It can’t be business as usual

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‘Mako R. Bohloa

ON Sunday, 30 April 2017, I watched in dismay as Maluti Sky made its very last flight to Johannesburg. As a resident of Mazenod Airport City, I watched as the jet took off and circled around Mazenod before it disappeared into the clear blue sky to the land of milk and honey.

I told my friend to look up to the sky to witness history in the making as a flag-bearing airline ceased operations as of that date. He then made an interesting comment that; “How irresponsible of our government to let Maluti Sky sink.  Why couldn’t they bail it out?” Which is why I felt the need to write this letter.

The closure of Maluti Sky is a huge loss to Lesotho’s economy. Not only that, but jobs have also been lost. What I find disturbing is that there hasn’t been an official statement from government, either from the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Trade and Industry. We also haven’t seen official statements from tourism agencies or opposition parties.

Allowing Maluti Sky to fail is a high form of recklessness. It echoes sentiments I made last year that Lesotho is not serious at all about the development of its business/private sector. Countries with strong economies know that business comes first and the sector acts as a pillar of strength as it contributes immensely to the tax revenue and creates jobs. The private sector acts is a source of nutrition for economies around the world.

The Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) recently announced that it collected M5.9 billion and as a result missing its revenue target by M430.8 million. To put things into perspective, M5.9 billion is the annual revenue of an agricultural company named OVK that is headquartered in Ladybrand.  The LRA also pointed out that a huge percentage of the tax revenue is generated by businesses in the form of income tax and VAT.

If business is a major contributor to the national tax revenue collection, why does Lesotho take its business sector for granted as it does? Low tax revenue means that Lesotho will have a difficult time paying salaries of civil servants. Lesotho will have difficulty maintaining roads, schools and hospitals. Lesotho will also have a difficult time supporting the poor and marginalised with social grants.

If Lesotho was serious about its business sector, interventions could have been made to save Maluti Sky. Yes, Lesotho can afford to bail out Maluti Sky and allow me to demonstrate how. If Lesotho is able to spend over a billion maloti on useless embassies that never bring any foreign investment then Maluti Sky can be saved. If Lesotho is able to spend over a billion maloti on government fleet services and fuel then Maluti Sky can be saved. If Lesotho is able to spend over a billion maloti on overseas trips and per-diem allowances, then Maloti Sky can be saved anytime.

My point is that Maluti Sky has become a national asset and a symbol of hope. Millions of maloti have been invested in making sure that the airline takes off and letting it fail would be allowing hard earned money to go down the drain.

Another important factor is that Maloti Sky was a flag bearer. Serious countries know the importance of having a national flag displayed on the tail of an airline. It doesn’t only bring a sense of pride but helps to promote economies around the world.

Since, we are all in a campaign mode, I have been observing with keen interest what our beloved politicians say about growing Lesotho’s economy and their take on business at large. I watched one politician going on and on about his fantastic and unrealistic “dreams” on Lesotho Television. A question was asked on how those “dreams” will be financed. His response was through Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenues. I was shocked.

Our politicians need to remember that SACU revenues are a result of the blood, sweat and tears of businessmen and women. It’s tax revenue like any other that is collected from hardworking entrepreneurs from countries that take business seriously. Our politicians also need to understand that you can have the best manifesto in the world, but if your business sector is weak and malnourished, there won’t be any cash to fulfill those “dreams”.

As the saying goes, money makes the world go round. Business is a fuel for success of any manifesto and any manifesto that doesn’t have a sound and plausible economic policy is nothing but a wet dream.

If Lesotho still struggles to collect a mere M6 billion then it means our economy is none existent. What I find funny is that our government is never prepared to support the business sector yet it expects the same sector to perform miracles in contributing to the tax revenue.

It’s an analogy of the golden goose. Government and the LRA want as many golden eggs as possible but never prepared to nurture the goose. Government needs to be aware that the number one killer of small businesses is high rent costs and interventions should be to have incubations to remove part of the burden.

The banking sector is also not prepared to contribute fully to the well-being of the business community. Our commercial banks seem to be interested in financing liabilities and enlarging the debt trap with fancy cars and houses.

Having said all this, I honestly think that it’s time for Basotho to hold a referendum to decide whether Lesotho should be part of South Africa or not. It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that it is close to impossible to run a country on a M16 billion budget unless that budget is meant to cater for the rich and politically-connected.

Lesotho is simply not viable as an independent state no matter how you look at it unless there is a totally new meaning to the word independence. In simple terms, our budget cannot take care of the country’s citizens hence young Basotho men are dying like dogs in disused South African gold mines in search of hope.

The referendum has to be held for the sake of the youth. Young people are losing the best years of their lives because of continuous mismanagement of the economy. Lesotho’s youth must be given a chance to decide the kind of future they need because their country denied them opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

If our politicians are serious about growing Lesotho’s economy and defeating unemployment then it’s about time they start taking business seriously. Our politicians also have to stop holding elections every two and a half years unless there is a deliberate attempt to destroy Lesotho’s economy fast. Businesses can’t continue to be used at the convenience of politicians only when they need money to campaign for elections. It can’t be business as usual!

A healthy business sector means a healthy economy that will benefit us all.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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1 Comment

  1. Then again, Maloti Sky is owned by a business man who made his wealth through usurping massive contracts from the government and greasing the palms of those politicians who held him in favor….

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