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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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LAA wins another international award

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MASERU – THE Land Administration Authority (LAA) has scooped yet another international award from the European Society for Quality Research (ESQR).

The award was presented to the LAA at a function held in Barcelona, Spain, last month.

The award was for best outstanding business results, best practices, quality awareness and achievement by companies in the regional and global markets.

This is the second time that the LAA has received an international award.

Last year the LAA was honoured with an international award on technology.

The LAA Director General, ’Mataeli Makhele-Sekhantšo, said the LAA was established as an autonomous government body by the Land Administration Authority Act.

She said the objective was to modernise and improve land administration services and to reduce land transaction costs.

“The ESQR awards recognise organisations’ distinctive performance improvement, organisational excellence, customer focus and encourage them to share their best practice, experiences and knowledge with other organisations,” Makhele-Sekhantšo said.

“The recognition is independent assurance for organisations stakeholder and customers and it motivates the organisation employees to strive for sustainable excellence,” she said.

The Board Chairman, Ratšele Ratšele, congratulated the staff of LAA for their hard work.

However, he said as much as the organisation has improved, “there are still some challenges which need to be addressed by the government”.

“The organisation still seeks to extend the issue of licenses in all the places across the country,” Ratšele said.

“The act that regulates estate agents still need to be strengthened,” he said.

He said sectional title deals which distinguish the size of land to be registered still need to be reviewed to allow people who can afford to buy small pieces of land.

Local Government Deputy Minister ’Mathato Phafoli said the government is proud of this organisation since “it fulfills the mandate of the local government for administering the lease holding”.
Phafoli said the administration for the lease is not only crucial for regulating land, but also to boost the economy of the country.

“Land is the crucial treasure which needs to be registered with the LAA so that it can benefit even the coming generations,” Phafoli said.

She said one of the government’s strategic plans is to improve food security.

However, agricultural land is being utilised for industrial purposes, business premises and for household purposes.

“We are worried as to how Basotho will in the coming years acquire food,” she said.

She said immediate action must be taken because Lesotho could fail to grow food for its people.

Phafoli said the government is more concerned about agricultural land which is being utilised for industrial purposes instead of food production.

She said this exposes the country to high risk of food security failure.

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ETL flies students to USA

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MASERU – TWO Basotho students are off to the United States, thanks to Econet Telecom Lesotho’s HigherLife Foundation.

A farewell ceremony for the two was held in Maseru on Tuesday.

HigherLife Foundation is a social impact organisation that invests in human capital. It was formed by Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and his wife, Tsitsi, in 1996.

The Public Relations Officer of Econet Telecom Lesotho, Puleng Litabe, said each year they reserve two percent of their budget for the foundation.

She said they have so far sponsored 524 students ever since the foundation was established in Lesotho in 2011.

“These two students will add up to 18 students who studied in America through the assistance of the HigherLife Foundation since its establishment.”

Litabe said of the over 18 students they have sponsored to study in America, five of them are now working in Lesotho while seven of them are working in the US.

She said one student is working in Canada and three students are in their Doctor of Philosophy studies.

The Econet Chief Executive, Dennis Plaatjies, said HigherLife Foundation sponsored the two students since their high school days at Soofia International School in Leribe.

He said after completing their Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE), the foundation took them to Waterford University in Eswatini.

He said the foundation has several programmes with education as the major priority.

He said they assist Grade A students who are vulnerable.

One of the students, Nthati Lehloenya, will be studying at the University of Oklahoma. She said he was raised by a single parent.

Lehloenya said life was not a walk in the park due to financial constraints her family had.

She was lucky to be introduced to the HigherLife Foundation which ultimately changed her life.

“The foundation did not only change our livelihood but it has also impacted our communities,” Lehloenya said.

She explained that while at school she won a M16 000 fund for a community project she was working on at work.

The other student is Mahali Mabesa.

The one will be studying engineering while the other will be studying mathematics and physics.

A parent to one of the scholars, ’Mamahali Mabesa, said in 2012 the financial problems forced her to transfer her daughter from the National University of Lesotho International School (NULIS) to Soofia International School.

She said it was still hard to support her daughter’s education. The teachers realised that her daughter was working so hard and deserved financial assistance.

“They said they could not let this talent go to waste because of our struggle hence they would try all means so that she could be assisted,” Mabesa said.

Meanwhile, Econet Telecom Lesotho yesterday in partnership with Gem Institute Lesotho launched a tree planting campaign for 1 408 apples and peach trees at 16 schools in the lowlands and highlands.

The Founder of Gem Institute, Mpho Letima, said one of their mandates is to encourage the youth to venture into entrepreneurship, technology and agriculture.

She said they have partnered with the school ever since 2016.

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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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