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More pain at the till



MASERU – RETAILERS have long mastered the psychology behind shopping. They know which buttons to press for customers to spend more money and time in shops. Everything in a shop is choreographed to get shoppers to spend more.

The height of the shelves is linked to the average height of the population.
The most expensive products are placed at eye level.

The small candy bars and potato chips packs are at the bottom of the shelves to lure impressionable toddlers whose propensity to raise hell if the parent doesn’t give in to their demands is legendary.
It’s not by default that sweets, biltong and nuts are placed just before the tills.

The message is simple: Now that you are done with the essentials you can treat yourselves to some of these ‘cheap’ little things. The truth, however, is that they are anything but cheap.
They might be small but they have huge margins for the retailer.

It’s not a mistake that the pricey Kinder Joy and Oreos are just by the till. They are meant for the little person who has tagged along and will certainly pick one just as you are about to pay.
It’s a trick that works on adults too.

“We know you have meali-meal, sugar, milk, washing powder, rice and milk. That’s fine. But do you think the milk will bring a smile to the little ones back at home? Come on, just spoil them a little bit. M15 won’t make a difference. Look, the till says M19.85. Just round it off. Get them some Oreos.”

You pick. The shop owner is happy. The mind game has worked. The 99 cents on the price of a bar of soap gives the impression that it’s affordable.

The famous Black Friday doesn’t mean everything in the shop is cheap. Some studies have shown that some prices were either the same as before or higher on Black Friday. It’s all a clever play on the shopper’s mind. In the euphoria, retailers make a killing by creating an illusion of a massive sale that should never be missed.

When shops have fire sales you can be sure that they either want to get rid of products about to expire or they are desperate to replace summer wear with winter wear. The flowers right by the door are meant to brighten your mood so that you are happy to spend more. Prices are jerked up during month-end days because you are not yet counting every penny.

Then there is the music they play for shoppers. Research has shown that the tempo and volume of music are linked to the amount of time and money customers spend in a shop. Soft and slow music makes customers browse and spend more. Loud jams make them move faster through the aisle, spend less and leave quickly.

Classic music, for instance, has been shown to encourage or stimulate customers to buy expensive bottles at wine shops. Jazz and lounge music fills trolleys and opens wallets. Rave, metallic and rock put customers off. Budhaza and Tšepo are therefore great shopping buddies. Chakela might not be the best choice if you want customers to load their trolleys to the brim.

But there are times when all those psychological tricks don’t work on customers. That time is now when prices are galloping beyond the reach of many. With stagnant and even sliding incomes, customers are leaving shops quickly even if retailers play the most beautiful jazz.

They race through the shops to pick the few things they can afford and leave. The price increases have been unrelenting over the past two years. Take, for instance, the prices of cooking oil.

As Covid-19 gripped Lesotho in early 2020, a two-litre bottle was going for around M38. By midyear, it was M60. Then towards the end of the year, it reached M85 before racing beyond M100. Now it’s around M145! Manufacturers and economists agree that things will get worse.

Meali-meal which was around M45 when Lesotho recorded its first Covid-19 case is now a few pennies shy of M100. Bread, the mainstay of breakfast, has jumped from M8 to around M13, depending on where you buy it.
The price of beef has beefed up too.

When Lesotho went into the first lockdown, a kilogramme was around M70. By the time the lockdown was eased, a few months later, it was about M89 and now it’s M115. The prices of sugar and flour have been on steroids too.

Washing powder, toilet paper and bath soap will leave you out of pocket. The prices of vegetables and fruits are sprinting faster than customers’ incomes. Fuel has doubled over the past two years, triggering increases in prices of commuter fares and basic products.

In December 2020 a litre of E93 was going for M10.70. Today it will set you back some M22.45. It’s the same depressing story with diesel and paraffin.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s Food Price Index released early June reveals that “international wheat prices rose for a fourth consecutive month, up 5.6 percent in May, to average 56.2 percent above their value last year”.

The price of coarse grain, the index shows, “declined by 2.1 percent in May but remained 18.1 percent above their value a year ago”.

“Maize prices declined by three percent; however, they remained 12.9 percent above their level of May 2021.”

Why are we paying more for basic products? The reasons are varied. Part of it is the Covid-19 pandemic which curtailed production in manufacturing and agriculture. Reuters, an international news agency, says “global food prices started to rise in mid-2020 when businesses shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, straining supply chains”.

