is made using a chemical he calls, Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulphonic Acid.
Used with lye (sodium hydroxide, to provide sodium ions), the chemical makes a perfect surfactant for detergents.
But to ensure he made the right material, he uses spectroflourophotometer (an instrument that measures light interactions with matter) to determine Critical Micelle Concentration.
“Despite the ongoing characterisation work, so far, I can conclude that my detergents are as good as pine oil based ones,” Letseka, the NUL chemicals maharishi says.

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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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We’ll ban import of agric products, says RFP

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MASERU – THE Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) says it might consider banning the importation of agricultural products from South Africa to promote the domestic market when it wins power in October.

The party’s spokesman, Mokhethi Shelile, said this in an interview with thepost in reaction to the launch of a new agricultural produce market centre for the northern region last week.

Shelile, who was once the head of the Domestic Investment Promotion Division at the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), told thepost that such a ban would help boost local farmers.

He said for that to be effective, there would be need to support local production as the first stage.

“This is the major challenge for the market sectors currently,’’ Shelile said.

He said since the farmers’ capacity is still low, only a few products such as potatoes are banned this season. Shelile said the production sector will need special attention to help the market centre.

Once they form government, he said they will immediately implement the idea to boost local farmers.

Shelile said an RFP government is going to establish markets where farmers will be able to sell the products even before they can start with the production so that they secure the financial means of increasing the production.

He said they realised that there are farmers who are still losing on their products because they cannot access markets.

“We want to give farmers a market even before they can start,’’ he said, adding that this will encourage farmers to increase their capacity and improve their standards.

The Lesotho National Farmers Union (LENAFU) programmes manager, Khotso Lepheane, said the setting up of the market centres will boost the farming industry in Lesotho.

“For the longest time this concept has been a good idea,” Lepheane said.

“Many potato farmers, amongst others, have benefited from this (Maseru) centre,” he said.

However, he said this concept introduction lacks a strong system which will encourage the retailers and the final consumers to buy from the market centre.

“This has caused a stagnation of products from reaching the consumers,” he said.

“This has discouraged many farmers from taking their products in the markets centre since it takes time for the products to be sold out and this might lead to damage of products.”

He said most of the farmers still consider the old method much safer. As much as the initiative is good, he said the concept cannot achieve its goal unless the market is channelled to market centres rather than seeing retailers and consumers importing what the country is producing.

“This is one of their biggest diversification mechanisms to commercial agriculture hence there are still some pricing challenges,” he said.

However, he said the cost is still bearable as compared to the role the centre plays. He said farmers still consider it as part of the change not a hiccup. Despite the challenges, he said they are still playing their role to educate farmers on how to improve their capacity and quality.

He said they also teach farmers on how the commercial sector works so that the pricing issues cannot tarnish the good initiative. He said they are also working with different departments to smoothen the supply chain.
Lepheane said they want to see more market centres being established in all the regions.

The Manager of Maluti Fresh Produce, Nthako Supi, said the market centre has the potential to encourage high productivity and boost the economy of the country. He said for the past 10 years, they were able to gather about 240 farmers who were growing crops, vegetables and fruits.

He said this year they were able to gather about 87 potato farmers and over 6 200 bags were sold out. He said they have a transparent system which allows the farmers to know and see how their products were sold and how they work. He said the centre is only entitled to the commission of the money they generated when the product is sold.

“The product belongs to the farmers until it has been sold out,’’ he said.

As much as they tried to improve their system for the sustainability of the centre, he said they still have some challenges which need to be addressed for its sustainability. He said the consistency and low productivity from the farmers’ side as one of the major challenges.

The setback, he said, is that the place where the market side is located is far from the traffic and shops hence the number of customers is still low. Supi said the major challenge is the tight competition they had with the South African producers.

He said most of the retailers and final consumers still consider buying the products in South Africa rather than supporting the market centre.

“We currently have more potatoes in our storage which are not performing so well in the market due to tight competition,’’ he said.

He said this is triggered by inconsistency of local farmers in terms of quality and quantity.

