THE National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) has introduced an online registration for students who aspire to get sponsorship for their tertiary education by the organisation for the 2018/19 academic year.
NMDS, is a department in the Ministry of Development Planning tasked with overseeing the loan bursary fund.
The online platform will enable students to register onto the Student Sponsorship, Management and Administration System (SSMAS) without having to physically queue for services.
Speaking at the Lesotho Loan Bursary Fund (LBF) Reform Report validation workshop this week, the Minister of Energy, Mokoto Hloaele, said the new innovation was an integral part of the LBF reform.
Mr Hloaele spoke on behalf of the Minister of Development Planning at the workshop.
“The most appealing reason for the introduction of SSMAS is to reduce contact of students with NMDS staff, Mr Hloaele said.
“This means students can make their sponsorship processes online and should not necessarily have to interact with staff.”
He however said the applications for scholarships would only be made when such a scholarship was advertised at NMDS and through the SSMAS and the NMDS Facebook page, National Manpower Development Secretariat.
He further noted that SSMAS targets to challenges which include poor information management and limited information sharing between NMDS, the clients and stakeholders
“This new improved system will also address the challenge of lengthy processing of payments to institutions and clients, inability to recover loans and to track defaulters.
“It will help us to accurately account for the millions of maluti disbursed to Basotho students which has resulted in the un-sustainability of the loan bursary fund, and the inefficient work processes,” Mr Hloaele said.
He said this SSMAS therefore needs to be interfaced with all the LBF stakeholders in order to fully achieve its intended purpose.
The fund is intended to revolve and the expectation was that each learner who got assistance would pay back after completion of studies when they secure employment as per their contractual obligations but this has not happened.
In 2012, the government engaged Jamali Holdings to collect the debt which runs into millions from defaulters but the contract has since been cancelled after the debt collectors failed to meet the set targets.
NMDS Director, Flory Rakeketsi, told the Lesotho Times that the consultancy contract was terminated early in 2015 after the consultant “dismally” failed to recover the debts from beneficiaries working outside the country.
Ms Rakeketsi also appealed to the NMDS beneficiaries to repay the loans, saying the repayments would make a huge difference and ensure that the government spends less on funding tertiary education.
“As we speak now, there is no one helping us with the recovery of the loans. It means all Basotho working outside the country are not repaying their loans as they should and we do not have the means to chase them.
“I believe the government will visit this matter and come up with options on how to move on from here. Most of the beneficiaries only start repaying the money when they want to further their studies,” she said.
In the past, students have protested over delays in the processing of payments.
“This academic year, the strikes started at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) forcing the institute’s Senate to suspend classes and call for a meeting with parents scheduled for Saturday,” Ms Rakeketsi said.
Lerotholi Polytechnic (Fokothi) students followed suit resulting in the arrest of two students for vandalism of property while two others were hospitalised. Limkokwing School of Creative Technology joined the party putting more pressure on the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).