“Concerns about food security, heightened during the pandemic, have led some countries to hoard staples to ward off future shortages, limiting supplies on the global market,” Reuters says.

The costs of land and sea transport also drastically increased during the pandemic. The Russia-Ukraine war has added to the customers’ misery.

Russia and Ukraine produce a third of the world’s wheat and barley. Some 60 percent of the world’s sunflower oil is produced by the two countries. Reuters reports that the war “has damaged Ukraine’s ports and agricultural infrastructure and that is likely to limit the country’s agricultural production for years”.

The weakening Rand and the rise in crude oil prices have led to a surge in fuel prices. That increase is likely to be reflected in the prices of basic commodities because fuel is a key component in production and logistics. Unfortunately, things will not get better anytime soon.

The World Bank predicts that food prices will increase by 40 percent this year. The increase will however slow down in 2023 but that depends on what happens in the war in Ukraine and the world’s major food producers like India, China, the United States and Brazil.

The impact of price increase is felt most by the poor who have always struggled to make ends meet. A 10c change in the price of a loaf of bread might not be much for the deep-pocketed but it could be the difference between eating and not eating for the poor.

Jannie Rossouw, a professor of business at Wits University, says “when it comes to price rises of general products, households can simply refrain from buying non-essentials”.

“But this isn’t true when it comes to food. The only choice for households is to substitute expensive food with cheaper alternatives or to buy less, and reduce the amount of food that’s put on the table.”

Linaleli Koetje, from Mazenod, says the past two years have been a battle. Koetje says she used to spend M1 000 on groceries per month. Now she has to spend M1 500 and that is not even enough to cover the basics and get her through the month.

“And that is before the standard bills I have to pay,” Koetje says.

She says she is already panicking because taxi fares are set to go up tomorrow. Melato ‘Matheko, a taxi driver from Naleli, says he is thinking of getting out of the taxi business. He says some of his colleagues have already left the business. Matšeliso Kemane, a financial planner at the Lesotho Post Bank (LPB), says the rising food prices should be a lesson for Lesotho to produce its own food.

“This has sent a strong message to Basotho to shun the dependency syndrome,” Kemane says, adding that Basotho have to produce what they eat.

Kemane says as inflation rises Basotho should tighten their belts because things are likely to get worse before they get better. She says apart from the increase in food prices many Basotho are struggling to pay off their debts for cars, furniture and clothes.

These, she says, are unproductive debts that should not have been acquired. Kemane says the old habit of comparing prices before buying is now crucial, even for the most basic products.

Majara Molupe

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Deadlock over reforms



MASERU – THE government’s plan to use state of emergency powers to recall parliament to pass the reforms faces serious resistance from the opposition and legal experts.
A marathon meeting this week to build consensus on the use of state of emergency powers to recall parliament could not break the impasse.

The deadlock comes as Lesotho is reeling under pressure from the international and regional community to pass the reforms. SADC, which instigated and part-funded the reforms, has promised Lesotho hell if the reforms are not passed.

The United States might pull the plug on its recently approved M4 billion development aid to Lesotho. The African Union is said to have registered its disappointment with the government and insisted that the reforms be passed.

The EU, which contributed generously to the reforms process, is not playing the ‘carrot and stick’ game but gently pushing the government to find a way to complete the reforms.

Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told a meeting of political parties yesterday that the government will soon discuss how Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro can request the Council of State to advise the king to recall parliament to pass the reforms.

Rakuoane, a lawyer by profession, is still cautiously optimistic that it’s possible to use the state of emergency powers for the King to recall parliament.

That interpretation is however being rejected by some in the government and the opposition who believe the failure to pass the reforms is not an emergency.

The constitution defines a state of emergency as a war or a monumental threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty or life.

Monyane Moleleki, the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader, told the meeting that he doesn’t believe the reforms constitute an emergency that justifies recalling parliament.

“In general, it is unthinkable to recall a National Assembly which was dissolved constitutionally, officially or formally by His Majesty the King,” Moleleki said.

“The country finds itself in a difficult situation. Lesotho is constitutionally in a predicament and some urge us to consider the predicament an emergency.”

“Actually, there is no state of emergency in Lesotho today but just a predicament,” he said.