“Consumers buy what attracts their eyes, so if today consumers get a good quality product and tomorrow they get something different they lose hope in us,’’ he said.

“For the market centre to continue functioning, the market has to be regulated.”

The Public Relation Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lereko Masupha, said Lesotho still needs to import basic products from South Africa because local farmers are not able to meet demand.

“However, our consumption is so high hence we still need products from other countries,” he said.

Refiloe Mpobole

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Blow for Akani

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MASERU – A company fighting for a contract to manage Lesotho’s biggest pension fund paid bribes to win a similar contract in South Africa. Akani Retirement Fund Administrators, a South African company, has been fighting for the contract to manage Lesotho’s Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund (PODPCF) since 2020.

The basis of its bid for the PODCPF contract was that it had a sterling track record in South Africa where it once managed the Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) which has 21 000 members and is worth M7 billion.

The PODCPF has 35 000 members who are government employees and, like the CINPF, is worth M7 billion. But in a massive blow to its reputation, South Africa’s High Court last week ruled that Akani bribed the trustees of CINPF to topple a rival company and get the contract.

The victim of its corruption, the court ruled, was NBC Holdings, a major shareholder in NBC Lesotho Insurance Company Limited with which Akani is fighting for the PODCPF contract in Lesotho. NBC had been the CINPF’s administrators for three decades when Akani instigated its termination and took over the contract.

It is those allegations of corruption that were at the centre of the long-drawn battle between the companies. The court ruled that in 2019 Akani paid three CINPF trustees to terminate NBC’s contract. It found that the trustees faked the deaths of three relatives to receive the bribes in the form of insurance claims paid through

Neighbour Funeral Scheme, a company with strong links to Akani. The payments were made to the trustees – Bonginhlanhla Dangazele, Reginald Sema and Ayanda Sithole – four months after NBC’s termination and a week after Akani’s appointment.

Dangazele was the CINPF’s principal while Sema was deputised by Sithole as the chairperson of the board of trustees. Akani and the three had vehemently insisted that the payments which happened on the same day in 2019 were insurance claims for relatives who had died around the same time.

The three took up the insurance policies with the Neighbour Funeral Scheme around the time they were aggressively pushing out the NBC from the CINPF contract. Their relatives too died around the same time and their insurance pay claims were paid on the same day.

The court ruled that it was a “remarkable coincidence” that the three had taken out the policies at the same time, their relatives had died around the same time and Neighbour Funeral Services paid their claims within four minutes of each other.

Dangazele received M40 000 while Sema and Sithole got M25 000 each. Justice Adams said there is no explanation why, out of funeral policy vendors, the three trustees signed up for policies with Neighbour Funeral Scheme on the same day, their relatives died around the same week and their claims were paid minutes apart.

The judge said based on “irrefutable inferential reasoning, the true purpose of the payments to Dangazele, Sema and Sithole was a bribe”.

“The explanation for the receipt of substantial payments all on the same day, all from one funeral scheme vendor, which happens to be a company related to Akani, one week after the appointment of Akani, in which decision they were directly involved, implies a series of truly remarkable and unlikely coincidences,” the judge said.

He ruled that the termination of NBC’s contract should be reversed because it had been tainted by corruption and fraud. The court also ordered the CINPF to remove Dangazele, Sithole and Sema as trustees. The judgement in South Africa has serious implications in Lesotho because Akani and NBC are battling for the contract to manage the PODCPF.

The fight started after the PODCPF renewed the NBC’s contract as an administrator following a two-horse race with Akani. Four of the PODCPF’s trustees, who preferred Akani disputed the decision, wrote to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, who was finance minister at that time, asking him to intervene to reverse NBC’s appointment.

They accused the board, of which they were members, of ignoring complaints against NBC in Lesotho and South Africa. They pointed out that NBC’s contract with CINPF has been terminated for “non-performance issues”.

They were referring to the same termination that the South African court has now ordered be set aside after finding that it was instigated by Akani through bribes to CINPF trustees.

Staff Reporter

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