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Phori in bribe storm



MASERU – SMALL Businesses Minister, Chalane Phori, is embroiled in a bribery scandal involving M500 000.
Mahloenyeng Trading, a wool company, alleges that the minister asked for half a million maloti bribe for the renewal of wool shearing and storage licences.
The company claims the bribe was requested through two middlemen who the minister had allegedly handpicked to help the company apply for the 15 licences.

The company said the minister’s ‘fixers’ in the alleged bribe were Manama Letsie, spokesperson for the Wool Centre, and Kabelo Mohloanyane.
Company officials claim that the minister told them that Letsie and Mohloanyane were “his boys” and they should work with them “whenever you want anything from me”.
But Minister Phori says the allegations are “silly lies” because it is Mahloenyeng Trading’s officials who offered him a bribe on several occasions and he refused.

Phori says he even told Prime Minister Thomas Thabane about the attempt to bribe him.
Now accusations are flying back and forth, making it unclear as to who offered or asked for the bribe. What remains in this muddle are claims and counterclaims that have not been proven.
Neither of the parties has provided evidence to back their accusations.
As such none of the accusations have been independently verified.
That leaves the story hanging on what each party claims.

In the middle of the storm is Thato Ponya, an All Basotho Convention (ABC) activist who is working as Mahloenyeng Trading’s spokesperson.
It is Ponya, a law graduate, who opened the can of worms when he made the allegations against the minister on a local radio station this week.
He has since boldly repeated the allegations on several radio stations.
He made the same claims to thepost last night, this time giving explicit details of how the bribe was requested.

He claims that some time in December last year Mahloenyeng Trading’s officials met Phori with a request to renew 10 licences.
Other company officials and those alleged to have asked for the bribe say there were 15 licences.
Ponya says the minister then instructed them to work with Letsie and Mohloanyane to get the licences.

He alleges that it was in that meeting that Phori described Letsie and Mohloanyane as “my boys”. Ponya says after they handed the applications to Letsie and Mohloanyane five of the ten licences were renewed.
But when they later followed up on the other five in January Mohloanyane and Letsie told them that Phori wanted a M500 000 bribe to release them.

Ponya claims the demand was made at a meeting at Lancers Inn and he was present. He says when the company refused to pay the bribe the five licences were never issued.
“I was there in that meeting,” he says, adding, emphatically, that he is prepared to sign an affidavit to “show that I am telling the truth”.
“If this matter goes to court I will say the same thing I am telling you now.”

Some officials from Mahloenyeng Trading have made the same claims about the minister and his alleged middlemen.
One official says Letsie and Mohloanyane told him on several occasions that the minister wanted M500 000 to release the licences.

But Phori is aggressively pushing back with counter allegations of his own.
He says the company sent several emissaries to him with offers of bribes that he flatly rejected.
Those messengers included Ponya and several other officials from different political parties, he says. Phori says he had meetings with the messengers at his office and at Mpilo Boutique Hotel.

The minister alleges that it was the company that sent Letsie and Mohloanyane to him and not the other way round.
“They seemed to have been looking for anyone who is connected to me so they could send them to me. I never instructed them to work with anyone. Those are terrible lies,” Phori says.
He claims that after he rejected the bribe at a meeting at Mpilo, Mahloenyeng Trading held a meeting with the Prime Minister at the State House.

“I was called there (State House) and I told the Prime Minister that those people offered to bribe me but I refused because I want them to comply with the regulations.”
“I have been offered bribes by many people and I have refused. These people want to tarnish my image. They have been at it for months now but it will not work because I am working for the good of Basotho.”
“I have never been called by any organisation that deals with corruption in this country. I have never been accused of taking a bribe from anyone.”

Mohloanyane, one of the alleged middlemen, said it is the company that approached him.
He says he helped the company get ten licences but he was not doing it at the minister’s behest. Mohloanyane says the problem started when the company wanted a licence for bulk storage which has stringent specifications.
He says that is when the offer of a bribe to the minister happened.
Mohloanyane claims that sometime in February Ponya called him to a meeting at Mpilo where he said he had “a parcel for the minister”.

That parcel, he alleges, turned out to be a bag full of money.
“I refused to take the money because I wanted to ask the minister about this parcel,” Mohloanyane says.
“When I got to the minister and tried to talk about the parcel from the company the minister cut me short. He didn’t want to hear anything about the parcel. He said he is prepared to help those people but they should just comply with the regulations.”

Mohloanyane claims he went back to Ponya to tell him what the minister said.
“The money was in a bag and there were bricks of it. It was bricks of 200 rand notes.”
Mohloanyane says Ponya then took some money from the bag and handed it to him.
“I don’t remember how much it was but I can tell you that Ponya kept 80 if not 90 percent of that money for himself.”

Mohloanyane claims to have used the money to “enjoy” himself and “sort out other issues”.
“I enjoyed that money my brother, I really did. Who am I to refuse money? I enjoyed myself. I think Ponya kept the rest of the money instead of giving it back to the company.”
“The minister was not given the money because he refused to hear anything about a bribe.”
Ponya however says Mohloanyane is being dishonest.

“That’s a lie. I never offered to bribe the minister. I never carried a bag of money or give any money to that man. It is them who asked for a bribe on the minister’s behalf.”
“If we paid him money as he claims them how come we never received the other five licences we applied for? Our receipt from the ministry shows that we applied for ten licences for each shearing shed but we got only five.”

Letsie says he tried helping Mahloenyeng Trading get the licences but he was not doing so at the minister’s instruction. He says at no point did he ask for a bribe as alleged.
“Instead I have heard that they tried to bribe the minister but he refused,” Letsie says.
He says the company was looking for 15 licences but only got ten.
“When I asked the ministry why the other licences were not issued I was told by sources that they owe M7.4 million in taxes. They wanted the licence for bulk storage but could not get it because of the tax issues.”

Letsie says he never solicited a bribe or payment because he believes it’s his “obligation to help anyone who wants to do business in Lesotho”.
“I was touched when they took me to their main storage facility and they showed me a lot of Basotho who they said would lose their jobs if they don’t get the licences. That is why I intervened.”

Letsie doesn’t believe that there was ever any M500 000 bribe on offer.
“I know that they were desperate to pay something because they said Ponya had not brought the licences. I honestly don’t think Ponya had any M500 000. Honestly, if he had offered me that money I would have taken it. Why should I refuse money?”
“But I don’t think Ponya has that kind of money. He doesn’t look like someone who has had even M20 000 on him,” Letsie said with a laugh.

Ponya however says it is not true that the other licences were rejected because the company owes tax.
“If that is true then how come we got the other licences? How come as recent as Monday the LRA gave use a tax refund? Those licences are being held because we refuse to pay a bribe to the minister.”

Minister Phori says he has evidence showing that he has been offered bribes.
“Yet the very same people are now saying I asked for a bribe. Those are lies,” the minister says.
But Ponya says he won’t back down from his claims.
“Let this matter go to court and we see who is lying.”

Staff Reporter


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Lesotho’s own brandy



ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.

Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.

Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.

The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.

His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.

As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.

“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.

“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.

Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!

One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!

“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?

He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.

He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.

Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.

He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.

He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.

But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.

However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.

“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.

Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.

“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store



ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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