Even if the government goes ahead to use the state of emergency clause to reopen parliament there will still be disagreements over which Bill parliament should pass.

The majority of the officials who were in the now disbanded National Reforms Authority (NRA) accuse the parliament of dismembering the initial Bill they submitted.

They say the parliament sneaked in new amendments and removed others to create a Bill that doesn’t reflect the people’s views.

The Senate has reservations about the parliament’s changes and appears sympathetic to the NRA’s view that the Bill should not be outrageously different to what the people suggested.

The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), which facilitated this week’s dialogue, is reportedly not hostile to recalling parliament but wants parliament to pass the initial Bill from the NRA without changes.

MPs however insist they will not take instructions from any other institution because only parliament has the power to make laws.

But even if they agree to reopen parliament and find each other on which Bill to pass, there is likely to be another problem.

Advocate Tekane Maqakachane believes there is no legal loophole that the government can use to recall parliament.

“There is absolutely no loophole to use for that. There is no state of emergency to justify such,” Advocate Maqakachane said.

“The law is the law. You cannot violate it because you have created your own crisis by failing to do things on time.”

He said even if the government insists on violating the constitution by recalling parliament, the MPs will quickly find themselves in another legal jam.

He said several of the amendments that were before parliament require a referendum before they get royal assent. These include the changes to the Bill of Rights and changes to the structure of the judiciary.

“These are what we call double entrenched clauses and they are part of the Bill that some are saying parliament should be recalled to pass,” Advocate Maqakachane said.

“The trouble is that a referendum can only be held no less than two months and not more than six months after it has been passed by parliament.”

This, Advocate Maqakachane said, means there is no way the amendments can be legally passed before the October 7 election even if parliament is recalled.

His strong legal view is shared by several other lawyers who spoke to thepost.

That could indicate that there is a real possibility that a decision to recall parliament could be legally challenged. If that happens, the matter would no longer be in the government’s hands but would play out in the courts.

An epic legal battle might be looming.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn



MASERUTHE government has withdrawn security guards and a vehicle allocated to the official leader of parliament Monyane Moleleki.

The vehicle was taken away last Friday.

Moleleki could not be reached for comment but his Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesman, Thuso Litjobo, confirmed the development.

The position of official leader of opposition in parliament is equivalent to that of a deputy minister and is entitled to the use of a government vehicle and security guards.

Even when the King dissolves parliament and calls for fresh elections, ministers and their deputies do not lose their entitlements such as cars or security.

The same goes for the official leader of opposition in parliament, the Speaker and his deputy.

Litjobo said the withdrawal of the vehicle and security was meant to ensure that Moleleki did not have resources to campaign for the October 7 general elections.

He said this was unfair since all ministers and their deputies still have access to state resources to campaign.

“Our leader is still entitled to those benefits,” Litjobo said.

“We do not have the power to do anything about this.”

Litjobo said they were shocked when they learnt that Moleleki’s security, staff, salary and everything had been taken away.

“For now the only thing we can do as a party is to complain,” he said.

Moleleki has been the official leader of opposition in parliament since the establishment of the Moeketsi Majoro-led government in 2019.

The Thomas Thabane-led government which began its tenure in 2017, in which Moleleki was the deputy prime minister, collapsed and Moleleki’s party was the largest in the opposition, making him leader of opposition.

As the official leader of the opposition, the Constitution grants Moleleki some benefits.

Among these, he has an office, staff, salary, a vehicle, and free fuel.

Moleleki had qualified to be the leader of opposition with his 11 MPs although most of them have since joined other political parties.

The army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost that he was not aware of the removal of Moleleki’s security.

“Such things can be asked to the government,” Captain Lekola said.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Buta Moseme, said the premier’s office is not responsible for the installation or removal of entitlements of the leader of opposition.

The government spokesman, Communications Minister Sam Rapapa, said the questions should be directed at the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.

Maema’s phone was ringing unanswered last night.

Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is the leader of parliament, could not be reached for comment last night.

Nkheli Liphoto

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ABC at war over Thetsane candidate



MASERU – A fight over who should represent the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the Thetsane constituency in Maseru spilled into court this week.

Two separate constituency committees which were elected on June 11 and July 2 respectively are now fighting over who has the right to preside over the selection of a candidate this Sunday.

