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A nightmare on the roads

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‘Mahlompho Akhosi’s job as a car spares salesperson used to be simple.
She would sell the same parts all day. The majority of customers who came to her counter at Unity Tip Top, a spares shop, wanted oil, spark plugs, fuses or oil filters.
In other words, they were looking for basic vehicle maintenance parts.

Those service parts are still top sellers but another group of parts is also selling faster than before.
Akhosi says more customers are coming in to buy suspension parts like shock absorbers, CV joints, tie rods, control arms, ball joints and springs.

Spares shops across the country have also seen a similar uptick in demand for suspension parts. Tyre traders are also reporting an increase in sales volumes.

The reason is simple: Lesotho’s messy roads are chewing both suspension parts and tyres in huge numbers.

And it doesn’t matter what road you use because almost all have potholes.

A drive to a nearby shopping centre could leave your car with a damaged shock absorber, a burst tyre or a cracked rim.

You could drive a perfect car to work and come back with it bouncing like a tennis ball.

A simple five-kilometre trip from Koalabata to town could cost you a M2 000 shock absorber or a M1 000 tyre.

Akhosi says those who drive smaller cars are bleeding cash because of the bad roads.

“We usually see drivers of small cars such as Honda Fit coming to us,” Akhosi says.

“Bad roads are what make drivers visit our shop.”

The anguish is shared by drivers across the country.

Lesotho’s road network of about 12 000 kilometres has collapsed due to years of underfunding and neglect.

Engineers blame the crisis on two main things.

The first is poor workmanship by corrupt or underqualified contractors who cut corners. The second is years of neglect due to lack of funding.

The impact of the shoddy work and lack of maintenance is made worse by the storms that have hit Lesotho in recent years.

“So the weather elements are hitting roads that have been poorly built and maintained,” says a civil engineer who has worked for several construction companies over the past 20 years.

He says he has seen the government paying companies for roads he knew would not last two rainy seasons.

“You know that they have cheated to get the tender and they will cheat again to get paid for their work approved,” he says.

“The system is rotten and there is no will to fix it.”

“Contractors don’t have the incentive to do a good job because that cuts into their profits and there are no real consequences for doing the wrong things.”

“They do a bad job, get paid in full and move on to another contract to do another bad job”.

But the bill is now due and it’s eye-watering.

The Roads Directorate says it needs about M14 billion to fix the country’s network of paved and gravel roads. That is about 60 percent of this year’s budget.

Nozesolo Matela, the directorate’s public relations manager, says at least M9 billion is needed to address the maintenance backlog for gravel roads and about M4.5 billion to repair paved roads.

It doesn’t appear that drivers will get any respite soon.

The government doesn’t have the M14 billion in its coffers. Tax revenues have either been sluggish or sliding in recent years. The revenue share from the Southern African Customs Union, which used to beef up Lesotho’s budget, has declined in recent years.

Local tax revenues have also slumped due to poor economic performance, company closures and job losses.

Meanwhile, the government’s expenditure has continued to gallop as the wage bill balloons and more problems eat into the shrinking budget. This has left little for capital projects like road repairs.

Matela says the directorate has been allocated M1.2 billion for road construction and maintenance in this current fiscal year. That is a measly 8.5 percent of the M14 billion needed for the entire road network.

Matela says this year’s allocation would be used to repair the A1 road between Ha ‘Malesaoana and Butha-Buthe, Moshoeshoe Road, Kofi Annan as well as Masianokeng to St Michaels.

In the meantime, the directorate has resorted to a stopgap measure to do with the little it has. It recently launched Operation Kata-kata (Mokoari Project) which uses in-house teams to repair various sections on the main roads in Maseru, Berea, Leribe, Btha-Buthe and Mokhotlong.

The Roads Directorate says the operation will continue in Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing in the following weeks.

With an allocated budget of M18 879 600 and an estimated duration of two to six months, the Roads Directorate says this in-house routine maintenance operation will cover a total of 956.87 kilometres, divided into 47 sections, ensuring ease of supervision throughout the country.

Activities under the project include filling potholes as well as clearing side drains and other waterways to prevent waterlogging.

There will be erosion control scour checks to protect roads from environmental impact. Culverts will be unblocked and road signs restored.

Drivers are however sceptical that Operation Kata-kata will change much.

Lebohang Moea, the Maseru Regional and Taxi Operators (MRTO) spokesperson, wants the government to do much more.

He says the associations’ members are facing huge vehicle maintenance costs at a time when the government forces them to charge uneconomic fares.

Moea says cars that used to be repaired once in three months are now in the garage every month.

“We are struggling now and experiencing bad cash flow in our businesses,” Moea says.

“If we were supposed to take three loads, now we take just two.”

The secretary of the national transport association for the northern, southern and central regions, Thulo Bataung, says their business is now sinking into serious problems due to declining roads.

“Where we were supposed to take five minutes, we take 15,” Bataung says.

“Similarly, where we have to take 15 minutes, we take 30.”

Bataung says spares shops have also increased their prices because of demand.

He worries that the roads will get worse as the rainy season approaches.

Majara Molupe & Mpolai Makhetha

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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