‘Small businesses at centre of economy’

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Selibe Mochoboroane

Selibe Mochoboroane

PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s decision to reshuffle Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Secretary-General Selibe Mochoboroane from the Energy and Meteorology ministry to the Small Business Development, Co-operatives and Marketing portfolio was perceived by many as a demotion in light of the infighting rocking the government.

However, Mr Mochoboroane has begged to differ, saying he viewed it as a new challenge to better the lives of budding entrepreneurs. Mr Mochoboroane replaced Thabiso Litšiba who was fired along with two other ministers and a deputy minister.

In this wide-ranging interview, Mr Mochoboroane tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Pascalinah Kabi about his new mandate and the priority areas for the ministry.

LT: Do you regard your transfer as a demotion?

Mochoboroane: I suspect I came to my new ministry at an opportune time. Many people might see it as a demotion, but I see it as a blessing in disguise because this is one of the ministries I am passionate about.

So for me, this is a promotion. If administered well with proper mechanisms in place, this ministry is and can actually be our economic liberator. We have just celebrated 50 years of independence and the way I interpret this independence is totally different from many people’s understanding.

My understanding is that Lesotho’s past 50 years of independence were only political. We have been freed politically but still colonised economically because our economy is entirely influenced by that of South Africa. If South African’s economy sneezes, Lesotho immediately catches flue and I am calling for all of us Basotho to work together for the next 50 years for our economy’s independence.

So, for me, this can only be a demotion if our good plans to liberate the country from its dependency on the South African economy don’t get a buy-in from the leaders in government.

LT: What are you going to do differently from your predecessor to ensure that your ministry plays a significant role in changing the country’s economy?

Mochoboroane: My first assignment was to study the mandate of the Ministry of Small Business Development, Co-operatives and Marketing. I needed to fully understand the laws and policies that govern this ministry so I could prepare myself for the long journey of extricating Basotho from poverty.

I have a strong conviction that small businesses and the informal sector are the centre of the economy of this country. This is why I am travelling throughout the country to meet the women and men operating in this sector. So far, I have been in three districts, making our local producers aware that this country has laws to protect local produce.

Prior to my district visits, I asked civil servants in the ministry to compile a detailed import and export report. The report showed that 80 percent of the products we consume are imported from South Africa, proving the point that Lesotho is still at the small-scale level of production.

I have asked the local producers on the measures we need to take as a country to meet the consumption demands and to ensure our economy is not dependent on South Africa.

In 2014 alone, Lesotho imported chicken worth of M626 365 461.15; cabbage worth M60 million and imported bottled water stood at M69 311 088.66 all from South Africa. Are we seriously importing bottled water worth millions from South Africa when we have our own competent bottling companies?

If you look at the entire report, you will realise where our main challenge lies and that another country is developing at our expense.

So my second move is to ensure we stop being economically-dependent on South Africa because it is driving us into poverty. We need to sustain our economy and ensure it actually grows by producing local products. We have the potential to be economically-independent and this ministry has all the powers to lead Lesotho to economic freedom.

For instance, we need to increase the scale of wool production and increase farmers’ capacity.

LT: What are some of the key challenges you have spotted during the three district visits you have taken since being transferred to this ministry?

Mochoboroane: I realised that we don’t have a solid database of local producers who can sustainably supply our country for 5-6 months without any difficulties. So our very point of entry is to sensitise our local producers and make them believe in themselves because they actually have the potentially to feed this country for six months without depending on South Africa.

This will help us build our own database. Our department of marketing is helping us compile this database and ensure that potential local producers are empowered. As government, we have made a conscious decision to support local producers and ensure we buy from them first and South African producers later.

There is no denying that we have well established local producers manufacturing quality products, but can they cater for the local market due to high demands.

The other major challenge is lack of access to funding. If we are to win this war, we need to ensure that Basotho are not given subsidies but rather as government we remove all the stringent regulations for them to be able to access funding from commercial financial institutions.

Subsidies have created a cancerous dependency syndrome among our people, and we cannot move forward with this tendency if we are serious about economic freedom. Basotho should think out of the box and meet me half way in liberating this country economically.

Pricing is still a major problem among our local producers. They need to understand that retailing and consumer prices are different, and as producers they must sell at the retail prices. Their products should meet the set local quality standards, and be competitive in the market.

We need to start by loving our own country as this will help us to support our local producers. I see a lot of potential. For me, Lesotho is a virgin waiting to be explored economically and I am glad to be leading a ministry whose mandate is to liberate the country economically.

The ministry is mulling plans to establish its own chicken and piggery abattoir. But before we do that, we need to ensure we can sustain the supply chain for the market. This will help decrease the high unemployment rate in Lesotho.

As part of solutions to the problems I have mentioned above, we are also going to revive the famous auctions we used to have in Lesotho. These auctions created a guaranteed market for our local livestock farmers and plans are underway to have one before Christmas.

The department of marketing is also making preparations to hold extensive business trainings for our local producers. We also want to have a flea market once every month where our local producers will display their products in one place and have a guaranteed market.

We have also noted that some Chinese-owned businesses are not adhering to their license terms with their supermarkets also operating as spaza shops. I have met with the Chinese ambassador to Lesotho as part of our intervention initiatives. It must be understood that we are not fighting the Chinese but rather making them aware that they must adhere to their license rules. We also want to work with them. They are actually part of the target market for local producers and we are exploring ways which they can understand this.

LT: What is your ministry’s relationship with other sister ministers like that of Trade and Industry as you cannot achieve all these plans without their buy-in?

Mochoboroane: Fortunately, cabinet has established a sub-committee which, of which Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa and I are members. Cooperatives are a burning issue right now and I am doing everything in my power to ensure we promote them.

LT: Your ministry received one of the smallest budgets in this current financial year. Is this going to affect your operations in any way?

Mochoboroane: Not at all. Money is not everything. We could have a lot of money but have no proper plans to spend that money. So our focus right now is to create an enabling environment for a bigger chunk of the national budget.

There is a lot of potential in the agribusiness sector, and our work right now is to sensitise Basotho that the tendering business is slowly fading away and we need a plan B. So, for now, there is no monetary pressure.

However, we have submitted a detailed plan to the Ministry of Development Planning seeking more money in the coming financial year as we believe we would have laid a good foundation for investment in this sector.

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