The June 11 committee is made up of Silase Mokhitli, Semonko Lesenyeho, Mako Chobokoane, Khoale Thene, Thabo Nkesi and ‘Mathabo Makalanyane.

The July 2 committee is made up of Motinyane Motinyane, ‘Matsekiso Motinyane, ‘Matokelo Morie, Mphonyane Kekana, Nondabesithe Babeli and Lelimo Monese.

The June 11 committee filed an urgent application in the High Court yesterday seeking to interdict the July 2 committee from holding themselves out as the members of the constituency committee pending determination of their application.

The June 11 committee also asks the court to order the party’s spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, and the National Executive Committee to file a record of proceedings of the elective conference of July 2 for the constituency.

They say the court should declare the July 2 committee election null and void.

A lawyer representing the June 11 committee, Advocate Letuka Molati, in his certificate of urgency, said the July 2 committee prejudiced his clients.

Advocate Molati said the July 2 committee is unlawfully preparing the nomination of the candidate for the Thetsane constituency on Sunday.

“Applicants have no alternative remedy as the National Executive Committee of the All Basotho Convention is ignoring to pronounce itself on the matter such that the illegal body will prepare for the nominations of the candidates for the up-coming national elections,” Advocate Molati said.

The June 11’s representative, Silase Mokhitli, told the court in an affidavit that Masoetsa and Senator Mphonyane Lebesa conducted the July 2 elections fraudulently.

“On the 11th June 2022, my co-applicants and I were elected as members of the constituency committee of the All Basotho Convention for the Thetsane constituency no. 34,” Mokhitli said.

Mokhitli said there was a peaceful handover of power from the old constituency committee and he was elected as the chairperson of the new Constituency committee.

The newly elected constituency committee submitted reports to the NEC on June 13 that there was only one branch of Thetsane West that had abstained from the constituency committee elective conference.

“We worked very well as the new constituency committee with the NEC of ABC for a period of about two weeks without any complaint,” he said.

He said on June 24, he was surprised to get a call from the secretary general of ABC, Lebohang Hlaele, ordering him and the new committee to report at the party’s headquarters.

Hlaele also invited the old committee, Mokhitli said.

However, Hlaele was not in the office when they arrived on June 27.

Instead they found one ’Maseeng Maputsoe who was accompanied by Masoetsa.

Maputsoe asked why there were two committees in the Thetsane constituency.

Mokhitli said there was only one committee for which he was the chairperson.

He said there were no disputes as all went on smoothly.

Mokhitli said after the deliberations, Maputsoe left with Masoetsa.

“They said they were going to deliberate alone and when they came back they said they made the decision that there should be a repeat of elections in Thetsane constituency,” he said.

Mokhitli said they were not satisfied and they wrote the executive committee seeking intervention but they have not received any response to date.

Instead, Maputsoe and Masoetsa went to Thetsane constituency on July 2 to oversee the repeat of elections.

“They did not have any official document that shows delegation to them from the NEC of ABC,” he said.

“They conducted everything through dictatorship.”

He said during the elections Masoetsa announced that he had expelled two branches and dissolved the four remaining branch committees out of six.

“They then proceeded to conduct elections without verifying the cards of those who qualify to elect and he took 12 people from three branch areas,” Mokhitli said.

“He took 13 people from Thetsane West branch which had abstained when I was elected on the 11th June 2022,” he said.

When people objected, Mokhitli said, Masoetsa strangled one ’Mako Chobokoane with his clothing and one Semonko Lesenyeho came to his rescue.

“Masoetsa, when faced with another objection, assaulted ’Mako Chobokoane, and Lesenyeho intervened again,” he said.

He said Senator Lebesa “was electing on behalf of the electors”.

He said when Maputsoe was asked whether it was proper that Lebesa was writing ballot papers on behalf of voters, she said Lesenyeho could do what he wished.

“Masoetsa and Maputsoe scolded everyone who objected,” he said.

He said the results of the elections were not announced publicly.

Many people left in disgust, Mokhitli said.

“When there were about less than 20 remaining from the original number of more than 150 people Maputsoe announced (the results).”

Mokhitli argued that it would be wrong for people who were not rightly elected to prepare and hold an elective conference for the constituency candidate.

“The fairness and democracy shall not reign. It is clear that democracy is already under threat,” he said.

’Malimpho Majoro

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